I had my doubts about the Pentagon's sincerity about what being "embedded" was supposed to be: unfettered access to what the military was going to do in Iraq (subject, of course, to the ground rules). But the doubts began to ease when I attended the media-training program at Ft. Benning, Ga., in mid December. Gen. Paul Eaton spoke of a "crust of distrust" the military had developed for the media in the wake of Vietnam. He said the Army had a great story to tell and the U.S. military wanted to make sure men and women sent to future wars could have the story told by journalists living alongside the troops and experiencing combat at ground level.
The media training proved to be a very good idea. A non-veteran, I gained insight into military procedures and culture and learned some valuable things (for staying clean when you're unable to bathe, baby wipes are key).
Being embedded (I was with the Army Third Infantry Division, Task Force 3-69 out of Ft. Stewart, Ga.) meant traveling light. The advice from the military: "Take only what you can carry on your back." I got my gear down to one backpack (with sleeping bag slung beneath it), one duffel bag, and a large fanny pack for my minidisc machine, Iridium phone and accessories. Adding to the load: the chemical/bio gear the military loaned us.
I joined Task Force 3-69 at its headquarters in the Kuwait desert on March 11, and, from the very beginning, the senior officers made clear that I and two other embeds would have access to anybody and virtually everything. For example, we soon learned that the ultimate objective of the task force was to capture Saddam International Airport—a secret we kept until the event occurred.
I suppose my standout moment will always be going on the air live from the runway at Saddam International. When the column of tanks and Bradleys stopped, I stepped onto the tarmac, got on the phone and gave ABC News the first word that the Army was at the airport, after encountering little Iraqi resistance.
I believe the media embedding experience and the technology that made live battlefield coverage possible will bring a fundamental change in the way wars are reported. As someone who has covered both conflicts with Iraq, I can say the interests of everyone, from the media and the military to the parents and spouses of the troops, were better served with direct reporting from the field than by having generals stand in front of cameras playing "smart-bomb" videos at daily briefings.
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