Roughing it for Front-Row Seat

Mar 17, 2003  •  Post A Comment

After a long wait in Kuwait City he has just joined an Army unit in the field. But he can’t forget the phone plea from his 7-year-old daughter, Emma: “Daddy, why don’t you fire yourself and come home?”
Twenty-four hours into the embedding process, I’m quite optimistic about the potential for this military/media experiment. I have been assigned to live with the 1st Brigade Combat Team of the 3rd Infantry Division. The commander, Col. Will Grimsley, has been straight-up so far. “This is a giant step forward,” he said in his welcome to us. “The military hasn’t done this well in recent years.”
By “this,” he means providing the kind of access reporters need to tell the military’s story. There is no question the Pentagon feels it missed a golden opportunity during Desert Storm. There were a million great stories to tell-stories of heroism any corporation would love to publicize about its employees. But strict limits, lack of cooperation and historical mistrust of the media meant those stories were never broadcast. In recruiting opportunities alone, the military’s attitude cost it dearly. Or at least that seems to be the thinking heading into this war.
So Col. Grimsley has promised us almost limitless access. Go wherever we want, whenever we want. Talk with whomever we want about whatever we want. The only limitations are obvious and legitimate-no access to or broadcast of information that could compromise the troops’ safety or the military’s battle plan. As I say, we are only a day into this, but so far, we’re getting what we’ve been promised.
Not that there’s any free MREs. The living conditions are a bit, shall we say, rugged. I’m not going to complain about tent life: the freezing nights, the broiling days, crude toilets, no showers and a cot you wouldn’t even find at San Quentin. I bravely told the private spooning out eggs this morning, “Hey, they don’t look so bad.” (I was lying.) “Let’s see if you ask for them again tomorrow,” was the answer. (He knew it.) Now, I come from a long line of people for whom “roughing it” means the Holiday Inn instead of the Marriott. But I think I can handle this for a while. Especially if it’s the price of admission for a show where we get the kind of front-row seat never offered before. Front row? Actually, we’ll be sitting on the stage.