From the battle zone, in N.Y. and Afghanistan

Oct 29, 2001  •  Post A Comment

Last week, Don Dahler came home to his apartment at the border of the “frozen zone” in lower Manhattan, kissed his girlfriend, gorged on salad, broccoli and pasta and realized that while the “distinctive odor” of rubble, fire, death and dust at what had been the World Trade Center hadn’t changed, “Everything has a different weight and tenor to it.”
After a grueling two weeks reporting from ground zero, Mr. Dahler, “Good Morning America’s” national correspondent, spent 31/2 weeks reporting from Northern Afghanistan. The two locations are 81/2 time zones and several centuries apart, and yet they have much in common, from “abject suffering in both places” and marathon work days to the dust that coats everything.
The trip started with 12 hours on a cargo flight with fellow ABC News correspondent David Wright, with crews from CBS News and the two-path satellite dish the two networks would share, five days of waiting out red tape in Tajikistan and a tough choice about how to cross the border into Afghanistan.
Rather than go overland and risk being shot by the Taliban, which occupies high ground at the river, they would have to cross at night, they opted to pay for a lift on a well-used Northern Alliance helicopter, which had some bullet holes in it, rust spots and fuel leaks. It was a snug fit, with room for only the camera gear and a personal knapsack.
ABC newsman Mike Lee had arrived earlier from Moscow and rented a “compound,” which was little more than a mud fence surrounding a half-acre lot on which a house was under construction. After the roof went on, the house was suitable for the storage of food and equipment that would arrive a week after the U.S. news crews.
“We slept in tents,” Mr. Dahler said. “What made it bad was the dust. You roll over at night and get a mouthful of it.”
The circumstances weren’t ideal: -The steady diet was beans and rice and no greens. The network trucked in generators, food and water, but facilities were so rudimentary that cameraman Bartley Price commissioned a wooden box-seat to put over their hole-in-the-ground latrine.- “Bathing didn’t make sense,” Mr. Dahler said.
If Mr. Dahler found the living rugged and mountain roadways “the scariest part of this whole assignment,” he found the Northern Alliance to be helpful and accessible, not to mention tolerant of foreign journalists who took the occasional sip of “Russian water” (as vodka was called in deference to the Muslim prohibitions of alcohol) to cut the dust in their throat.
This week, Mr. Dahler has plotted a “healing” itinerary that includes introducing his girlfriend to Los Angeles and visits to Las Vegas, the Grand Canyon and his rustic cabin in the Colorado mountains.
“We’re just going to drive through some of the most beautiful parts of the U.S.,” he said.#