UVA grad/CBS reporter 'breathes the fire'

CBS reporter and UVA graduate Kimberly Dozier is used to telling other people's stories.

Now the survivor of a Iraq car bombing has chronicled her own harrowing experience in a new book, Breathing the Fire.

Dozier's journalistic instinct led her to examine the details of the 2006 Baghdad explosion that killed her friends and colleagues, cameraman Paul Douglas and soundman James Brolan, and left her critically injured. Also killed were U.S. Army Captain James Alex Funkhouser and an Iraqi translator known as Sam.

"Writing the book was a natural extension of the need to figure out exactly what happened, when and where," Dozier says. "It's bizarre, but I was reassured to discover it was as I remembered."

Dozier's heart stopped twice following the blast, and her right leg was so seriously injured that for weeks doctors weren't sure they could save it. After undergoing more than two dozen operations to repair torn flesh and remove shrapnel, Dozier says overcoming her extensive physical injuries was still not her greatest challenge.More difficult, she says, was coping with the guilt and grief of losing Douglas and Brolan. In addition to handling her own anguish, Dozier has had to come to terms with the anger of some of the mens' grief-stricken family members, who fault her for the deaths.

"If they need to blame me, and that is what helps them heal," says Dozier, "I'm okay with that."

Although her story made headline news at the time of the incident, finding a publisher was a challenge, something she attributes in part to timing. The wife of ABC newsman Bob Woodruff, who suffered a massive head injury while covering the war, released a book around the time Dozier was shopping hers. Publishers, she says, initially seemed worried that the market niche for such stories might already be filled. Eventually, Dozier discovered Meredith Books, a women-centric publishing house based in Des Moines that is also home to The Alli Diet Plan and Denzel Washington's A Hand to Guide Me. Dozier's 288-page tome hit shelves on May 13 with an initial print run of 30,000.

Fellow journalists Tom Brokaw and Dan Rather have offered rave reviews on Dozier's website, and the Washington Post recently offered warm words for Dozier's "self-deprecating wit" and "determination to recover, never straying into self-pity."

Now based in Washington D.C., Dozier continues to work as a CBS reporter and recently won a Peabody Award for her CBS News Sunday Morning piece about two women veterans who lost limbs in Iraq. But the urge to return to the war-torn region is powerful.

"I've been living in the Middle East for so much of my life," Dozier says. "It's almost more home than here."

Despite her intimate knowledge of Iraq and its conflicts, as a journalist Dozier refuses to take a position on the war, citing NBC's Tim Russert, who died June 13, as an example. "No one knew what his political stand was," she says. "And that's the way it should be."

Dozier has, however, been outspoken in expressing her concern that Americans aren't paying enough attention to the war. "What scares me is that so many people just want to make it stop," she says.

To her surprise, such comments have drawn criticism. "If you are saying anything but 'let's pull out tomorrow' you are slated as being pro-war or being out of touch with the public," Dozier says.

Dozier, who received a master's degree from UVA in Middle Eastern studies in 1993, will return to Charlottesville September 29 to speak at the Miller Center.