In between traffic reports, KOA morning radio host gives a voice to American troops

KOA’s Steffan Tubbs has become the leading media voice in Colorado for U.S. troops.

Other local media figures cover the military, including Denver Post photographer Craig Walker, who won a Pulitzer in 2012, but Tubbs gives military personnel regular coverage, in different media platforms, and he deserves more recognition for what he’s doing.

For seven years and counting, Tubbs has closed his morning-drive show on KOA radio, with: “Remember our troops.”

Tubbs reported from Iraq as an embedded journalist in 2006, and he went back to Iraq in 2010 to teach Iraqi reporters about professional journalism, and he provided live reports to KOA on the side.

Today on KOA radio, you’re not surprised to hear Tubbs using some obscure excuse to interview troops, sandwiched by traffic reports in the morning. Tubbs was talking to a veteran on the anniversary of the Iwo Jima invasion recently, for example.

Off the job, Tubbs came out with a self-published book last year titled, Life, Liberty and Resilience: A Man’s War on Three Fronts, forking out $30,000 of his own money to complete the project, he told me via email. More on this later.

You wonder, why does he do this? Tubbs, who credits KOA’s Jerry Bell for bringing him to KOA, is probably the only anchor on commercial drive-time radio in the entire country that pays much attention at all to U.S. troops. It can’t be a ratings sensation. Denver isn’t military town. What motivates Tubbs?

Tubbs explained via email that soon after he returned from his 2006 embed in Iraq, a bomb killed an Army Captain of the unit he embedded with.

That’s when it hit home to Tubbs that soldier “deaths were more than numbers.”

“The person killed has family, loved ones, friends, stories and a life pre-military,” Tubbs wrote. “What motivates me is the commitment shown by so many who enlist; they’re not drafted.  They choose the lifestyle.  Some have few other options, but others could take their lives in completely different directions (Pat Tillman, for example.)  When Ian Weikel was killed, he became the ‘face’ of war and the consequences war carries with it.”

In his book, Tubbs writes that after delivering a eulogy at Weikel’s funeral, he vowed to himself that he’d “act as a beacon to make sure people—regardless of political affiliation or religious beliefs—would not forget the country is filled with families just like the Weikels.”

At that point, Tubbs resolved to sign off his radio show, as long as he sits “behind a microphone,” with “Remember our troops.”

Maybe that sounds hollow, but day-after-day, in a media environment that can make you think the Afghan war is over, it’s a welcome breath of recognition.

After going to Iraq, Tubbs also became more involved in veterans issues, serving until recently on the board of the Greatest Generations Foundation and helping with various veterans’ community events.

“The fact so many [WWII  veterans] have already gone to their graves without talking about it inspires me to seek and find their stories,” he wrote me. “Soon, as we all know, their stories will be unavailable via firsthand accounts.”

Tubbs traveled back to Iwo Jima with groups of WWI veterans who fought there.

One such visit by Tubbs, with an African-American veteran Joe LaNier, is recounted in Tubbs’ book. But the biography takes a broader look at LaNier’s life, at the bigotry he faced as a child in the south, as a soldier in the U.S. Navy in WWII, and as an adult living in Denver after the war.

It’s a compelling story, showing how much strength was required from LaNier to overcome the racism and roadblocks that were normal in the lives of blacks in our country, even those serving in the US military, just decades ago.

Tubbs does an especially nice job illuminating the hypocrisy of the U.S. military’s racist treatment of LaNier, as he served in a war fought under the banner of freedom and equality.

In his book, and in his other media efforts on behalf of U.S. troops, Tubbs acts mostly like an ally for our men and women in the military, rather than an investigator or dispassionate journalist. Still, he raises issues and sticks to them.

I appreciate what he’s doing, in the media role he has. One of my favorite ideals of journalism is to give a “voice” to everday people, whose stories deserve to be told and shared. Tubbs’ work shows how much one motivated person in the media can do, without an assignment. The depleted press corps needs more people like Tubbs at outlets like KOA. They should pick an issue and report.

“Meeting members of our military, both in theatre and at various events, and seeing their sacrifices is my single motivation,” Tubbs emailed me. “I am amazed at how many people take military service (past and present) for granted.”

Follow Jason Salzman on Twitter@bigmediablog

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