- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 18, 2006

Having an effect

We all like to feel that our efforts make a difference in the world, and we journalists have more opportunities than most people to believe that they do.

The effect is usually hard to discern, however, especially on the big stories that get a lot of media attention. Occasionally, a member of Congress will make a speech or even introduce a bill because of something he read on our pages. But far more often, we become one more voice in the din of competing and overlapping reportage, in which it is impossible to attribute outcomes to any single source.

It is the smaller, more narrowly focused stories that many of us end up remembering.

I still recall with great satisfaction a series of articles I wrote for a Toronto newspaper in the 1970s about a program that helped adults who had never finished high school to prepare themselves to enter college. Because of those articles, the provincial government of the time reversed a decision to cancel the program.

Our staff photographer Maya Alleruzzo is feeling something similar, I’m sure, following a recent decision by U.S. authorities to bring a severely wounded Iraqi army officer to the United States for treatment.

The officer, whom we identify only by his first name to protect his family from retaliation, commanded an Iraqi army unit in which Miss Alleruzzo was embedded for two months last fall. During that time, she was involved in several ambushes and firefights and learned to rely on these soldiers for her life.

Several weeks after her return to Washington, this 28-year-old officer, whom we call Capt. Furat, went to visit his family in Iraq on Christmas Day. A group of insurgents was waiting in ambush and opened fire.

Capt. Furat survived the fusillade, but one of the bullets struck his spine and left him paralyzed from the waist down.

Attracting attention

When she learned what had happened, Miss Alleruzzo came to her editors and proposed that she go back to Iraq to report on this soldier’s struggle to recover. We liked the idea and allowed her to go.

We were not especially happy when, on the day of her arrival in the town where Capt. Furat was being treated, a wire agency reported that this was now the most dangerous place in Iraq, comparable to Fallujah in its worst days.

But Miss Alleruzzo was in Iraq for the 2003 campaign and has been back many times since; she clearly knows how to handle herself and came back with a deeply moving story.

“The powerful legs that carried him through battle lay stretched before him, motionless underneath a blanket,” she wrote, demonstrating that she is becoming as adept with language as she is with a camera.

“I am a dream,” she quoted the soldier saying. “My future is very dark. These are the legs of Captain Furat.”

Miss Alleruzzo came home after about two weeks of talking to and photographing the wounded man. But that was far from the end of the story.

Here in Washington, her articles had caught the attention of the kind of people who can make things happen, including a group of U.S. Army officers who saw the young officer as a hero and wanted to help.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee went to work clearing away bureaucratic hurdles so that Capt. Furat could be brought to the United States for treatment.

In Atlanta, officials at the Shepherd Center, a renowned medical center, said they would treat Capt. Furat pro bono after receiving an appeal from officers in the two U.S. battalions attached to the captain’s unit.

This news appeared in a front-page article earlier this month, along with quotes from an extremely grateful captain, who could be in Atlanta within the next couple of weeks.

That’s pretty good for having an effect on the most personal level, where it counts.

David W. Jones is the foreign editor of The Washington Times. His e-mail address is djones@washingtontimes.com.

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