War Reporter Boot Camp — Gideon’s Better Prepared, But Still Praying

As tension continues to mount in the Middle East, MTV News reporter Gideon Yago headed to a Marine training base in Quantico, Virginia, to prepare for the possibility of life under fire. Gideon will be sharing his experiences with MTVNews.com throughout his training.

Day 5 – Camp Barrett, Quantico Marine Base, Virginia

After four intense days of training, hiking, camping, running, gassing, freezing, classes and acclimation to a wartime environment, the fourth class of journalists here at Camp Barrett had the equivalent of our “combat training” final exam this morning — a 5-mile trek through the snow where all our skills were tested at once. I’ll say there is a 33 percent chance I survived.

After a dump of snowfall last night, Camp Barrett was covered in 6 inches of perfect packing snow. Prior to the hike, many of my classmates (and I) decided to test our response to direct and indirect fire by volleying snowballs at each other. Spirits were very high this morning, mostly because the rest of the class is excited about the prospect of going home. Many will be shipping off to the Middle East soon for their embeds. Some assignments may last months.

Ten minutes into the hike, we walked right into an ambush. It was hard to notice the three marines camouflaged in the snow — I was literally standing right next to one when he started firing his M60 rifle (full of blanks) at me. Good thing the entire class made a run for a marked minefield. Then came the gas mortars, but by that point I figured, “What’s the use?” “Remember, in the event of war, the enemy is going to use everything he’s got,” said Col. Byrd, the commanding officer of Camp Barrett. “Think Dante’s inferno: it’s not just mines, or gas or gunfire, it’s everything all at the same time.” The basic lesson of Wednesday — get cover and let the Marines do their job — became absolutely crystal clear.

After we regrouped, everyone was extra attentive. We were scouring the roadside for evidence of minefield markings, trip wires or other clues that we might be walking into harm’s way. I can only imagine how hard it must be to stay that alert while fatigued and wearing 100 pounds of gear in the blazing heat.

Further down the road, one of the journalists — a reporter for Stars and Stripes — noticed some tracks leading off into the woods, which gave us an extra second or two before — kak-kak-kak — the guns were blazing again and there was smoke in the air. This time I made for the forest like a jackrabbit on speed, but like yesterday, I kept fumbling with my mask. I put my odds at 50-50 that I made it out of there alive.

And by noon, it was time to go home. The class, which had bonded after a week of training, said its goodbyes. Many of us made plans to keep in touch and meet up in Kuwait City, Amman, Baghdad or whatever cities we might rotate through. Hopefully they will all be lucky and safe, should war come to a head. It looks increasingly inevitable. In the five days since we have been gone, Colin Powell has presented his case to the U.N. and Hans Blix has returned to Iraq to push for more disclosure regarding weapons of mass destruction. The Marines say “pray for peace, prepare for war.” Well, at least now we are all better prepared, but I for one am still praying.

Gideon Yago

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