Combat correspondent uses her experiences in school

By Anthony Cave, News21


Post-9/11 veteran Jennifer Brofer films a news story at the Marine Corps Logistics Base in Albany, Georgia in 2007. (Courtesy of Jennifer Brofer)

Jennifer Brofer served in the Marines, on the frontlines in Afghanistan, but she wielded a camera instead of a rifle.

Brofer, 30, a combat correspondent for more than 10 years, served in Afghanistan during 2010-11. She worked across media, using the printed word as well as video. When logistic Marines built bridges, she was there. Redeploy missions? She was there too.

“It was inherently dangerous,” Brofer, an Arlington, Texas, native, said.

Since her discharge in 2012, Brofer has used the Montgomery GI Bill to study radio-television-film at the University of Texas at Austin.

Other than a few canceled appointments for non-emergency care at the Department of Veterans Affairs outpatient clinic in Austin, her experiences have been positive, she said.

“I’m a happy gal, mentally unscathed,” Brofer said.

Still, her experience led her down the military path once again in a class she took last semester. Brofer completed a nine-minute video titled “Girls With Guns,” which chronicles the experiences of post-9/11 veteran Mary Hegar, whose helicopter was shot down in Afghanistan in 2009.

She survived and returned fire, but Hegar came home to fight again, this time the military’s ban on women in combat. She sued the U.S. Department of Defense and the Combat Exclusion Policy was eventually lifted in January 2013.

Brofer said her experiences overseas helped her share Hegar’s narrative.

“I learned how to tell a story in very adverse conditions,” she said. “I don’t take for granted what the reporters do here in America. If it wasn’t for the skill, I wouldn’t be where I am today.”

The video also highlights teenage girls in a high school Junior ROTC program. Brofer said that it is important to advocate gender equality.

Brofer wants to be a producer or director; she already has a resume start. When Christina Aguilera sang the National Anthem before the 2011 Super Bowl, the NFL Network showed a montage. Her three-second shot of a group of Marines standing in a tent made the worldwide broadcast.

Brofer, who was posted in Afghanistan at the time, had spent the night before the Super Bowl, editing film for the spot. She said that “luckily” she was behind the camera.

What We’re Reading: Week 10

By Rachel Leingang, News21

What We’re Reading, Week 10:

For Combat Veterans, Life During Ice Time (Jerry Barca, 7/17, New York Times): The Fort Bragg Patriots, an amateur hockey team, is made up of post-9/11 active-duty combat veterans. They use their time on the ice to relax and forget about their time at war, and they bond over their shared experiences overseas.

Marine officer: Scope of sex assault problem exaggerated (Jim Michaels, 7/15, USA Today): Marine Corps Capt. Lindsay Rodman, who now works as a lawyer at the Pentagon, said the military’s sexual assault issues have been exaggerated. She called the Pentagon’s 2012 Annual Report on Sexual Assault survey into question, saying exaggerating the numbers doesn’t help the military address the core problems.

No veterans need apply? (Lisa Nagorny and Dan Pick, 7/15, American Legion): The Center for a New American Security conducted a survey of employers, asking them why veterans are unemployed at higher rates than civilians.

This is the way to return to your family from Afghanistan (Breach, Bang, Clear, 7/18): This heartwarming video shows how one soldier surprised his wife and kids upon his return from Afghanistan.

On being a veteran who’s reporting on veterans

By Chad Garland, News21

A veteran salutes during the posting of the colors National Memorial Cemetery of Arizona. (Photo by Chad Garland, News21)

A veteran salutes during the posting of the colors National Memorial Cemetery of Arizona. (Photo by Chad Garland, News21)

If you’ve met one veteran, you’ve met one veteran.

This seemingly simple message was an Army veteran’s refrain to a room full of reporters in Arlington Heights, Ill., May 10.

Erica Borggren, who served in Iraq as an Army officer in 2008, is director of the Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs. Reporters had gathered for a seminar about covering post-9/11 veterans, but several acknowledged they didn’t know a single veteran or where to find one.

I was there as a News21 Fellow, but I am also a veteran. Until August 2012, I was one of roughly 76,000 post-9/11 veterans living in Illinois. I never served in Iraq or Afghanistan, but I faced many of the obstacles that war vets face — finding my place in a community, pursuing a career, completing higher education, and navigating the labyrinthine U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

At the University of Illinois, I was often the one veteran whom student reporters knew how to find, probably because of my duties as president of the Student Veterans of America chapter. I fielded calls or emails, but I was disappointed often by the repetitive, “I’d like to talk to a veteran who’s having problems.”

Yes, veterans have problems. I know a guy who got blackout drunk at least once a week to shut out recurring memories of his experiences at war. Another sometimes awakes in the night and forgets whether he’s home or still in Iraq.

I know a Marine who suffers acute bouts of anxiety and smashed his laptop against a wall out of frustration with schoolwork. But he also intervened when several drunks harassed a bus driver. He defused that situation without violence.

Certainly veterans across the spectrum of service experience can use a hand. In my reporting role at News21, I’ll delve into the work done by veteran support organizations and nonprofits to aid these men and women.

Veterans like my fellow Marine defy the stereotypes of damaged individuals. All, though, face varying forms of judgment.

A Navy veteran, married with two young children, earned a degree in engineering physics at one of the top schools in the country. When he was interviewing with potential employers, a recruiter told him not to mention military experience; it was a liability.

Another Marine veteran, orphaned at 6, was raised by his oldest sister on Chicago’s Southside. He went to Illinois to study electrical engineering so he can develop the technology he wished he’d had as an infantryman in Iraq.

I know a dozen more veterans who are responding to the needs in their communities by getting involved in education, politics, social work, medicine, research, law enforcement and several other fields.

I got into journalism in part because I saw the need to tell the overlooked stories of these veterans and others. I didn’t expect I’d become part of the News21 national investigation into problems that veterans face and telling their unique stories, but I can’t imagine a more timely and important topic.

I’m looking to turn my experience into an asset, not a liability. But I’m just one veteran — there are millions of us across the country.