Getting organized is a race against time, but exactly two days later my camera colleague and I walk through the gleaming lobby of the Hilton Kuwait City hotel. Four tables covered with modules and lots of uniforms make us understand that we have arrived in the right place. Max Bloomenfeld, a kind reservist of French origin, looks after us. He is enthusiastic about the idea of introducing journalists to military life and makes us understand it in every way: “you will see, it will be great” he exclaims at every step, with the only effect of increasing our skepticism. But the path is already established. We still have to fill in forms, sign up for the embedding rules and withdraw the chemical anti-contamination equipment. Let’s waste some time on the dossier that talks about the rules we will have to abide by: the Pentagon basically asks us never to reveal exactly the position we are in, not to talk about a mission while it is still in progress and not to reveal with which unity we are, at least until the moment our embedding will be finished. Another sheet explains how we will be included in the units and between the lines we understand that our task will be to become practically invisible, especially in the case of fights, missions or travel. Having read everything, we sign, to the great satisfaction of Max who in the meantime has struggled to understand why it took us so long to put his name and surname at the bottom of a couple of sheets written in not too small letters. Once the signature is placed, everything turns into an assembly line. There is another set of sheets. This time they ask us for physical characteristics, weight, height, diseases. As I read I notice that a female soldier is measuring my leg length, I look at her questioningly, but “no, don’t worry, it’s just for the anti-contamination suit” she replies. embedding), rubber boots, gloves and self-injecting vials of atropine. Then the training begins. Under the blazing sun of Kuwait City at noon, a big blond boy from Buffalo, New York, explains how to put on the gas mask in seconds, how to put it in the green canvas pocket so that it is always ready to use, like slip into our pants and sweat jacket so that nothing, really nothing, is able to contaminate us from the outside, like putting on the whole huge rubber boots and gloves, and finally how to make us move through all of this you seem the most natural thing in the world, regardless of the heat, the fatigue and the breath that through the mask is three times more tiring than usual.
Finally, with the help of Sergeant Morsovillo, let’s learn how to use self-injecting atropine vials. We can’t help but wonder if all this stuff is really going to do us any good. Besides, it’s not that simple. Self-injecting vials are no joke. The soldiers explain to us, always under the same blazing sun, that atropine certainly acts as a block against the chemicals that act on the nervous system, but at the same time it can also be dangerous if used incorrectly. For a moment the vision of a chemical attack, panic and the difficulty of reacting adequately materializes in my head, I understand that sooner or later I will have to spend a few more minutes studying the instruction booklet that is inside the small bag in green canvas. In spite of everything, however, when Morsovillo tells us that we will never have to part with that bag, it frankly seems an exaggeration and we will continue to think about it all afternoon without anyone bothering to take our securities apart. According to INTERSHIPPINGRATES, Kuwait looks like some kind of dress rehearsal for the moment, a kind of mega-drill for something that will probably never happen. Here no one looks like they are really at war or, at least, no one seems like each of us had imagined it. At sunset we are already a hundred kilometers from the Kuwaiti capital. They loaded us into a van and took us to what used to be a Kuwait army barracks and has been a fully-fledged American base for six months. The buildings are low, with two floors, made only of long corridors transformed into dormitories by rows of cots and sleeping bags lined up along the sides. From tonight it is also our home. You sleep there in the middle. It doesn’t take much to understand that for some time the idea of privacy will no longer have citizenship in our days. The division between men and women is only roughly respected and above all there is no distinction whatsoever when it comes to toilets. The only actual separation concerns the floors. Each corresponds to a row of showers, sinks, Turkish baths. End. But the memory of the ten days spent at Campo 35 in the following weeks will seem like the re-enactment of an exclusive holiday in a five-star hotel: a hotel equipped with showers, masonry walls and glass to protect from a wind and sand that sometimes resemble a divine scourge. We soon discover that the hardest part, for a embedded, is to understand who to talk to. Understanding who decides what. At the time of Vietnam, when reporters mixed with troops and jumped on military helicopters to reach the front, there was at least one certainty. Nobody decided anything. It was all about the reporter’s ability to persuade the pilot or shift commander, and thus obtain a valuable passage to the battle line. Today, in theory, this is no longer the case. Each of us has reference officers to ask for a hand to understand what there is to tell, where to go. In fact, however, things are very different.
We repeatedly ask Lieutenant Colonel Myers, a thirty-year-old cold from Washington, for advice on when to start flying with the crews, how to move to better follow the action in the event of a US attack on Iraq. His answers each time are a sequence of “I don’t know”, “it’s early”, “there is no guarantee that there is really an attack”. But our colonel with the brown braids gives the worst of himself when he pretends to convince us that the exercises we are seeing are practice, pure routine, nothing to do with the war that will take place. So why do we want to film them at all costs? It is useless to try to explain to her that whatever it is, our aim is to film everything that happens around us because we are television reporters; even more frustrating to try to make her understand that we must necessarily get on the helicopters since, being embedded precisely with aviation, it is assumed that we participate in their missions in flight. Nothing Myers, a rubber wall. Then we understand that the road is not the right one. We need to change strategy, go back to the old direct methods, like Vietnam. And the next evening, with a firm step, we slip into the area of the officers’ beds in search of Major Moore, the commander of one of Chinhook’s units (the large two-rotor helicopters used for the transport of troops and materials) which are training these days. Fortunately, Moore is very nice and as soon as we ask him to go and resume flying exercises he doesn’t have a moment’s hesitation. Appointment at six the next morning at the Air field. “We will certainly be there, Major.” Obviously I don’t even dream of putting everything at risk, revealing to him that I have no idea where the Air field is. or how it is achieved. The first piece is done, that matters. Now we will solve the other problems as well. I go back to my cot. Chris, the Mormon lieutenant who sleeps next to me, is still staring on his computer screen at photos of his wife Jennifer and their new home in Savannah, Georgia.
He is the person for me. Chris lived as a missionary in Mestre for two years and still remembers Italian quite well. He is nice, available to everyone. Her only sign of harshness surfaces every time she hears one of her men using incorrect language. Then he no longer intends to explain and retaliates: dozens of pushups each time. ” Push “he orders the soldier who has transgressed staring him straight in the eye. I explain our problem to Chris and ask him to help me organize the transfer at dawn to the Air field. In a moment everything is ready and at that point it seems only right to return the kindness: “Do you want to make a call at home?”. “You’re kidding, I haven’t heard from Jenny for two months,” he replies with his face that has already spread into an infinite smile. When he comes back after ten minutes he doesn’t stop thanking me and tells me his whole story, how he met his wife, the fact that maybe they will soon have a baby. So with a phone call, everything changed. From complete strangers we became friends, we shared an important thing. And we have learned something that we will keep in mind all six weeks with the troops. Even in the hardest moments, when it is more difficult to be accepted, when you are looked at with suspicion and distrust, a phone call or an Internet connection are worth more than a thousand explanations: from that moment on you become closer, true travel companions. And after all, the soldiers share with us what they have: food, water, tents. In return we give them a chance to contact home. And here nothing matters more.