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NCAA Final Four Floor 2012

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Final Four floor makers courting perfection

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Read the Tom Weir story at USA TODAY.com here.

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Gold Star Wife

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Arlington, VA -- The 3d U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) Caisson platoon carry to his final resting place in Arlington National Cemetery Section 60 fallen soldier Army Spc. Christopher D. Horton, 26, of Collinsville, Oklahoma, assigned to 1st Battalion, 279 Infantry Regiment, 45th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, Oklahoma National Guard, Tulsa, Okla, who was killed in action on Sept. 9, 2011 in Paktya, Afghanistan of wounds suffered when enemy forces attacked his unit with small-arms fire.

Military leaders worry that after 10 years of war, there is a growing disconnect between the tiny minority of Americans on the battle lines and the vast majority who lives their lives in peace. Surveys have confirmed this disconnect. And Jane Horton is living right in the middle of it. The young war widow is a member of a venerable group that no one recognizes any more — Gold Star war widows.

In previous wars, they were known, appreciated and venerated for their sacrifices. Today, when Jane walks through events with her Gold Star pin on her blouse, no one recognizes it. No one asks her about it. No one can see that she gave up her husband to a war winding down in Afghanistan.

The USA TODAY story published can be found here.

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Former NFL Player Ben Utecht

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Former NFL player Ben Utecht won a Super Bowl ring with the Indianapolis Colts and retired from professional football in 2009 after suffering four known concussions in the NFL plus two in college.

Utecht is lead male vocalist performing in the Jim Brickman 2011 national Christmas tour. I caught up with Ben prior to a performance at The Music Center at Strathmore in Bethesda, Maryland.

The USA TODAY story can be found here and the video I shot along with the story is below.

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Hanson Talks 90’s

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Isaac, Zac and Taylor Hanson are best known for their 1997 hit song ‘MMMBop,’ which earned them three Grammy nominations.

Today, older and touring while promoting the band’s fifth album, Hanson photographed during the Falls Church, VA stop of their The Musical Ride Tour for a story in USA TODAY.

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Shafer Vineyard Night Harvest

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NAPA, Calif. – At 4 o’clock in the morning, Shafer Vineyards is alive with light and motion. The sun won’t be up for more than three hours, but lines of pickers are moving methodically down vines full of ripe cabernet sauvignon grapes. They’re lit by huge bright lights mounted on tractors trundling alongside.

The scene at this vineyard is part of a worldwide practice that’s increasingly the way all wine grapes are harvested — in the dead of night. It results in better wine, lower energy costs and happier workers.

Check out the story in USA TODAY here.

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Bowling Jonas

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It is not everyday I go to work and end up in a bowling alley. I have to admit it did happen once or twice when I worked in Flint, Michigan right out of college but definitely not much in the last twenty years. Last week, not only was I hanging out at Lucky Strike Lanes in Washington, DC, I was doing it with pop singing star Joe Jonas, one third of the Jonas Brothers.

USA TODAY reporter Carly Mallenbaum and myself were there to do an interview with Joe Jonas who was promoting his debut solo album FastLife while he was on the road performing shows around the country.

It turns out that Jonas actually likes to bowl and the minds behind the promotion tour and the USA TODAY Life section thought it would be fun to do the interview at a bowling alley a few hours before a solo show in Maryland. The plan was that Joe would give some bowling tips to the reporter while also doing the interview for USA TODAY print and online.

Me, I was there to shoot video and stills for the story.

Things have changed big time since I started in this business. Five years ago, if you would have told me I was going to be shooting video of a reporter/first person type thing with a celebrity, I would have laughed it off as a joke. Sure, you see segments like this all the time on Entertainment Tonight and David Letterman but no way this is a real journalistic approach that would show up in USA TODAY.

Well…….

Things definitely have changed in the world of journalism in a very short time. Sure, Joe Jonas likes to bowl but he definitely was there at Lucky Strike Lanes bowling for us. This wasn’t a night out with his friends or brothers. This was set up as an interview with a twist. Joe Jonas bowled about four or five times along with offering some funny bowling tips and suggestions for the bowling novice USA TODAY reporter. Finally, he answered few questions on camera and then it was time for lunch. We did squeeze in a few minutes to have a few portraits made and then Joe was off to the show.

Pretty painless and the whole process didn’t take much more than an hour total. A portrait shoot without a lot of time making portraits with most of the time was gobbled up shooting interview and “B” roll video.

Doing more and more of these types of videos for the paper, I guess I equate something like this as being more of a video portrait. Ethically, some would argue that it is not truthful and looks like I just happened to be around when Joe Jonas showed up at the Lucky Strike Lanes to bowl. By having the reporter explain exactly what is going on at the start of the video, I hope that viewers will know this situation is more promotion and set up than is hands off journalism.

The lines keep getting blurrier and blurrier these days.

Joe Jonas couldn’t have been more pleasant. Me just wondering, I asked Joe how he felt about promoting and if doing this bowling interview request was any different than doing a normal interview and he said he thought it was great and he was having fun. At one point, I was standing in the lane as he was about to bowl and instead of going all Hollywood on me, Mr. Jonas simply asked, “Excuse me sir.”  Turns out that not all celebrities have attitudes and Joe Jonas is really a great kid.

All the best Joe and I really have a feeling that this little singing career thing you are working on is going to be a huge success!

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Joplin Schools After Tornado

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Joplin’s school system has become a powerful symbol of resilience and recovery as students, teachers and administrators prepare to start on time on Aug. 17 despite a devastating tornado in May that killed 160 people.

This video was produced with video shot by me in Joplin nearly three months following the tornado along with footage from Joplin School District security cameras which recorded the tornado hitting the schools in Joplin on May 22, 2011 as well as using the audio recordings of Jasper County Emergency Services radio calls.

I spent a few days in Joplin and was amazed by the “get it done” attitude and just how positive people were just months following one of the worst tornado disasters in U.S. history.

I have been in and around quite a few natural disasters in the past 25 years and the one thing that always seems to be a constant is the extensive amount of debris present for months or years following a huge disaster.

Not so in Joplin.

I was expecting to roll into Joplin still buried under piles of debris. Not the case. Officials and the people of Joplin in just months have cleared most of the debris. Lots of empty blocks where homes and businesses once stood but the debris is mostly gone.

There is still plenty to go and lots of continued tear downs but it is definitely not what I expected to see.

USA TODAY reporter Steve Wieberg wrote a very compelling story and really captured the spirit behind this community rebuilding following the disaster.

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NMG Electric Car

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Carolyn Buckley of East Stroudsburg, PA drives to work 35 miles each way four days a week. When she decided to take the job, she went online to find “the most energy-efficient, affordable, highway- speed commuter transportation available” available and come up with the futuristic-looking NMG. “I’ve driven almost 15,000 miles in my little EV” (electric vehicle) and has yet to run out of power. The NMG three-wheel electric vehicle, retails for $30,000 new and can travel 70 miles range on a single charge.

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Hard Rock Memorabilia Tour

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The Hard Rock International 40th Anniversary Memorabilia Tour starts in New York at the Times Square restaurant on May 18, 2011. It will travel to 32 other cafes around the USA in an 80-foot-long double-wide truck specially constructed to exhibit 64 memorable artifacts once owned by rock’s idols: their iconic signature guitars, brilliant costumes, handwritten lyrics, the clothes they wore on their album covers, the letters they wrote to friends and lovers.

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Mr. Schilling goes to Washington

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Bobby Schilling will be the U.S. Representative for Illinois’s 17th Congressional district when taking office on Jan. 5, 2011 after being sworn into the 112th Congress. Schilling is one of 85 incoming freshman Republicans to the House of Representatives with the Democrats adding just nine to the 94 total incoming freshman congressional class. Schilling has been married to his wife Christie for 24 years and the couple has 10 children. Schilling’s victory was a major upset in November when he overturned decades of Democratic rule in the Illinois 17th District.

I spent a few days with Congressman Schilling and his family as they worked at the family pizza restaurant in Moline, Illinois and packed for their journey to Washington, DC for Schilling’s swearing in as U.S. House of Representative from the Illinois 17th Congressional district. This is the video that I produced and ran on USATODAY.com following the Jan. 5, 2010 swearing in ceremony at The Capitol.

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Voices Afghanistan

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If you could bring an American to Afghanistan, what would you show them?

I posed this question to the nearly twenty-five marines of the 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment based at the remote outpost named COP Kunjak in the Helmand Province. The marines were nearing the finish of a seven month tour of duty in Afghanistan. The 1/2 Marines lost ten men during this battle rotation.

The marines speak in their own voices about what they would show Americans if they could bring them to their Afghanistan outpost.

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War Zone TBI

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A video I edited and shot for the story of how military doctors are diagnosing and treating traumatic brain injuries (TBI) at the NATO Role 3 Treatment Facility at Kandahar Air Field, Afghanistan. More U.S. troops are being identified as concussion victims each month under new, more aggressive medical treatment guidelines instituted by the Pentagon in July. Those rules require that any service member caught within roughly 50 yards of a blast be pulled from the battlefield for at least 24 hours and examined for evidence of concussion. The same goes for troops in a vehicle or building struck by a bomb.

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Run Amuck with the Nikon D3S

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The third annual Run Amuck 3.5-mile event featured 2,130 runners at the Marine Corps Base Quantico featuring race obstacles, military PT drills and pits of mud on the course.

My first assignment using the new Nikon D3S shooting both video and stills.

Pretty amazing how easy the camera is to use while shooting video.

Talk about putting the camera through a harsh environment. Both the camera and I were knee deep in mud for most of the day and came away mostly unscathed.

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Combat Stress Therapists

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COMBATMEDS2Video from Mehtar Lam, Afghanistan in late October 2009 following the work of a USAF combat stress team deployed in remote area of Afghanistan. The story written by USA TODAY reporter Gregg Zoroya and video by USA TODAY photographer Jack Gruber was published in conjunction with the breaking news story from the rampage at Fort Hood, where Army psychiatrist Nidal Hasan is alleged to have killed 13 people and wounded 29 others.