A chill filled the air as the roar of a landing Blackhawk helicopter caught my attention. A USO troupe was returning from Ramadi where fierce fighting was underway. I quickly learned that the group included a couple of Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders, model Leeann Tweeden and comedian Al Franken.
I made a mad dash to the landing strip to try and secure them for my upcoming live broadcast for the PIX 11 Morning News. It was 4 p.m. at Camp Anaconda, in Balad, Iraq, a sprawling military base north of Baghdad, and 8 a.m. in New York.
My interview was five days before Christmas and I was there for weeklong broadcasts with local troops from New York, bringing them a taste of the Big Apple — hot dogs, bagels and cheesecake and putting them on live to speak to their families back home.
Leeann was still in battle gear, wearing her Kevlar vest and helmet, Franken in a red sweater. What she was wearing looked to be the same as the gear she was wearing in photograph in which Franken is seen groping her. Separated by the two cheerleaders standing between them, Franken and Tweeden both appeared quite upbeat, expressing their pleasure that they could visit the troops.
"They really needed it out there in Ramadi today," Tweeden said. "They don’t get a lot of visitors and it's tough for the — their mission is really tough — so I’m glad we could be here to visit.”
Franken echoed her sentiments: "We go to show that we love and support our troops."
I also interviewed several people mentioned in Tweeden's lengthy KABC Radio post sharing her story, including Darryl Worley, Keni Thomas and two Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders, whom she did not name.
It's believed that it was during a rehearsal for their show hours after my interview that Franken allegedly forcibly kissed Tweeden. The groping incident now in that picture seen across the world didn't occur until a few days later, during their military flight back to the United States.
Franken has apologized for his actions and Tweeden has accepted it.