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THURSDAY'S OUTLOOK

If you saw today's Pentagon briefing, then you know it was a feisty one, with a notable exchange between our own Jim Miklaszewski and Defense Secretary Rumsfeld [video link]. We'll talk about that tonight and cover the substance of the briefing as well. We'll also air a special piece on the troops tonight from Richard Engel, who has spent some intense time with them of late while embedded with U.S. forces.

In other news: the President signed the "border fence" bill today -- we'll talk about what that means, or doesn't. We'll look at the fire tragedy in California, as we mourn the loss of those three firefighters in their vehicle. We will look at the odd and almost accidental discovery of a melanoma breakthrough, and we'll change gears and look at a development in monitoring your teenager's driving habits. And allow me to add, from one parent to others: my wife and I have found that praying helps.


THE MEN AND WOMEN OF WARD 57
We are back in New York after originating the broadcast from Ohio last night, and after making one overnight stop along the way. I just flew in from Washington, where we spent the morning at Walter Reed, which is always an emotional, magical, difficult, challenging and inspirational experience. The men and women of Ward 57, those I met today who had lost one, two or three limbs, are some of the best people I've ever encountered, anywhere. So are the Vietnam, Korean and Gulf War vets who, similarly injured, walk among them as peers and friends. So are the doctors who receive their inspiration through working with such motivated veterans. It is a life-changing experience, and I wish I could bring everyone I know to Ward 57. While I imagine it's not the place for everyone, nor is it for the faint of heart, I've now visited enough to enjoy a certain comfort level there. I stand in awe of all of them. I don't think there was a soldier in that ward today whose first wish isn't to return to the fight.The segments we shot today will air at a later date. We'll give you a heads up in this space as to when.

From such an inspiring place, it was off to its diametric opposite: Reagan National Airport. Because I was flying the New York Shuttle one-way and hadn't flown in from New York, and because I purchased my ticket as a walk-up customer (part of the whole idea of the shuttle is that flights leave every half hour, so you fly on whatever flight you make), I found myself with a boarding pass bearing the dreaded three X's, meaning, as the TSA agent put it, I had been "selected for enhanced security," a distinction I positively live for. At National, that means time alone in a glass bullpen, where passengers wait until someone comes to open the door and escort you to the area where they inspect your body, clothing and belongings. What struck me as funny was that my inspector at first entered my bullpen enclave just for a social visit (before it was my turn for full inspection) -- she removed her rubber glove and said, "I just want to shake your hand!" -- explaining that she was a big fan of NBC Nightly News. However much she liked my work, those three X's meant the following: by the thinking of our current system of airline security, there was still a chance, according to a profiling model, that of all the passengers who passed by while I stood in that bullpen, I might have chosen today to take down a commercial airliner, and take my own life in the process. Those three X's meant, of course, she also had to do her job, which she did very well. While I'm more than happy to submit to searches (it happens constantly, as I am often flying last-minute or one-way routes or both), and while I'll go out of my way to do my part to make sure our skies are safe, is everyone convinced this is the best model? Just asking. I made the flight by seven minutes, said hello to my old friend and fellow shuttle passenger Joe Klein of TIME magazine, settled into my seat and went back to thinking of the great Americans I'd just met in Ward 57.

And a special note: Howard Kurtz of the Washington Post wrote a terrific profile in this morning's edition of a co-worker we are very proud of around here: Richard Engel. It deserves the few minutes it will take to read, and Richard deserves our thanks, respect and appreciation every day.

It's good to be back home. We hope you can join us for our Thursday night broadcast.