On Wednesday night’s edition of NBC Nightly News, Brian Williams offered what his network would later describe as “clarification” about an incident that had allegedly taken place more than a decade earlier. In reality, the network anchor recanted his claim that he had been aboard a military helicopter as it was shot down while he was covering the 2003 invasion of Iraq by U.S. and coalition forces. He admitted he had been lying for 12 years.
Unlike some people, I wasnt’ surprised to learn about this news. Why? Because I had dealt with him before — almost 14 years ago — while serving my country in uniform at Moody Air Force Base near Valdosta, Ga. Yes, it’s only about 30 minutes downwind from the site where they filmed the swamp scenes in the 1972 movie, Deliverance.
In the spring of 1991, Williams was a rising star, then working as evening anchor for WCBS-TV, CBS’s flagship TV station in New York City. At the same time, I was an Air Force captain serving as chief of public affairs for the 347th Tactical Fighter Wing, then the host unit at Moody.
Operation Desert Shield was about to turn into Operation Desert Storm (a.k.a., “the first Persian Gulf War”), and Williams wanted to do an up-close-and-personal story about the folks who would soon be flying their F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft into harms way over the skies of Iraq. The folks at the Pentagon sent him to our base deep in the heart of South Georgia.
In addition to arranging interviews with fighter pilots and others at the base, we were told to provide Williams with a ride in the backseat of an F-16. Before anyone rides in the back of a fighter jet, however, he has to have a physical exam and complete pre-flight training that includes learning how to get out of the jet in the event of an emergency. Part of that training was something called “hang and harness” training.
Hang and harness training is just like it sounds. A person hangs from a harness to get an idea of what it feels like to use a parachute. Standing on a platform several feet off the ground, Williams had a parachute pack strapped on his back and was connected by cables to a mechanical rigging device suspended from the ceiling.
The gear worn by Williams included two main straps, each of which extended from his shoulder area, down across his chest and under his crotch where they passed by his “family jewels” –- one strap on each side –- and continued up his back side where they connected with the bottom of the parachute sack.
Despite being told more than once by his Air Force instructors that he should tighten those straps until they were very snug, the anchorman ignored the advice. When the time came for him to jump from the platform to the ground below, simulating the feel of a real jump, the anchorman’s less-than-snug straps suddenly became snug –- and in an oh-so-painful way.
Though tempted to describe his appearance as 50 shades of gray, that wouldn’t describe how he looked. More accurately, his skin color had taken on a strange blend of greens and purples as he gasped.
These days, I can’t even watch him on the NBC Nightly News without thinking back to that painful moment which, by the way, he failed to mention when the story aired. Thanks for the memories, Williams. Thanks for the memories.
UPDATE 2/5/2015 at 6:47 a.m. Central: Below is Williams shamefully recalling his big lie on Late Night with David Letterman in 2013.
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