...I made it outside the wire yesterday (Sunday, February 22).
I've been wanting to get outside the wire since I arrived. After all, I didn't spend 5 months in training to sit at my desk day after day, typing, reading e-mails, and arranging interviews. I want action! I want adventure! And now I want some Motrin. That "battle rattle" gets heavy after awhile!
The event was the release of 57 Iraqi detainees, one of many such upcoming ceremonies. I was originally supposed to be in a helicopter over the site, taking photos from above, but we got "weathered" out by fog. (Okay, sand fog, but that's another post.) So, I joined the group on the ground. I convoyed out with Soldiers from Task Force Dagger, otherwise known as 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division. We moved out in 3 very large, armored vehicles. Think up-armored school buses. The most difficult part was just getting into the seat. There is plenty of room, but when you're wearing a helmet that cuts off your peripheral vision, a very bulky vest of body armor, carrying a camera, AND trying to put on a 5-point seatbelt it gets a little crazy.
Our first stop was the Green Zone (or International Zone) to pick up the Iraqi journalists that our Media Engagement Team had invited. When I was here in Baghdad in 2003 it was right after the initial combat and things were still quite messy. People were sleeping in vehicles, in hallways, in bathrooms...where ever you could find a spot to lay down your head. I got out and about in the Green Zone then, especially to the famous crossed swords...you've seen the photos...the huge pair of hands holding up crossed swords over the wide avenue that Iraqi soldiers once marched down in front of Saddam. There are two sets of them, one at each end.
When I saw the swords from the window of my school bus, I knew exactly where we were and I had an eerie sense of homecoming. It was an odd feeling. Off in the distance I could see the Al Rasheed hotel, where we stayed while we were establing the Press Information Center at the convention center, which I could barely see over the palm trees. Nothing at the site had really changed exept that one of the cast iron "hands" had broken off and was lying in a heap at the base of the sword.
We loaded our journalists and proceeded to the site of the detainee release. There were a lot of people there, including Coalition Soldiers and Iraqi family members awaiting their family member. I was able to witness several family reunions and it was very touching to see these men greeting their wives, children, parents, and friends. The tribal culture in Iraq is very family oriented and their relationships with each other run very deep. There were lots of tears, shouts of joy, hugging, and kissing.
There were also lots of Iraqi media present! Journalists with all types of video and still cameras were milling about, capturing the family reunions here and there. During the speeches they all lined up in a row, basically blocking the view of the entire audience. I wish that I had access to Iraqi media to see what was eventually aired or printed.
We returned our journalists to the Green Zone and then proceeded back to Camp Liberty. Overall, a successful mission for me on many levels...I got out of the office on a nice Sunday afternoon and I got some nice shots of our journalists hard at work.