Pentagon correspondent adjusts to life of calm

Jennifer Griffin was a 20-year-old sophomore at Harvard in 1989 when she took a year off and moved to South Africa. A month into her stay, she was stringing for African and British newspapers and had already met Greg Myre, the fellow journalist she would one day marry.

They met at a rally in Soweto on a Sunday. By Tuesday, he had asked her out, and they haven’t been apart since.
For Griffin, now 38, looking back on it all seems like a blur. She’s now the Pentagon correspondent for Fox News — a job that brings her stateside for the first time in 18 years and deep into unfamiliar territory: a world of calm, free of bloodshed and war.

And trust her, calm is not easy.

Now with time on her hands, Griffin can look back on the adventure that her life was while living abroad. With stick-straight shoulder-length blond hair and striking green eyes, she has the polished look of a TV journalist, but projects the down-to-earth nature of someone who has been through a lot. Still, you would never know she has lived in several war-torn parts of world.

Once a page on Capitol Hill in the 1980s, she looks at the recent scandal involving ex-Rep. Mark Foley (R-Fla.) as no surprise. “They’re still hitting on pages,” she says knowingly. “They were hitting on pages then and they’re hitting on pages now. Some things don’t change.” She adds, half-jokingly, “I think Middle East politics is a safer place.”

She began her journalism career in 1989 stringing for the largest black newspaper in Soweto. She had worked at the Harvard Crimson, but this was a far different experience. She decided to go back to Africa after school.

Griffin headed back to South Africa in the summer of 1992 to meet up with Myre, with $1,000 from her father to cover living expenses for the year. When she arrived, Myre told her he was going to Mogadishu the next day to cover the Somali famine.
“And I was so angry,” she recalls.

But she did not fret. She spent most of her money to fly to Nairobi, Kenya, where she thought she could get a ride on a drug plane to meet him, but then hitched a ride on a U.N. flight for Mogadishu. Living in a U.N. compound, she began stringing for the Sydney Morning Herald and Africa News.

“It was as dark a place as I had ever experienced,” she says.

Why did she do it? “Well, I was in love and I also felt like it was a minor coup to get in there in those days,” she explains. “In those days everything was an adventure.”

By 1993, Griffin was living in Pakistan, where she worked for the Voice of America, U.S. News & World Report and the Los Angeles Times.

Her life was a whirlwind. In 1994, she and Myre married in Charlottesville, Va., and honeymooned in Kabul, Afghanistan.
Between 1995 and 1996 she lived on Cyprus, where she freelanced for U.S. News & World Report, Voice of America and National Public Radio. She moved in 1997 to Moscow, where she worked for ABC Radio and ultimately Fox News. In 1999, the network transferred her to Jerusalem, where she gave birth to two daughters, Annalise and Amelia, now aged 6 and 4.

The transition from print to TV was a hard one. “It was very painful,” she says. “I wasn’t trained for television.”

For Griffin, ease means living in the thick of danger. “I feel comfortable when I’m out in the field,” she says. “It’s hard being inside a Pentagon briefing room and there is no noise behind you.” She pauses, thoughtfully: “I’m adjusting.”

Griffin says she didn’t set out to lead this sort of life, it just found her. “I didn’t plan on falling in love with this intriguing lifestyle,” she says. “In its heyday, it was a pretty great way to see the world and do journalism.”

Among the scarier times were surviving gun battles in Soweto and living in the basement of an Associated Press house in Afghanistan in a sandbagged room, with rockets routinely landing close by. In Moscow, a number of her sources were murdered. In Jerusalem, there were a dozen suicide bombings within a one-block radius from her home.

In one striking moment after the birth of one of her daughters, Griffin recalls being with her husband and getting news of a bombing. “Each of us had to cover it,” she says. “I handed the baby to him, he handed it back to me.” The bomb had gone off at the Moment Café, one block from their apartment.

During their last year in Gaza, a Fox News colleague was kidnapped — an incident that marked the beginning of the end of her living abroad. “There were a lot of guns and midnight meetings,” she recalls.

Griffin and Myre decided that this way of life had to come to an end, and not tragically. “I felt it was no longer safe for me to work in Gaza,” she says. “But I miss it.”

Griffin and her husband now await the renovations of their new home in Washington. In the meantime, she stays with her daughters in her childhood home in Alexandria.

She doesn’t like to project too far into the future. “I can’t think too far in advance,” she says. “My heart is definitely overseas. I’d like to give [my daughters] a chance to be raised here. But you never know in this life.”