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[] AFPS, 22.11.02: Media Cover Media Learning to Cover War,

Media Cover Media Learning to Cover War

By Kathleen T. Rhem
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Nov. 22, 2002 -- The scene atop Cardiac Hill at Marine Corps
Base Quantico, Va., was somewhat surreal today. A group of about 30
media representatives were poised at the summit waiting to photograph
and interview trainees on a road march. 

But as the trainees hiked into view, it was quickly apparent this was no
ordinary military unit. Nearly 60 reporters in a ragtag mix of military
protective equipment and civilian outdoor apparel tromped up the hill
with a dozen or so Marines and soldiers offering directions along the

The media on the march were completing the final leg of the seven-day
Joint Military Contingency Training for Media course. They had spent the
past week with the Navy and Marine Corps gaining a familiarity for
military operations. The last steps of the way was this five-mile road
march, carrying 25-pound packs, complete with "ambushes" and a "gas

The media waiting for them atop the hill had been invited to get a taste
of the training and interview their counterparts. Most spoke freely of
the situation's irony. 

All irony was forgotten, however, when the Marines launched the first
simulated attack. The trainees dove for cover, seeking the best possible
hiding the woods had to offer. They got even more serious when smoke
began wafting around them in a simulated poison gas attack. 

Some got their protective masks on like seasoned military pros; other
struggled and lamented that they'd be dead in a real attack. But all
seemed to realize the seriousness of what they were learning. 

"The most useful training by far was the nuclear, biological and
chemical training," ABC News's Jim Scuitto said. He has covered military
operations in Afghanistan and is currently based in the tiny Persian
Gulf nation of Qatar. 

The media trainees assumed they were preparing to cover a war with Iraq,
even though military officials are quick to remind all that no decision
has been made regarding using military force in Iraq. 

"The one thing that will be different about this war will be that
(chemical) threat," Scuitto said. He said the briefings on different
types of chemical and biological agents and their symptoms were
particularly useful. 

The "confidence chamber," in which participants were exposed to tear gas
to demonstrate how military protective masks work, brought the
seriousness of the potential threat to focus for a lot of people. 

"Even when you do it right, you're likely to get a taste of (the gas).
It gets into your skin, and a little bit is going to get down your
throat invariably," Scuitto said. "That just shows how dangerous the
environment can be, because even when you're prepared, and even when
you're forewarned, it's not necessarily completely safe. That's a
sobering thought, but that's also useful because it's the kind of thing
you have to be prepared for." 

Reporters lauded other training as well. "We landed in a hot (landing
zone), figured out where we were supposed to be in relation to where the
troops were going to be, how to get on and off helicopters, what to do
for a gas attack, how quick you have to react," said Fox News Channel's
Pentagon correspondent Bret Baier. 

Baier has also covered military missions in Afghanistan and said in the
next war he'd like to embed with a unit. "I think this next war is going
to be a lot different media-wise. I trust (the military) that they're
trying to get a lot more people in more forward areas," he said. "I
think that if that happens and you're able to file stories with the
military, then that's the most compelling story out there and maybe the
safest place to be." 

That's exactly what the military wants reporters to think. Military
officials would rather have media members embed with units and remain
under their protection than running around the battlefield on their own.
It's safer for the media and safer for the military. 

"We believe in this. There has been a lot of discussion about how best
to prepare journalists for embedding in a more conventional conflict
should the president order us into whatever is next, perhaps Iraq," said
Marine Brig. Gen. Andrew Davis, director of Marine Corps Public Affairs. 

"We want to have journalists with us who are knowledgeable enough to
write smartly about the military, get the ranks right, understand the
tactics and the equipment and also have enough self-protection and field
skills so that they wouldn't endanger themselves or endanger the mission
or endanger the Marines," he said. 

Pentagon spokeswoman Torie Clarke traveled to Quantico to participate in
the march this morning. She said she thinks the military and media
members who participated each recognized how hard the others work. 

"One of the things I'm hearing from both the media and the military is
they have a new and greater appreciation for how hard each other's jobs
are," she said. 

ABC's Scuitto agreed. "I already had a lot of respect for what these
(military) guys do," he said. "But you gain more respect when you see
the type of training these guys go through." 

Embedding media members with military units isn't without controversy.
On the evening before the big march, some media members expressed their
discomfort with being seen wearing camouflage military equipment. Many
used white tape to write "press" or "TV" boldly on their gear. 

Media members want to clearly define their role as noncombatants on the

"Particularly in certain parts of this world it's already perceived that
the American media is on the military's side," Scuitto said. "I don't
believe it true, but that's the perception." 

Davis said the military recognizes the potential problems and agrees
wholeheartedly. "We have been scrupulous about keeping the distinction
between noncombatants and combatants," he said. 

CNN correspondent Mike Boettcher (left) watches as Fox News Channel
Pentagon correspondent Bret Baier struggles with his protective mask.
Smoke in the background simulates a gas attack. Photo by Kathleen T.
Rhem (Click photo for screen- resolution image.) 

Navy Seaman Levon Harry, a hospital corpsman tends to the injured
Richard Sisk, a reporter from the New York Daily News. Sisk was burned
on the hand and leg by a simulated weapon. Military officials noted this
brings home the dangers of covering military operations. Photo by
Kathleen T. Rhem (Click photo for screen-resolution image.) 

Fox News Channel Pentagon correspondent Bret Baier puts on his chemical
protective mask in a simulated poison gas attack. Photo by Kathleen T.
Rhem (Click photo for screen- resolution image.)

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