Strapped into a floor seat in a noise-filled C-17 cargo plane bound for Afghanistan, Sean O’Grady ’04 knew he’d entered a war zone when the massive aircraft suddenly went dark and began the distinctive—and nausea-inducing—zigzag of evasive maneuvers.
But after touching down at 3 a.m. that February morning at Bagram Airfield, the American base, O’Grady wasted little time recovering. On special assignment for WZBN TV-25 in Trenton, he had exactly 72 hours to track down, report, and film six stories about life on the base for the documentary he’d pitched, Inside the Wire: New Jersey Airmen at Work. So, after a quick nap, and suited up with about 45 pounds of protective gear, he set to work.
One of his first stops was the Craig Joint Theater Hospital, where a New Jerseyan, Capt. Peter Chung, managed the busy intensive care unit, itself a fascinating microcosm of the conflict. Patients ranged from American soldiers, to Taliban insurgents, to civilians, including the Afghan family airlifted there and treated for severe burns after their cooking stove exploded. Injuries from IEDs (improvised explosive devices) were one of the few common denominators, O’Grady said.
“It was remarkable, in this desolate location north of Kabul near the border with Pakistan, to step into a state-of-the-art facility. And the altruism of the medical staff, who gave equal treatment to Americans, to Afghan civilians, and to ‘the enemy,’ was amazing,” he said, recalling the weathered Taliban warrior he’d watched undergo a CT scan that morning.
Another New Jerseyan he met and filmed, Senior Master Sgt. Kevin Edwards, managed the approximately 70,000 tons of cargo—from paper clips, to lumber, to Humvees, to people—that arrived each day at Bagram for distribution throughout the country, to both military operations and reconstruction sites.
“Sergeant Edwards could have been the COO for FedEx, and yet there he was, on a dangerous mission,” O’Grady remarked. “The majority of what goes on in the war is behind the scenes: under-reported and seemingly unglamorous. But these actions are critical to the military’s success and deserve to be highlighted.”
At 29 years old, O’Grady, a double major in business administration and communications studies at TCNJ, is already a veteran journalist, with an entrepreneur’s instincts for new story angles.
He began freelancing as a television reporter for WZBN and WNJN, also in Trenton, while still a student. Right after graduation, he secured a job as a general assignment reporter and anchor for Capital News 9 in Albany, New York, where he was soon sharing airtime on CNN with such television news luminaries as Soledad O’Brien and Wolf Blitzer.
Career stories quickly became a specialty. In 2006, an entrepreneur, Lars-Henrik Friis Molin, approached him about creating a videocentric Web site to keep college students up to date on the job market. He suggested adding a television program, and CareerTV.com was the resulting hybrid. His weekly half-hour shows, featuring interviews with colleges, students, and major employers, aired on Fox Business Network in 2008 and 2009 and on the Web site, which received more than 1 million unique visits a month.
Now at Deloitte, the consulting and accounting firm, O’Grady is the moderator and executive producer of “Insights,” a weekly video podcast program that provides perspectives on business, economics, and politics. His interviews with newsmakers such as Tom Ridge, the former secretary of Homeland Security, who recently spoke about disaster preparedness on the program, can be seen on a variety of platforms, including iTunes, YouTube, Deloitte.com, and several business-related Web sites.
But O’Grady insists on experiencing the events he covers firsthand by working as a special correspondent for WZBN in his spare time. Last December, he traveled to Haiti. He’s hoping to film in Northern Africa and South America later this year.
“These are the events, the people, and the places that shape the world, and how we think about it,” he said. “I feel it’s a duty to understand them myself, so that I can help other people better understand them.”