Updated: April 15, 2014 at 2:42 pm
In Video: Dave Philipps' wife, Amanda, raises her phone with Dave on the end next to Editor Joe Hight and photographer Michael Ciaglo. Philipps was out of town when the Pulitzer Prize was announced.
The Gazette was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in National Reporting on Monday for "Other Than Honorable," Dave Philipps’ three-day investigative series last year that examined how soldiers injured during war were being discharged without benefits.
The Pulitzer is journalism’s most prestigious honor; the series was recognized in the category of national reporting. It’s the second Pulitzer in The Gazette’s 142-year history.
“Disbelief,” Philipps said via telephone from Washington D.C., minutes after he learned of the award. “We didn’t do this work for any recognition. With what we were able to achieve without it, we would have been thrilled. To have national recognition, with what we were able to do and at a medium-sized newspaper and for this issue, is amazing.”
The Gazette published “Other than Honorable” from May 19-21 in print and on gazette.com. The series used Army data to show that the number of soldiers being discharged for misconduct annually had surged to its highest level since 2009 at posts with the most combat troops.
Some of those soldiers who were discharged had come home from combat with post-traumatic stress disorder or traumatic brain injuries, then committed offenses that likely were linked to those “invisible injuries.” They then were denied benefits because their misconduct resulted in them receiving “other-than-honorable” discharges.
The report suggested several factors were related to the soldiers’ discharges, including a mandatory troop reduction; an overwhelmed medical discharge process; and decades-old Army policies that didn’t always accommodate or account for behavior resulting from injuries suffered by today’s soldiers.
“Other than Honorable” included interviews with discharged soldiers, some of whom said they felt betrayed after suffering physical and emotional wounds in their service to the Army — yet were thrown out for misconduct and stripped of benefits.
“These guys, they opened their lives to us at their darkest time,” Philipps said. “I think they did it not for themselves, but because they knew it was happening to other people as well. I commend them. I thank them. There would be nothing if they had not been willing to trust us.”
Gazette Editor Joe Hight said the Pulitzer was deeply gratifying for Philipps, The Gazette staff and the news organization as a whole. The project showcased teamwork that involved reporting, editing and a multimedia presentation in print and on-line, he said.
“What makes it even more important to me is that we were honored in national reporting,” Hight said. “That’s what we dedicated to do with this story. Even though it was one that was deeply personal and local, it was also a national story, something that was disturbing to find how these heroic soldiers were being treated and how attention needed to be paid to them.
“Ultimately,” Hight said, “the story here was about the soldiers themselves. That’s the focus of the story. How these soldiers had been on multiple deployments, some awarded for their bravery, yet when they come back with these invisible injuries such as traumatic brain injury and PTSD, it’s a difficult situation for the military to deal with. But ultimately, they deserve our utmost respect and we need to take care of them. And that’s what we kept hearing over and over again from people in the military. We need to take care of them.”
The series prompted a call for action among some members of Congress. After the publication of “Other than Honorable,” Sen. Michael Bennet and Rep. Mike Coffman, both of Colorado, introduced amendments to study the surge of troops discharged from the Army for minor misconduct. However, those amendments were stripped out of the National Defense Authorization Act in December.
Ryan McKibben, president and CEO of Denver-based Clarity Media Group, The Gazette’s owner, said the company was proud of the award for national reporting.
“It is an honor that shows our commitment to outstanding investigative journalism of issues important to our community as well as those which have implications nationwide,” McKibben said. “‘Other Than Honorable’ was a heart-wrenching project that was tough to tell, but was one that was very important for soldiers who served this country.”
Other Gazette staff members also were lauded for their work on the series.
Hight and Philipps praised Gazette Managing Editor Joanna Bean; she and Philipps worked together for months on the planning, reporting, writing and editing of the series.
“Without her guts, without her smarts, none of this would have ever happened,” Philipps said of Bean. “She’s a real credit to journalism.”
Gazette photographer Michael Ciaglo’s poignant photos and videos of discharged soldiers accompanied Philipps’ series. Former Gazette staffer Chris Hickerson created a web page that presented the series in a digital format, with extras that included photo galleries, interactive graphics, videos and additional documents.
Philipps also was a 2010 Pulitzer finalist in the local reporting category for his series "Casualties of War," on combat soldiers at Fort Carson returning from war and committing violence in Colorado Springs.
The announcement of this year’s Pulitzer Prizes came shortly after 1 p.m. Monday. Knowing that Philipps’ series was a contender, Hight and Bean met behind closed doors to watch for the news on Hight’s computer.
After learning Philipps had won, they asked staffers to gather in a conference room and announced the news. Staffers responded with cheers and applause, while Ciaglo popped the cork on a bottle of champagne he had been given by Hight.
Philipps couldn’t attend the announcement, however. He was at Reagan National Airport after being in Washington on Sunday as one of four finalists for the Michael Kelly Award, which is given annually in honor of the editor of The Atlantic and National Journal who was killed while covering the Iraq War in 2003. Philipps didn’t win that award.
At Monday’s staff meeting, Hight and Online/Website News Editor Jerry Herman unsuccessfully tried to reach Philipps via Skype. Philipps’ wife, Amanda, had come to The Gazette newsroom in anticipation of the announcement; she reached her husband via her mobile phone, and Philipps spoke with staffers on an impromptu conference call.
After returning to the Springs, Philipps arrived at The Gazette about 8:50 p.m. to a second round of applause from his colleagues, many of whome came back to the newsroom to celebrate. He offered high-fives, and then uncorked a second bottle of champagne as he toasted his colleagues.
The Pulitzer for national reporting carries a $10,000 prize. Pulitzer judges recognized “Other than Honorable” for “expanding the examination of how wounded combat veterans are mistreated, focusing on loss of benefits for life after discharge by the Army for minor offenses, stories augmented with digital tools and stirring congressional action.”
Two entries from the Wall Street Journal were finalists for the national reporting award.
Other Pulitzer winners in journalism categories were The Guardian US, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, The Center for Public Integrity, the Tampa Bay Times, Reuters, the Detroit Free Press, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Oregonian, The Charlotte Observer and The New York Times.
The Gazette also received a Pulitzer in 1990 when reporter Dave Curtin won the feature writing award for his report about the will to live of two area children severely burned in a propane gas explosion.
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DAVE PHILIPPS BIO
Dave Philipps, an investigative reporter for The Gazette, has focused many of his stories on the military in the Pikes Peak region, which is home to Fort Carson, the Air Force Academy, Peterson Air Force Base and other installations.
In 2010, Philipps was a Pulitzer finalist in the local reporting category for his series “Casualties of War,” which detailed combat soldiers at Fort Carson returning from war and committing violence in Colorado Springs.
Over the last year, he’s reported on an Air Force Academy program of cadet informants. His recent work has included stories about Colorado Springs Utilities’ purchase of a controversial emissions scrubbing system and the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office.
Philipps, 36, is a Springs native who’s always had a connection to The Gazette. He was born at St. Francis Hospital, across the street from the newspaper’s former offices at Pikes Peak Avenue and Prospect Street. His first job at The Gazette was as a newspaper carrier in the 1980s.
Philipps graduated from Fountain Valley School. He received a bachelor’s degree from Middlebury College in Vermont in 2000 and a master’s degree from Columbia University in New York in 2002.
He joined The Gazette that year as a summer intern, and later worked in Boulder before being hired full-time by The Gazette in 2003. He and his wife, Amanda, live in the Springs with their two children.