Fox News correspondent delivers moving account of her past
Aminah Williams and Jennifer Griffin embrace after a moving lecture
Life in Northern Virginia can be hectic. The commute can be long. The kids can be whiny. The spouse can be, well it's acceptable to say that it can be difficult to live with another person. Every day brings new challenges to our sub-rural lives, but our issues are paltry in comparison to the life that Jennifer Griffin has lead.
On Oct. 24 at the Women's Business Council, Fauquier area women (and a few men) heard from Griffin, National Security Correspondent for Fox News Channel. Griffin shared from her book, "The Real War Zone: Work/Life Balance and Other Myths," and spoke about her background as a journalist, wife, and mom while living in areas that were saturated with violence and poverty.
"There is no work/life balance. We all live out of balance, but it's how we navigate through the extremes." Griffin said. Her lecture was mainly a summary of her experiences in Mogadishu, Russia, the Middle East, and the U.S. Griffin fell in love with a journalist who would one day be her husband, but they both worked in different countries. Before the days of digital communication, they would speak infrequently by satellite phone. She joined him in South Africa, only to watch him leave to cover the events in Mogadishu. (On Oct. 3-4, 1993 U.S. Rangers and Somali militiamen fought it out. Militiamen shot down two Black Hawk helicopters. A rescue mission to recover the crews resulted in 18 deaths and 80 wounded and one helicopter pilot captured. The event was the subject of the 2001 movie “Black Hawk Down.") Tired of being separated, Griffin followed him to Mogadishu, her airplane performing a corkscrew landing to avoid gunfire.
"If a woman follows you to Mogadishu, you have no choice. Your fate is sealed; you have to marry her," joked Griffin. They were married and began to cover the Middle East in its entirety. While there, someone broke into her hotel room. The only thing stolen was her makeup, even though local women covered most of their faces. She began work for Fox News in 1999, as the broadcast network was just starting out. Reporting from Moscow, Griffin was Fox's only foreign correspondent at that time. As she covered the Kosovo war, she began to feel overwhelmed.
"Jerusalem sounds really peaceful," she had first thought of the assignment. "It will be like walking through the Bible." Her hopes of a quieter life were soon forgotten as she began to cover the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, failed peace deals, military attacks, and suicide bombings. She was pregnant with her first baby when she reported from the Camp David meeting, where rocks were thrown over the wall. Her second child was born on the eve of the Iraq war. As she was being released from the hospital, instead of getting a package of diapers, they gave her a certificate for a gas-mask type tent for her infant. Every day there was a suicide bomber, while Griffin attempted to be a parent, a wife, and just simply to stay alive.
She would pause from interviewing someone like the former Prime Minister of Israel, Ariel Sharon, to call her husband and ask, "Can you pick up the kids today?"
"There were a lot of surreal moments along the way," Griffin said. It was normal for her to leave for work with a breast pump and flak jacket. At one point, she needed to cover Katyusha rockets held by Hezbollah— a Shi'a Islamic military and political group in Lebanon. Her daughters were unhappy about being separated from their parents, so Griffin allowed her photographer's Golden Retriever to stay with the girls for comfort.
While in Hezbollah, her two colleagues, Olaf Wiig and Steve Centanni, were kidnapped.
Until then, "We felt like we were protected in some way,” she said. “People needed us to tell their stories." The murder of Jewish American journalist Daniel Pearl was an even bigger turning point. Instead of going home, they went to search for their kidnapped colleagues.
Meeting at midnight with questionable figures, in areas with power loss, they wondered "Are we being set up?" By the light of the moon and car headlights, they met with long-bearded men.
"We made our case. We were passionate. We pushed the leaders into eventually releasing Olaf and Steve,” she said.
After this ordeal, she turned to her husband and said, "Greg, we need to go back home." They returned to Washington D.C., where she anticipated a calmer life, but while she was breastfeeding her baby boy one day she noticed a lump. The biopsy came back as stage three triple negative cancer; very aggressive. Instead of sulking about her misfortune, she made a plan. She said that she used her journalistic skills to locate the best doctors. During her 17 rounds of chemotherapy, her husband would sit with her, and type as she dictated what would become their book.
"It took me out of the chemo ward for a few minutes," she said. "It was an incredible journey that I couldn't have done without my husband."
Griffin said covering wars puts things into perspective, and you realize "What makes life worth living."
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