By Kate Winkle
My first time covering the White House was also the first time I’d ever been to the White House.
Sure, I’d seen pictures, History Channel shows and movies, but it’s not the same as actually being there, walking up to the little security hut and checking in. I made my way to the press briefing room, hoping desperately that I wouldn’t get lost or tackled for accidentally walking into the wrong area. Fortunately, none of those happened, and I squeezed my way into an already very full room to wait for the “pre-set” so I could stake out a good location to stand and take pictures.
The story that brought me a few blocks down from the office was a Medal of Honor ceremony in the East Room of the White House. The recipient, Cpl. William “Kyle” Carpenter, deployed in 2010 to Afghanistan as part of Operation Enduring Freedom, eventually at a post in the Marjah District of Helmand Province.
On the morning of Nov. 21, 2010, his alarm clock was AK-47 fire. He manned a rooftop fortified with a semi-circle of sandbags with his best friend and fellow Marine, Nick Eufrazio.
An enemy launched a grenade. It landed next to the two soldiers. Carpenter jumped on top of it, deflecting the blast downward and saving his friend’s life.
Eufrazio sustained brain injuries from the shrapnel. Carpenter lost much of his jaw, face and his right eye, and injured his upper and lower extremities as well. He faced a long road to recovery.
To get the opportunity to cover the White House as an intern is a great privilege, but covering this as my first story was an even greater honor.
The East Room was a very cozy place as the guests filed into rows of chairs and the press squeezed into the remaining spaces at the back. I was glad I had brought a tripod and scoped out a spot where I could see everyone’s faces on stage. From my vantage point I also noticed a DJ in the corner of the room who played music as the president entered.
The ceremony lasted a little more than 20 minutes, and we waited as guests filed out to celebrate. As we left the room, I could smell appetizers and apologized to my growling stomach.
Back in the press room, I heard whispers that Carpenter would speak to us, so we waited. Four people filed in the door and sat down near me, and I realized it was Carpenter’s family. Then he walked out, smiling a bit as he passed by the American flag and set a piece of paper on the podium. He thanked those who served, have served or will serve. He thanked his doctors. He thanked his family.
After he left, I did, too. I had a story to write.
It had been such a long day already that I almost forgot to turn in the temporary press pass at the gate. One of the police officers came out of the building, smiling, and asked if I’d wanted a souvenir.
“No,” I told him as I handed the red badge back. “It’s just great to be here.”