I’d always wanted to be a war correspondent.

Once, given the opportunity to go to Kuwait for a short period of time
during Desert Storm, I was beside myself with excitement.

A colleague who sat across from me in the newsroom couldn’t understand why
I wanted to go to Kuwait and Iraq.

“There’s a WAR over there!” he squealed.

“Exactly,” I responded.

I’m afraid he didn’t last as a journalist.

Unfortunately, I was required to have inoculations, a series of shots that
would have cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $500. My newspaper said
“No way.” And I couldn’t afford to foot that bill myself.

Since I couldn’t become a real war correspondent, I did the next best
thing (Well, eventually, I covered the war from the newsroom by writing
about our military, but that was to come later) and became a war
correspondent in the war against drugs, crime and eventually, terrorism.

Long before the notion of embedding journalists with military units, I was
being embedded with police units throughout Gloucester County. I’d ride
along on serious drug raids, often with task forces made up of several
police departments.

One memorable operation was in a single home where a dealer was being
arrested. I was with the bunch of cops that forced its way inside with a
warrant. As I recall, the guy they arrested was called Billy. He was
handcuffed and put in the bathroom. As the house was being searched, one
detective sergeant continued to answer the phone.

Each caller asked for Billy.

“He’s in the bathroom,” the sergeant said, “What do you want?”

In most every case, the caller recited a shopping list of dope. The
sergeant would wait, as if relaying the order to Billy, then get back to
the caller: “Billy said, no sweat. Come over right now.”

As each caller showed up in person, I laughed as he or she was also arrested.

One night — well, for several nights, actually. Sometimes a night would be
slow — I rode along with Deptford Township’s Lt. Steve Moylan, who headed
up the tactical unit. Some nights, it was relatively quiet — our only
action was interrupting a naked couple in a car.

On another night, the plan was to break up a teen drinking site in a
wooded area surrounded by mostly houses. The plan was simple. We all
walked stealthily through the woods surrounding the clearing where the
kids had a bonfire and drank or used drugs. No one in the fire’s circle
could see us approaching in the dark of the trees.

It would have been perfect, except for the one kid who walked into the
trees to take a leak and walked right into a cop.

Flashlights came on, cops yelled, kids ran, mostly into the arms of police.

Wearing my almost-ever-present commando journalist vest, I had a small
pocket MagLite flash light to see by. As I stepped into the fire circle,
most of the teens had fled, but one: A frail young blonde who seemed
undecided as to which way to run. I stepped toward her, shined my MagLite
in her eyes and — yes, I’d been waiting a long time for this! — announced,
“Stop in the name of the Press!”

She did. We all had a laugh of that.

Back at the police station, parents came to collect their kids. The
blonde’s mother was appalled that her child could have been involved in
something like this and assured police her punishment would be severe,
that she’d be grounded for life.

As a note, we returned to the same bonfire the following Friday. The
blonde was there again. Her mother arrived at the station to collect her
and was appalled and assured police the kid would be grounded.