May 2, 2012
Newspaper reporters, and writers in general, don't always enjoy their topic. Sometimes we're assigned interesting, exciting pieces and sometimes we get a dud. We may prefer to write about football, but occasionally we have to write about table tennis. It's fun to write about a team winning a state championship, less so when your home team loses in the title game.
Still other stories are tough to work on because of their sensitive nature. It wasn't easy talking to former Shiloh football coach Brian Montgomery recently about recruiting allegations and his resignation, but it's part of my job.
Recently I've been writing stories about injured Army soldier Justin Lansford, a Brookwood grad whose vehicle was struck by a roadside bomb April 23 in Iraq. The stories, like Lansford's roller coaster recovery, have brought out a wide range of emotions for me personally. The story is incredibly sad (Lansford lost a leg and is still fighting for his life) and also compelling. It's difficult to talk to a father whose son is clinging to life halfway around the world, yet I felt I was doing my part to honor the fallen soldier by sharing his story with his friends, and those who never knew him but now admire him, here in Gwinnett.
Here's a glance at how the Daily Post became the first media outlet to report on Lansford's injury:
I'm Facebook friends with some of Lansford's Facebook friends, so I looked into his story after seeing status updates about people praying for Justin Lansford. Typically, I wouldn't write a story about a local soldier injured overseas — that generally is taken care of by one of the Daily Post's news writers. But since Lansford was an athlete, our editor Todd Cline asked me if I could look into the first story about the 22-year-old, who played football for Brookwood's 2005 state runner-up team.
My first call was to Brookwood head coach Mark Crews, who shared what he knew of the situation via email from Lansford's father. Crews put me in touch with Lansford's father, who called me immediately to talk about his son. Lansford's uncle also contacted me quickly and offered to help with information on his story.
After that initial story was written, I could have passed off the assignment of updating Lansford's condition to a news writer and gone back to my sports world with its less stressful topics. But I felt like I had a rapport with the family, and the Lansfords didn't deserve to be passed off to someone else. That's part of why I've been personally writing the update stories on Lansford's progress.
I've also gotten personally invested in Lansford's story through the regular updates and conversations with his family. I grew up around men in the military — my grandfathers served in the Army and Navy in World War II and my father was an Army reservist — so I've always had a great appreciation for the armed forces. I've read about horrific war injuries, but rarely do I hear about them firsthand, especially so soon after the tragedy.
I wrote a feature last year on another former Brookwood football player, Jeff Morgan, who was badly injured in Iraq in 2006 while serving with the Marines. Our conversations were deep and descriptive, but it was a different situation since it had been four years since he lost an eye among other war injuries.
When I first talked to Rick Lansford, Justin's father, it had been less than two days since he got a terrifying phone call from the Army about his son. He talked about being alone when he fielded that call and breaking down, then having to break the news to his wife when she got home from work. We discussed the difficulty of having a severely injured son so far away. All you want to do is hug your child, but his situation made that impossible for days.
The Lansfords are in Germany now with Justin, who as of this morning was off the ventilator that was helping him breathe. He's talking (and talking and talking, his father said) and he's aware of his situation. The good news is that his situation is slowly improving, hopefully to the point where he can be transferred back to the U.S. in a few days.
We all hope more good news regarding Lansford will happen in the coming months and years. He has a long road of recovery ahead of him, but I'd be honored to write any and all update stories about an American hero.
As Lansford's uncle put it, "hopefully you'll be writing a story one day about Justin and he'll be running around the track over at Brookwood."
That's my hope, too.