NBC News' $1 Million Sat Truck Gave News Org Leg Up in Iraq
What started out as just another embed with the military for
NBC's Richard Engel turned into what appeared to be an exclusive for the
news division as the network had the only live video of the last combat brigade
to pull out of Iraq.
In fact, several news organizations including Fox News and
Al Jazeera English were on the same embed with the fourth Stryker Brigade as it
drove out of Iraq into Kuwait on Wednesday (Aug. 18). But NBC News was the only
television news organization with satellite capability, thanks to the
up-armored Bloom Mobile, affectionately named for late correspondent David
Bloom who died suddenly in 2003 of a pulmonary embolism while travelling with
the 3rd Infantry Division in Iraq.
When Engel, who has been in Iraq since Aug. 11, told NBC
News executives that he had the opportunity to embed with what could possibly
be the last combat brigade to leave Iraq, "it became very big in our
minds," says David Verdi, VP of newsgathering for NBC News.
Though 50,000 U.S. service personnel will remain in Iraq
largely for training purposes, the exit of combat troops is highly symbolic.
And the Bloom Mobile, which allowed Bloom to broadcast live with combat troops
when U.S. forces went into Iraq 7 ½ years ago, was again pressed into action in
The truck cost $1 million to make; it has a special
gyroscope mounted satellite that allows NBC News to broadcast from dicey
locations like Iraq and more recently from the Gulf of Mexico for the BP oil
In fact, the truck was in the Gulf when NBC News got word of
the embed opportunity. It took two weeks to ship it from the Gulf to Iraq via
Dubai, according to Verdi.
"For every news organization and certainly for the
military and their families, Iraq was a very emotional, life-changing
event," says Verdi. Putting the Bloom Mobile back into action for the end
of the war, says Verdi, provided a bittersweet bookend.
"It brought closure to the loss of David," says
Verdi. "And of course, it was closure to the war that we thought would
Many news organizations lost colleagues in Iraq. CBS News
soundman James Brolan and camera man Paul Douglas were killed in 2006 by a bomb
that severely injured correspondent Kimberly Dozier. And ABC News' Bob
Woodruff suffered head trauma during an explosion also in 2006.
While technology has made it easier for news divisions to
transmit video without extensive satellite equipment, places like Iraq and
especially Afghanistan, where the terrain makes even broadband connections
spotty, nevertheless present transmission problems. And Engel's four-plus
hours of coverage from near the Iraq/Kuwait border was plagued by sound and
video interruptions. But said, Verdi, audiences will excuse communication
problems "if the content is compelling enough."
That said, the Bloom Mobile has yet to make the trip to
Afghanistan. But Verdi said he hasn't ruled it out, though operational
security remains a major obstacle.
"Afghanistan is a completely different theater than
Iraq," he says. "The security there is different. The terrain has
done in armies all the way back to Alexander the Great. We cannot operate there
the way we do in Iraq. It's just too hostile," but he adds,
"we can take the Bloom Mobile there and we may."
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By Kent Gibbons