This story came into my life by way of the newsroom's rotating weekend breaking news shift. It would subsequently intertwine with my military beat.
I was working on a Friday night when I made my routine stop at the magistrate's office to flip through the night's arrest reports. I saw two young-looking men in handcuffs waiting for a magistrate. I asked, what's up with those kids?
The magistrate on-duty told me one was the graffiti bandit. I remembered reading a story by our city reporter Andrew Barksdale earlier that week about the graffiti problems and knew I had to stay for the bond hearing. The magistrate invited me to pull a chair up and observed as she set bond for the first man. After the bond hearing, she let me make a copy of his jail intake papers, on which, he wrote "A CO 122 ASB 82ND CAB" under his employment history.
As a military reporter, I recognized that as "Alpha Company, 122 Aviation Support Battalion, 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division."
By this point, it was 9:30 p.m. and I was butting up against deadline.
I recognized the unit that he wrote he worked for and called that Public Affairs Officer. I wasn't able to get through, so I contacted the PAO for the unit's parent organization. Eventually, I talked to both PAOs who were able to confirm the man once belonged to the Army, but had been discharged four or five months ago.
I explained to both PAOs that the man wrote he had been a soldier in his employment history on the jail intake paper and I would have to include it in the story. Both PAOs were cordial and understood my perspective as a journalist.
Of course it's part of their jobs, but I think the fact that both PAOs were so quick (less than 30 minutes on a Friday night) to confirm the man's affiliation with the Army, is testament to the honest and open professional relationship that I've built and maintain with my sources. They knew they could trust me to fairly and accurately report the information.
Here's a link to the story for the Fayetteville Observer: http://www.fayobserver.com/news/crime_courts/fayetteville-graffiti-bandit-a-former-fort-bragg-soldier-arrested/article_9f5d8fad-ea80-5e86-a1c0-d522011c23e7.html