Armed with only a small recorder as an embedded reporter with a U.S. Army convoy in Taji, Iraq in 2006, California State University, Dominguez Hills (CSUDH) alumnus and reporter Steffan Tubbs felt even more vulnerable when his Humvee approached a bridge.
The convoy, which was transporting Tubbs and soldiers from the Army’s 4th Infantry Division, drove over the bridge without incident; however, it was later discovered that the structure had been wired with an improvised explosive device (IED) when they crossed.
“All you can do is wonder, ‘Why didn’t we hit that?’” said Tubbs (2009, M.A., humanities).
Two weeks later, while back home in Colorado, Tubbs’ memory of that convoy transformed from a close call to catastrophic.
Hosting a fundraiser to send supplies to the same Army division on behalf of his radio show “Colorado’s Morning News,” which he co-hosts with April Zesbaugh on Newsradio 850-KOA in Denver, Tubbs received an email informing him that Army Captain Ian P. Weikel was killed and three other soldiers were injured in the same Humvee after an IED explosion near the bridge.
“That really changed it for me–it really ramped things up in terms of my support of active duty and military veterans,” said Tubbs, who returned to Iraq in 2010 and continues to report on military issues.
“Captain Weikel was from Colorado and we had become fast friends when I was in Iraq. Those soldiers had families, friends, spouses, children and parents. I saw what it did for the captain’s family–they were just devastated. The fundraiser went on that week, but it became in his memory.”
Tubbs was raised in a family with military connections. His father served in Thailand during the Vietnam War, his grandfather was a merchant marine in WWII, and other relatives have served in the Air Force and the Navy, including a cousin who is currently in the Air Force.
“If I were hit by a bus tomorrow, I’d probably be remembered as the guy who supported our military and veterans,” said Tubbs. “I’m very proud of our country and to be an American, and proud to be able to shed light and give airtime to, not only veterans, but issues and events related to the military.”
A four-time winner of the Edward R. Murrow award for national reporting, Tubbs has traveled with WWII veterans to Normandy, France, to commemorate D-Day, and with Pearl Harbor survivors to Hawaii to commemorate Japan’s attack on the island in 1941. He has also spent time in the Middle East covering stories based in such cities as Bethlehem and Jerusalem.
Tubbs began his 25-year career in broadcasting at KDDB-FM in San Luis Obispo, where he worked as first a station secretary and then as a reporter/anchor. His first stint at KOA radio began in 1994 and ended in 1998 when he was hired by ABC News in Los Angeles as a national radio correspondent, which included reporting on the aftermath of the terrorist attack in New York on September 11, 2001. He also worked on and off as a weekend reporter for ABC7 Eyewitness News.
In 2005, after anchoring/reporting for a short time on Fox5-TV in New York, Tubbs returned to Denver and KOA. He is still a contributor to the Fox News Channel and ABC News.
“I was on the road three to four months a year at ABC. It just got to be too much, especially at that time with my young family (his two boys are now 11 and 14). So I took the job in New York,” said Tubbs. “Then I got a job offer to come back to Denver. This September  is my 10th anniversary doing the show and working with my co-host, April. Ten years is a long time for a radio news duo to stay together.”
Tubbs enjoys to the quick delivery style of news radio and the freedom the medium offers.
“I love the immediacy of radio, and you don’t have as many cooks in the kitchen. Even in 2015, when a heck of a lot people get their information online, news radio is still very popular,” he said. “It’s a very personal medium–one that I love. I’m also focusing on a new stage in my career: documentary films. My goal as a filmmaker is to highlight issues that are timely, that lack coverage and are important. I don’t take a stance in the films. I present the issues in a way that enables viewers to form their own opinions.”
His first documentary, “Life, Liberty & Resilience,” takes an in-depth look at the life of Joe LaNier, an African American WWII veteran from rural Mississippi who endured segregation before, during and after the war. The film garnered the San Luis Obispo International Film Festival’s “Audience Choice Award” for “Best Documentary” in 2014, and has been shown at other major film festivals, including the Boston Film Festival and the St. Louis International Film Festival.
“The recognition I have received has been absolutely terrific. But more than anything else, I’m happy that recognition came due to the topic,” said Tubbs. “Joe was the first African American veteran to ever go back to Iwo Jima, and being able to facilitate that was incredible and something that I was honored to be part of.”
His second endeavor in documentary filmmaking was “Droughtland,” which focuses on the severe drought in southeastern Colorado. The film premiered in November 2014 to a sold-out Lincoln Theatre in Limon, Colorado, and will air on Colorado Public Television in April 2015.
“It’s a great story about how individuals have dealt with the current drought across most of the U.S. and its many similarities to the Dust Bowl era of the 1930s. This story could have also been played out in California’s San Joaquin Valley, around the Texas Panhandle, in Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska; you name it,” said Tubbs. “Most people living in Denver don’t think twice about where their food comes from, or how much rain that region is getting. So this is a real relevant story about people who don’t get their voices heard.”
Tubbs received his master’s degree at CSUDH through the College of Extended and International Education’s Humanities Master of Arts Degree (HUX) program. Implemented entirely through mail and Internet correspondence, the program is ideal for students–like Tubbs–who are entrenched in full-time careers.
“My mom received her degree from CSUDH. She gave me the momentum to go back and get my master’s. Down the road I’d like to teach, which is why I was happy to get my master’s at CSUDH,” he said. “It took years to finish my thesis because I was working sometimes 50 hours a week. But it wasn’t that long ago when I was mailing papers in to my professors.”
Expanding his cinematic aspirations, Tubbs will launch production on his third documentary called “Acronym: the Cross Generational Battle with PTSD” in April 2015.
“It will be a PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder] documentary like no other. It will take a look at veterans with PTSD starting in World War II and through every major U.S. military conflict since. It’s interesting and wonderful how well veterans with PTSD in their 90s relate to veterans with PTSD who are in their 20s,” he said. “Our goal this time is to win an Academy Award for documentary. Somebody has to win.”