I hate to be cold, wet, tired and forced to do hard physical exercise. I also have a fear of life in the military and being caught up in a fight between two opposing enemies…
My thoughts have changed slightly after spending 24 hours with the Royal Marines at a military base in Caerwent, in South Wales. This experience was challenging, exciting, at times terrifying and in general fun.
On arrival a very stern Major lectured us about the role of the media in warfare today. Much of this we already knew and after donning a camouflage hat and bullet proof vest we clambered into the back of a van and became embedded with a group of 36 soldiers.
Surviving on sleep for one hour a day sounds like hell to someone like me who needs at least eight. I don’t expect anyone this sleep deprived to be able to hold a conversation or be welcoming or polite – yet every marine I spoke to was friendly, helpful and couldn’t do more to make us feel at ease with the situation.
Despite several blatant digs at the ‘scum of the earth’ freelance journalists currently out in Iraq, everyone seemed professional and accepting of us, clearly preferring embedded journalists who can be looked after, and kept an eye on at all times.
The marines we were with were all aged over 30 and being tested to become officers – so in a state of heightened stress and anxiety. They have all served in conflicts like Afghanistan and Iraq and will be sent out again.
Throughout the exercise we were very close to the action, leaping through ditches and over barbed wire fences and we were treated as one of the marines – at one point we even had to attempt to help carry the dead and injured men away to safety.
As an embedded journalist you gain the trust and respect of the soldiers you are working with and therefore if you uncover a hugely scandalous story – you have the choice of breaking it and getting a good headline but at the same time losing the trust of the military and putting your career as a war journalist at risk.
The whole 24 hours was exhausting but rewarding. It hasn’t convinced me to become a war correspondent but has reconfirmed my view that soldiers are not just superhuman machines but real people. Even after 24 hours it’s impossible not to build a relationship with these men who are pushed to such extremes every day. Whether you agree with the military or not, these individual soldiers should not be attacked or blamed for their part in any conflict. They are merely pawns in a political game.
The experience was eye-opening for me, I realised how much each of these men must go through everyday and how impossibly hard it would be for an embedded journalist to break a story that would destroy that trust.