In Afghanistan, TV anchor drew his gun and waited for attackers to come through the door

WTVQ-TV morning anchor Doug High joined the Navy Reserve after 9/11.

“I did not want my kids to ask me what I did at that time.”

“I was a realist,” High, 48,added. “I knew I wasn’t going to be running around the desert with 20-year-olds.”

He was called up to go to Afghanistan in 2017, and spent from April to December on active duty.

He was on communications duty and, at the time, could not have envisioned there would come a morning when he would be holding a gun and waiting for an attacker to come through the door.

But the time came. He had been eating eggs for breakfast on Sept. 27 when he was knocked from his chair by the impact of a blast.

As the blasts continued, High and others upended tables and waited for a possible insurgent invasion at their office and production facility, near the airport runway in Kabul. They were told to shoot at anyone trying to get in.

That’s when the danger of his situation set in: Although he was in Kabul, High was working on radio and television productions to assure Afghan citizens that the NATO troops were helping their military restore order. In an instant, he discovered that everyone in that country — no matter their job — was subject to being caught up in a crossfire, even if they had no idea why.

At the time, High said he thought that a few months ago he was in Lexington, “and now I have to prepare myself mentally to shoot whoever’s going to come through that door.”

Eventually High was moved to a hallway where he took out his cell phone and started recording, relying on his training as a reporter. Although his voice is calm, the blood seems to have drained from his face. All the windows and doors had been blown out of his office while he was gone, causing a concussion to one of the staff members.

Insurgents had taken over a house next to the airport and were firing rocket-propelled grenades on the building where High worked. While sirens wail, High winces and says into the phone: “We’re going to be talking about this for a long time.”

The grenades were intended for the plane of the American Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, which was parked nearby. But all 50 of them hit at the compound where High and his colleagues were working.

Although the experience was harrowing, there were no injuries. The close call made him even more appreciative of his colleagues who came from a variety of countries.

“These people were risking their lives every day to work with us,” High said of the Afghan journalists with whom he worked. “But these guys are going home to it. Their families, they’re just as susceptible.”

The city’s largest explosion ever, on May 31, was a truck bomb headed for High’s base stopped by Afghan forces a half-mile from its target. The bomb detonated, killing more than 150 and injuring more than 300, mostly civilians.

An Ohio native, High came to Lexington in 2000 to co-anchor a weekly magazine program for WKYT-TV. He worked in the Central Kentucky video production industry as general manager of Post Time Productions from 2002 to 2008.

He joined WTVQ as a weekend news anchor in late 2009 and in September 2010 became co-anchor of “Good Morning Kentucky” weekday morning from 5-7 a.m., “Good Day Kentucky” weekday mornings from 9-10am and “ABC 36 News at Noon and 12:30”.

He met his wife, Lyssa Beamer High, at a radio station. She’s the host of WTVQ’s show “Midday Kentucky.” While on duty the couple kept in touch via Skype.

She said her husband of 21 years was able to watch long-distance as their son Jackson, 13, hit a home run for a YMCA team during the summer: “It really was a benefit for the kids to be able to talk to him.”

High had been promoted to commander when he got the call for deployment last year. U.S. Army forces had been working in Afghanistan for 17 years, so Navy reservists such as High were being called up for duty. He split his shift with another reservists, both of them serving seven months.

Arriving at basic training in South Carolina last April, High was thoroughly civilian: “I’d fired a weapon once. ... I hadn’t touched a weapon in 16 years. It was like, ‘You’re in the Army now, sailor. It was intense.”

But before his time in Afghanistan, High’s biggest injury came from playing dead for a battle exercise and being dragged through a hill of South Carolina fire ants.

On a windowless military transport plane descending into Kabul, the experience suddenly became real, High said. To steady his nerves, he put on his iPod and listened to James Taylor, one of his favorite singers.

For the first few months, High ran the press desk, then worked with the radio and TV combat crews, producing two-minute feature stories to run on Afghan television reassuring viewers that NATO troops were there to make Afghanistan a better place, advising and assisting native Afghan forces.

It was only after his return to the US that Doug High realized that he had become used to wearing camo and boots. Sneakers felt funny on his feet, he said, and he had come to derive a sense of protection from his firearms and the weight of his sidearm. He missed his coworkers: “I’m still just heartbroken about leaving my colleagues over there.”

He passed through Germany and then Virginia on his way home to Lexington on Dec. 10. Having grown tired of the variations on Thousand Island dressing he used to dress up military food, High was craving a Cracker Barrel breakfast, a hamburger and a good steak.

The family has at least one more fun activity planned before Doug High returns to the airwaves at 5 a.m. Jan. 29: a cruise with sons Jackson and Harrison, 8. The boys “are clinging on me now, and I love it,” High said.

“Every day I feel more and more like me.”

Cheryl Truman: 859-231-3202, @CherylTruman

On the home front

WTVQ anchor Doug High said that those stationed in Afghanistan with him appreciated gifts and gestures from home. He offers these tips to those stateside:

1 Stay in touch. Those serving abroad are thinking of home.

2. Food is appreciated. High received Pepperidge Farm Milano cookies and Special K cereal from a former colleague while in Afghanistan. He said that everyone in the office got excited when a food gift arrived.

3. “An actual card is like gold,” High said. Electronic media is great, and so is the time put into picking, writing and mailing a card.