BBC Senior World Affairs Producer Stuart Hughes is one tough journalist cookie. In 2003, while on assignment for BBC News in northern Iraq, his foot was blown up by a landmine. He lived to tell the tale and is still a dedicated war reporter for the BBC. We met recently and his story is fascinating.
It was a bright spring morning in Iraq, the same morning when Stuart Hughes’s life would change forever.
“That day I went from being a witness of war, to a casualty.”
“My team traveled to a front line position in the town of Kifri, which had been abandoned the night before by Saddam Hussein’s forces. Our guide, a Kurdish Peshmerga soldier, assured us the area was safe. He was wrong,”
“I stepped on a hidden anti-personnel landmine which ripped off part of my right foot. I looked down and could see a mix of dirt, blood and skin and just looked away. I was in shock.
“In the confusion of the seconds following the blast, the cameraman I was working with, the Iranian photographer Kaveh Golestan, also stepped on a landmine, but he then fell on to a second device. Kaveh suffered massive injuries and died where he fell.”
“I was medevac’d back to the UK but my injuries were too severe for my foot to be salvaged and my right leg had to be amputated below the knee. Shortly afterwards I began the long process of rehabilitation.”
Stuart was treated at a makeshift field hospital before being flown to a US military hospital at Sulaymaniya and, later, back home to Wales.
When you meet Stuart, an overriding sense of positivity overwhelms you as he speaks. Shortly after the accident, he said in his blog, “Now, at least, it’s over and tomorrow – when I’m assured I’ll be allowed alcohol – I’ll open a bottle of champagne and celebrate life.”
He still loves his job but “it came with a heavy personal price.”
However, Stuart says he is able to do the job just as well as he could before the accident. He made a full recovery, which he said he couldn’t have done without the support of his his family and friends.
“The accident changed my life forever. But it was an accident, there was nobody to blame. I wasn’t angry, it was an impersonal injury”.
Still, he wants to remind budding war correspondents that it’s not enough to worry about your own safety. “You can be a brave individual, but you need to think about those people back home who will suffer if you are injured or killed,” he said.
“I know some people who do this job for the thrill. I don’t like the danger. I like talking to people and telling their stories to the world – that’s what gives me satisfaction. You need to be prepared to see the best and worst of humanity because you see amazing kindness and shocking brutality.”
And his main piece of advice: “learn to be a journalist first”.
“Learn the ropes before you go out into the wild. You don’t go to somewhere like Syria to learn how to write. You don’t jump into a formula one car and go straight to the Grand Prix do you? Do a few circuits of the housing estate first.”
“Also, have a personal life, have people who are important to you and pursue things aside from journalism. If you are willing to sacrifice everything for your work then you won’t be able to relate to those people whose stories you want to tell.”