I smiled as I heard her complaining. She had been accosted by a homeless man, wanting a few dollars for bus fare, and she felt so bad she had given him a five, only to see him go into a Seven Eleven and buy a pack of cigarettes. He came out tapping the pack, looked up, saw her, gave a sheepish grin, and walked down the street.

“Well, damn, Jen, what did you expect?” I asked, tired of her telling the story for the fifth time. “These guys are hustlers, mostly veterans of years of street living. They know how to work people, especially young, gullible women. Most times, anything you give them goes up in smoke, in their arm, or into a bottle. You really think you’re helping?”

She gave me that stubborn look I’d come to know. “Yes, I think I’m helping. I have to believe that there’s good in people. If I didn’t, my world would be a little too grim.”

“Like mine, you mean? I’m older than you, honey, seen more of the worst side of life than I hope you ever do in your lifetime. One thing I’ve learned is that people will sink to the lowest level very easily. Anything could trigger it. PTSD(I had a little knowledge of that), divorce, death of a loved one, bad accident, loss of employment, any traumatic event, the list is pretty long. You want to help these people? Give them directions to the nearest shelter or soup kitchen. If they’re vets, send them to the closest VA center. The ones that actually want help will take you up on it, the ones that don’t , well they just don’t.”

Jen was a recent college graduate, working at the entry level at our station, the lowest of the low. She was twenty-three, fresh faced, still viewing the world through innocent lenses. Middle class background, from a loving home, parents still together, with a lot of brothers and sisters. She wanted to make it in the broadcast world, become a star on national television. I didn’t want to be the one to burst her bubble, but it took a lot of very hard work and more than a little luck to rise to the top, and a pragmatism she didn’t have. The ones I had worked with, and there had been more than a few, were cast iron bitches who would cut the throat of anyone they viewed as a threat or obstacle on their way to the top. There were a few exceptions, and those didn’t usually last long.

Me? I was a cameraman/producer. My training came from my Uncle. I was part of the green machine for six years, doing two tours in Iraq and one in Afghanistan. I wasn’t a rear echelon soldier, my job was to go out into the field, film everything as it happened, for training purposes and to cover their ass. It took a long time to learn to go into combat with a camera instead of a rifle, and I got a reputation of hanging in until the last round was fired.

The group I was with got into a pretty hot firefight three months before I was to rotate out of Iraq. It was a clever ambush, we were outgunned and outnumbered and it was really iffy for awhile. I filmed until it got too hot, then picked up an M4. I was completely out of rounds by the time help arrived, and was hand to hand with a pretty determined enemy. He shot me, not a major wound, before pulling his knife. A tactical mistake, his AK actually had a bayonet. He did manage to cut me long and deep, three times from my chest to just above my groin, before I clubbed him to death with the butt of my weapon. I refused to leave the field until I retrieved my camera. I got a purple heart, a bronze star, a trip to Ramstein for treatment, and was shipped home for a year.

Then they sent me to Afghanistan, with a plum assignment. I was attached to a Colonel, to film progress being made rebuilding schools and hospitals. My commander was a pretty no nonsense type a guy, and when he found that for every dollar in aid our government gave them for these projects, only about twenty cents actually went to building and repair, he was pretty pissed. The rest was taken as fees by the government and local tribal leaders. When he filed a report, the powers that be in the country ordered him to cease and desist.

The Colonel was actually retired but they called him back for this project. One night we found ourselves alone, and he casually asked if I still had friends among the network people I had worked with on occasion, someone who could be depended on to hold a confidence. I did, and soon one of the field producers bought some papers from a local, and blew the whistle on the corruption prevalent in the new regime. Popular theory was the local had stolen it while we were in transit from one village to another. Of course everyone knew what happened, but they couldn’t prove anything. The did send the Colonel back into retirement, publically praising him for discovering the corruption, but not before we were ambushed. We were supposed to be well behind the combat line. It was blamed on the Taliban, but I recognized some of the bodies as workers for the corrupt contractor that lost his business. I got a couple more tin pieces to embellish my tunic, as did our driver, a woman who had never seen combat but was incredibly cool under duress, and a wickedly accurate shot. Between us we got everyone out of the vehicles and treated the wounded as best we could. The colonel was a tough old bird, firing his sidearm and cursing our attackers as I treated his leg. He got a limp for the rest of his life, and a triumphant return when he got stateside.

I was rotated home and spent the rest of my time editing footage from the fronts. Some pieces were released to the public, other footage used for training and analysis. They didn’t try very hard to get me to reenlist, and I was hired by a major network the day after I mustered out.

It paid well, and they sent me all over the world for another three years, usually war torn countries where the dangers were very real. I got shot in some hellhole African country, and when I recovered I told my bosses my war days were behind me. They grumbled, but sent me home. I settled here, at a station that didn’t serve a large market. The pay wasn’t the best, but the atmosphere appealed to me. And when it came down to it, I was pretty good at getting everything I could out of any assignment, and the piece often went in directions the station never saw coming. I even won two regional Emmys, which led to more offers from the networks. Not a chance.

My lifestyle didn’t allow me much of a love life, so at thirty one I was still single. I dated, had sex pretty often, but found no one that held my attention for more than a month. I was beginning to think bachelorhood would be permanent.

Jen had that attractive mixed race thing going. Her father was half white and half Korean and her mother was Hispanic. The races mixed really well, she had flawless light brown skin, a riot of jet black curls that stopped just above her shoulders, and almost almond shaped eyes. She could shake her head and it would take almost a minute before her curls stopped quaking. Everybody from the interns to the evening anchor took a run at her, and she turned them down to a man. And in a couple of cases, to a woman. I was the only one who didn’t pursue her, so naturally she wanted to know why.

“You’re attractive beyond words, Jen, but you’re twenty-three and on your way up, if you work hard and get lucky. I’m thirty-one, and exactly where I want to be right now. It would be cruel for us to get together, then have you move up or find someone who knocks you off your feet. Best we stay friends.”



I worked a lot of weekends because I was single and didn’t mind, letting the married guys be home with their families. Jen worked mostly weekends, stuck in what I called the “Weekend Ghetto”. I once pointed out to the station manager that the entire Saturday lineup was all female and completely minorities. He nearly had a heart attack, thinking of the possible lawsuits, and scrambled to get white males in for Sunday. After he chewed the weekend producer a new anal orifice, a better balance was achieved, and Jen got to do a few things during the week.

If there was any hint of possible confrontation, I was the automatic producer/cameraman of choice, especially if the reporter was female, because of my military background and physical size. There had been a few incidents in the past, once during a protest sparked by an interracial shooting that turned into a small riot, another at a demostration over illegal immigration, and the most intense came while we did a field interview with a group of vets who were having trouble receiving benefits in a timely manner.

A bunch of them were suffering from PTSD, and were already dancing on the edge. One guy lost it, and got into Jen’s face. I stepped from behind the tripod and got between them. “Chill, brother. How much help you think you’d get in jail? She has no idea what you went through, and believe it or not, we’re trying to help.”

My size and the way I held myself seemed to calm him. “You were there?”

I sighed. “Yeah, I was there. Iraq and Afghanistan. Sucked both times.”

The man lost it, and fell sobbing into my arms. “Sorry, man. Ma’am, I didn’t meant to scare you. I lost my job because of my PTSD. We couldn’t afford the mortgage, and lost the house. My wife left, took my kid, because she was afraid to be around me. Sadly, it was the right thing for her to do. I’m living on the street now, got nowhere else to go.”

Another of the protestors snorted. “Suck it up, you pussy. He can say anything. He don’t know shit.”

I kind of zoned out. The guy I was holding stepped back and the other protestor flinched when he saw my face. I had a nice button up shirt and I yanked it apart, the buttons flying everywhere, the three scars evident on my chest and stomach. “I was there, asshole, got the scars and the ribbons to prove it. Now stand down and let us try to help you.”


That stopped me. How, indeed. Jen stepped in. “By telling everyone your story. How you’re suffering while your country neglects you. I admit it’s not much, but it’s a start.”

By now I had a full head of steam. “She’s right. There’s not much we can do. But we can talk, keep it to the forefront.”

I paused, thinking. “The whole thing disgusts me. We let politicians give porkbarell deals to defense contractors, pour billions into the countires we tried to defend, knowing as it happened very little would go to help the people, the rest going straight into the pockets of every crooked politician and contractor involved. Hell, our government does things like give hundreds of millions to Brazillian cotton farmers just so they can compete with us in world markets, and give the VA small change. Men and women who served suffer and die every day because our politicians won’t get off their ass and do the right thing.

I noticed then that Jen was behind the camera. They all had a little training so they could do live remotes without having to tie up anyone else, so she knew what to do. I looked straight into the lens.

“Mr. President, members of Congress, what the hell is wrong with you? Scenes like this play out every day all across the country and you sit on your asses. How many of your sons and daughters would you let suffer before you stepped up? Breaking News, they’re all your sons and daughters! You guys need to fix this, you hear me? You need to fix it right now, today. Stop worrying about which golf course you’re going to shut down to play a round or two, the five thousand dollar a plate dinners, or where you’re vacationing on a defense contractor’s dime, AND DO YOUR DAMN JOB!”

I knew this would never see the airways, but damn, did it fell good to say it!



I was wrong. You get the inexperienced on the weekends, management figuring if they screwed up it would be less noticeable and more easily fixed. The guy at the station was so shocked he just let it stream, so the whole thing hit the airwaves, live. What was supposed to be a three minute segment turned into a twelve minute manifesto.

Jen and I knew nothing of this, and Jen insisted she get a hug from every one of the protestors. Many were crying when they did it, thanking us for our effort. I filmed the whole thing, thinking she might want it for a keepsake. I got my share of hugs and handshakes, as well as heartfelt thanks. I just wished what I had done would help.

As soon as we packed up Jen dragged me into a shop and bought me a new tee shirt. She was really quiet when she looked at my scars. Always the reporter, she asked questions on the trip back to the station.

“So, you’re a vet? How come no one knew?”

“I don’t like to talk about it much. Too many painful memories. You can read all you want about war, but until you’re in that situation, people trying to kill you, friends dying in front of you or in your arms, getting shot yourself, you have no clue. I got tired of trying to explain it, and just stopped talking about it.”

“But you were a cameraman! Are you saying you carried a camera instead of a gun into combat situations?”

I shrugged. “It was my job. And I wasn’t exactly naked, I had my sidearm, and if it got really hairy there was always a rifle around I could pick up. Can we stop talking about it now?”

She looked at me with tears in her eyes, nodded, and held my hand the rest of the way back to the station. I let her. We walked into the station to clapping and cheers. I wondered what was up until the weekend manager shook my hand. “Guess you guys told them, huh?”

It hit me then they had watched the whole thing. “Thanks. Too bad it will never see the light of day.”

“But it did! Jason was so mesmerized he let it stream, and I didn’t try to stop him! Of course, we’ll probably be unemployed Monday, but to me, it was worth it.” He loosened his tie, unbottoned his shirt and pulled a sleeve down, and showed his tattoo. Rangers. I always felt like he was military, the way he walked, the way he reacted to situations, were trained responses you could only get one way. “Three tours,” he said, buttoning his shirt.

I didn’t need to show him mine. He’d already seen the scars. A thought hit me. “Try to keep Jen out of it. She had no idea about what was going to happen.”

He assured me he would try, but could make no promises

None of us could anticipate what happened. CBS, our affliate, got wind of the segment and featured it on their show Sunday Morning the next week. By Monday every network and most cable news stations were airing it, and all had links to websites where they could view the whole thing, down to Jen’s hugs. Youtube played it, and it got five million views in three months.

Surprisingly, there were a lot of vets at the station, and they all rallied behind us. We even did a PSA together, showing us in uniform and how we looked now, pleading for the government to help speed VA services up. All the other local stations ran the same PSA with their own people, and soon stations nationwide ran the same message. The last picture was of me, in full dress uniform, the service ribbons and medals on full display. Two purple hearts, a bronze star, and a silver star with oak leaves. All from actions I wouldn’t discuss. The other veterans told Jen what they meant. She asked me later if I was a hero.

“No. I was just a scared kid doing what I thought was necessary to get us all out of bad situations. I honestly don’t remember a lot of it, and never really understood the fuss.”

Upper management chewed the whole weekend crew out, but did nothing else. The publicity we were generating shot us to the number one spot locally for the first time in years. They were looking for ways to hold on, and one of the first things they did was make Jen and I a permanent team.

Of course, a lot of our work was following up on the story, so we interviewed VA officials, local politicians, our federal representatives. We even requested an interview with the President, but that went nowhere fast. It was an election year, and they all treated us like we were radioactive. I don’t know if it was my influence, or if Jen was maturing, but she didn’t hesitate to ask the hard questions. We interviewed a local Congressman, and after the standard platitudes and cliches, she hit him with the hard one.

“I’d like to request an interview six months from now, so we can review progress made and discuss what you have done personally to make things change. I’m sure your constituents would love to hear how hard you’ve worked for them.”

The man turned bright red, stuttering, before he composed himself and told her to call his office to set up a time. Jen shrugged.

“Fine. But if we don’t hear from you, if you don’t give us an interview, we’ll do a ‘report card’ segment on the sidewalk in front of your office and review you actions and progress. I’m sure your supporters will be very interested.”

He called the station, raising hell, saying he would give interviews, just never with us again. I would have loved to have seen his face when the manager replied. “You’re choice, Jack. But everyone else she’s interviewed has already agreed, and if you don’t, Jen and Dean will do a remote from your office steps like they said, laying out everything you have or haven’t done. We’ll even give you airtime for a rebuttal. Think about it.”


Because we were together so much we learned a lot more about each other. I was an only child, and my parents were killed in a car accident when I was on my second tour. I had one grandmother left. Jen came from a large family, five siblings, three sisters and two brothers. She was the second oldest, and her two youngest sisters were in middle school. Family was important to her, and she didn’t get to visit as much as she wanted to. When I asked why she said she couldn’t afford it.

Her contract was almost up by then. I talked to the powers that be, telling them I expected to see her pay go up substantially. They balked until I reminded them my contract was running out as well, and we were being courted by stations all over the country, together and seperately. “We make a good team, so if she goes, so do I. Think about it.”

Jen was over the moon when they offered more money. I think I hurt her feelings when I laughed. “Tell them no. Tell them you deserve at least what I make, maybe more. After all, you’re the rising star. I’m just your sidekick. I haven’t told you, but I’ve heard from people at other stations, here and across the country. They’re interested in us as a package. Bring that up in conversation and see what management says.”

In the end, she didn’t get what I was making, but still got an almost thirty-five per cent raise. She was really happy, for about a week.

We were coming back from a piece on women’s rights. She was quiet, withdrawn, and had been for several days. “What’s going on, Jen?”

She roused herself, looking confused. “What?”

“You’ve been…off, for several days now. You’ve got something heavy weighing on you. Want to share? Maybe I can help.”

I knew she shared a large apartment with two friends, the sweet Lindsey and the insufferable Jasmine. I’d met both when Jen brought them in for a tour of the station, even got them seats for the midday talk show. She was dead on in her assessments, Lindsey was inpressed by everything while Jasmine seemed bored out of her mind. She only perked up when Jen was telling them what network anchors made.

“What do you make, Dean?”

“Enough. What do you do, Jasmine?”

“I’m the Personal Assistant to Mr. James Moody, CEO of Blanche Industries.”

She said it with pride, like I was supposed to know who that was. I had no idea, and decided to ruffle her feathers a little. “A Personal Assistant? Is that like a glorified secretary?”

She flamed red, and Lindsey couldn’t help herself, giggling at her reaction. “I assure you, it’s much more than that, and the pay is much better. Plus, I get to meet and socialize with very important people.”