Excerpt from Letters Home: From 9/11 to Operation Iraqi Freedom: A Military Mom Shares Her Family’s Story of Patriotism, Courage and Love (p. 124-125).
Author Mary Ward relays a story of talking to NBC producer Justin Balding, who says he rode in the same helicopter as Brian Williams and also claims the Chinook was hit by an RPG. Ward’s book was published in 2004, but the timing of this interaction was 2003:
While we waited we introduced ourselves to the news crew covering the homecoming. MSNBC and CNN were two of the stations present at the event. As luck would have it these stations had set themselves up near where we were camping out.
Tom noticed the MSNBC trailer and wondered who might be covering the event. He though maybe Brian Williams would be since the 3rd Infantry came to his rescue the previous March. He encouraged me to go find out, and so I did. I knocked on the trailer door. The man (I never did get his name) who answered was enthusiastic when I told him that Sean was in the area the day the helicopter went down. He told me that Justin Balding, a producer for a number of programs for NBC, who was also on the helicopter with Williams, was at the homecoming. He asked me not to go anywhere and told me that he wanted to connect me with Mr. Balding.
Mr. Balding was more than happy to talk to me. I introduced him to my family and to the Kiernan’s. Shortley after the introductions Craigh White, David Bloom’s cameraman, came over. We were all surprised that these men were taking the time to speak to us. Craig and Justin were kind and thoughtful in what they shared with us.
Justin spoke highly of the 3rd Infantry. He was impressed with the troops and their ability to stay focused. We didn’t know much about the helicopter incident except what Brian Williams had reported on the NBC Nightly News, and the scant details Sean wrote home about. Justin told us the helicopter that he was in with anchorman Brian Williams and General Wayne Downing (retired) was shot at by Iraqis; it was an unforeseen and frightening event. The Chinook they were flying in took a rocket propelled grenade (RPG) and an AK-47 in the cockpit requiring them to land unexpectedly. Much to their relief the 3rd Platoon, C Company, 3rd Battalion, 15th Infantry was there to surround the downed helicopters. Due to one of the sand storms we heard so much about they were stuck there for a couple of days. During this time Mr. Williams suggested that the soldiers write letters home and told them that he would be sure their families received them quickly.
Jerry, Vicki, Tom and I spent hours talking with Justin and Craig in the hot sun. I briefly remember thinking that as hot as it was and as sweaty as we were it didn’t dampen the enthusiasm of any of us.
What we received from talking to these two men was the sense of what our sons had been through. In a way they prepared us for what to expect from our sons. We listened to their experiences and perceptions of the war and took it to heart. They told us it took time for them to process what they had been through and that our kids had been through even more. It was reassuring to have someone give us some idea of what to expect. Yet as much as they told us it wasn’t enough to prepare us for the difficulties of coming home from war.