'After the Blast' details Bob Woodruff's return to Iraq, 17 years after roadside attack

ABC reporter dreamed of revisiting the country where he nearly lost everything.

November 10, 2023, 7:22 PM

From the moment ABC News’ Bob Woodruff made his comeback to journalism after a horrific roadside bomb nearly killed him during a reporting trip to war-torn Iraq, he has dreamed of revisiting the country where he nearly lost everything.

In 2006 when Woodruff was struck, he was at the pinnacle of his career, having just been named the anchor of the network’s coveted evening news broadcast, "World News Tonight." In an instant, Woodruff’s life was forever changed by a traumatic brain injury (TBI) that impacted his language skills.

At first, he couldn’t even recall the names of two of his children.

“When I woke up, I couldn't even remember the name Iraq. But, now, it's in my mind all the time,” Woodruff says. “Iraq.”

Bob Woodruff, center, talks with U.S. soldiers, Jan. 29, 2006 prior to him and his cameraman Doug Vogt being injured in a roadside bombing in Iraq.
ABC via AP

Now, in an ABC News Veterans Day network special, Bob returns to Iraq. “I always wanted to somehow finish this assignment, so now’s the time,” Woodruff says, echoing a sentiment voiced by many veterans of the Iraq War.

“I begged my command to let me go back after I was healed because that was my family. My family was still there,” says Purple Heart recipient and veteran of the Iraq War, Jennifer Horn.

“I could never really accept the fact that I wasn't going to be a ranger anymore because I thought that that was the only thing that I could ever do,” adds U.S. Army veteran John Rego, who was buried alive by a collapsing building while serving in Iraq.

For the very first time since the blast, Woodruff goes back to the attack site itself, where he meets some of the Iraqis who were there that fateful day, including an Iraqi soldier who was also injured in the same IED attack.

“He was able to go forward to the same place he was hit… and walk out on his own two feet like he should have the first time,” says Iraq War veteran Charles Eggleston on Woodruff’s trip. “That is closure.”

This time, Woodruff brought his son Mack, now a cameraman, who was just 14 years old at the time of the attack. “That moment has been playing on an infinite loop in my head, and now that loop has sort of ceased,” the younger Woodruff said about going back to the attack site. “It'll never not have happened. It'll never go away. But it's easier now.”

Also on the trip was longtime ABC News sound technician, Magnus Macedo, who was working with Woodruff in 2006 when the IED exploded. “It’s important to revisit a place of trauma,” he says of the attack site. “The more you revisit, the more you face the monster, the more you take the energy out of it.”

“I have imagined the spot where he was injured,” says Woodruff’s wife Lee, whose life was turned upside-down when he sustained injuries in Iraq. “So when Bob sent the actual shot of the place… it seemed so minimal,” adding that “it's not about the spot, is it? It's about what happens and how you choose to respond.”

Bob Woodruff on a balcony overlooking the Al-Sadiriyah marketplace in Baghdad, Iraq.
ABC News Studios via AP

In a series of heartfelt reunions seventeen years in the making, Woodruff also revisited some of the last people he interviewed during his 2006 reporting trip, including Abu Omar, the owner of a Baghdad ice cream parlor that weathered more than five explosions since Woodruff was injured. “We haven’t aged a bit,” Woodruff tells him.

On the ground, Woodruff spoke with Iraqi citizens on the streets and students at a Baghdad university, who grew up in the shadow of the Iraq War. “The psychological state of Iraqi people isn't that good because of the war,” one student told him. “That's why we have damaged people.”

“After the Blast: The Will to Survive” premieres Nov. 10 at 8 p.m. ET, and begins streaming the next day on Hulu.

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