IN THE END, I HAD VISIONS OF HENRY BLAKE. Surely at least a few of you remember the character played by McLean Stevenson on the TV version of M*A*S*H: the lovable goofball of a lieutenant colonel who commanded the 4077th, a ragtag surgical unit doing its best to save lives and maintain its sanity in the midst of the Korean War. During the show’s third season, Stevenson decided to toddle off to greener pastures—big mistake—and so Henry was written out of the narrative in memorable fashion: Finally given his discharge papers, he boards a plane bound for the States that is, in short order, shot down over the Sea of Japan. No survivors. Yeesh.
The last thing I wanted to contemplate was John Spong’s untimely passing, but the extraordinary risks of spending an extended period of time in Iraq—and not just anywhere, but in the famously and exceedingly dangerous city of Ramadi—were very much on my mind when our lovable goofball of a senior editor traveled halfway around the world to report “ Carlos Brown Is a Hero (No Matter What He Says)”. The idea for the assignment was his. One of his best friends from high school in Austin, a Navy doctor named Carlos Brown had been called up for a seven-month stint commanding a surgical team in the thick of the action. John decided that he wanted to be embedded with Carlos’s guys and see firsthand the toll the war was taking, and the military gave its blessing—so I gave mine. What else could I do, other than thank him for his sacrifice in the name of great journalism, outfit him with thousands of dollars’ worth of body armor, and send him on his way?
Well, for one thing, worry. A lot. I worried when he flew from Texas to Kuwait. I worried when he flew from Kuwait to Baghdad. I definitely worried when he flew from Baghdad to Ramadi. Even though he got in the