Hal Bernton who reports on military affairs for The Seattle Times, has won the 26th annual Gerald R. Ford Prize for Distinguished Reporting on National Defense. The $5,000 award recognizes journalists whose high standards for accuracy and substance help foster a better public understanding of National Defense.

This year, the award will be presented by Steve Ford, son of the late President Gerald R. Ford and Chairman of the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Foundation, at a National Press Club luncheon on June 3. Following the presentation of the award, David Gergen senior political analyst for CNN who has served as an adviser to four U.S. presidents has graciously agreed to address the luncheon gathering this year. Also, as a part of President Ford’s Centennial celebration, Michigan’s 6th District Congressmen Fred Upton, the Chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, will make remarks on the President’s 100th Birthday.

When announcing their decision to award Hal Bernton the Gerald R. Ford Prize for Distinguished Reporting on National Defense in 2012, the judges issued the following statement:

The judges were pleased to select Hal Bernton from The Seattle Times for the 2012 Gerald R. Ford Award for Distinguished Reporting on National Defense. Mr. Bernton’s insightful series on the U.S. Army’s review of reversed diagnoses of soldiers with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) uncovered a multi-faceted, complex issue regarding the many challenges that both medical professionals and soldiers face in dealing with the after-effects of combat. Although there has been a lot written about PTSD over the past few years, this series uncovered a largely hidden issue – the manner in which diagnoses were handled that resulted in real-world effects on military personnel, their families, the organizations designed to serve them and society at large.

Mr. Bernton’s writing approach is refreshing in its return to traditional hard-nosed news reporting of complex issues coupled with genuine enterprise journalism that personalizes the human impact of military actions in Afghanistan. The stories were broadly sourced, with verified data, and written with brevity and clarity.

But this was not just another set of “in theatre” stories. Bernton also placed the spotlight on an issue of local importance at Joint Base Lewis-McChord as well as addressing the national reverberations that such decisions have as America’s veterans transition into military retirement. His stories about the problem of tracking hidden Improvised Explosive Devices in Afghanistan showed his skill at finding a new, unique, and human angle on a widely reported topic.

As a decade of war winds down with millions of veterans returning home from service in Afghanistan and Iraq, the issue of PTSD and how the Army and other organizations address its roiling implications will be felt for years to come. Mr. Bernton’s distinguished work will help the American people and leaders and politicians better understand how truly complex and difficult PTSD diagnosis really is and the impact it exerts on the lives of soldiers and their families. Mr. Bernton’s contribution to that discussion stood out among the many excellent submissions and, in the opinion of the judges best captured the spirit of the Gerald R. Ford Award.

The Gerald R. Ford Presidential Foundation sponsors the Gerald R. Ford Journalism Prizes for Distinguished Reporting on the Presidency and Distinguished Reporting on National Defense to recognize and encourage thoughtful, insightful, and enterprising work by journalists covering the presidency and national defense. The Foundation is a private, nonprofit, nonpartisan corporation whose programs are supported entirely by contributions and bequests in an effort to honor President Ford’s sustained commitment to public service.

This year’s winner: Hal Bernton, The Seattle Times

Hal Bernton joined The Seattle Times in 2000, and for much of that time has helped cover the military.

Bernton’s assignments have taken him to Algeria to research a series on the Millennium bomber who sought to attack Los Angeles International Airport, as well as to Iraq, and Afghanistan. His work has included an investigations of injuries sustained by overloaded military personnel, war crimes carried out by U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan, and last year an examination of post traumatic stress disorder diagnosis at Madigan Army Medical Center.

Bernton also has reported from Indonesia, Russia and from throughout the Pacific Northwest and Alaska.

Bernton previously worked for The Oregonian, and Anchorage Daily News, where he was part of a team that won the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service for “People in Peril,” a series that documented the toll wrought by alcohol, drug abuse and suicides among Alaska’s native peoples. 

Bernton was a co-author of a series on congressional earmarks in defense spending bills that won the 2009 National Press Foundation Everett McKinley Dirksen Award for reporting on Congress as well as other awards.

Bernton grew up in Maryland, and is a graduate of American University in Washington D.C.
He is married to Ann Bernton, and they have two children.

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