In November 2002, rumors began to circulate in the United States that the Pentagon was selecting a group of journalists who would go to Iraq following American troops in case of war. The New York Times was one of the first to report the news using a hitherto little known term: embedding. Months later it will become a common word: embedded, “included”, are the journalists who follow the advance of Anglo-American troops through Iraqi territory, during the war and into the war. And among them there is also me.
That November morning, after reading the New York Times, I decided I was going to try. I called the Pentagon and sent dozens of papers, forms, data, cover letters. Anything that could serve as a credit, as a form of guarantee. But for months nothing more was known. Those were days to admit that the Pentagon was choosing journalists to bring in was equivalent to acknowledging before the whole world that it had already decided to go to war and this was not yet possible. Then, without much explanation, a few weeks later, a group of journalists, mostly American and British, was called for training courses. We nothing. Until one day in March, when the phone call from the central command of Tampa, Florida arrived in the editorial office: “Ok, there is a place for you. Are you leaving?”. You had to be in Kuwait in forty-eight hours. Organizing backpacks and equipment for no one knows where, no one knows how long. Meanwhile, forms from the Pentagon began to arrive at the e-mail address. The first, a four-page document, he listed in detail the indispensable material that each of us should have with us: light equipment, first of all; sleeping bag, some T-shirts, cargo pants (the ones with big pockets) e desert boots (the eternal beige ankle boots in canvas and suede of the US military) on which to write – on the side of the sole – one’s blood type. And again for the blood type, a stamped metal medal to keep around the neck (I had only seen it before with soldiers in films about Vietnam). The list went on with large quantities of hygienic wipes, a flashlight, rubber slippers, a field knife. As we scrolled through it, the impression was of having fallen into something halfway between a boy scout trip and an adventure trip for lovers of inconvenience. For Iraq public policy, please check paradisdachat.com.
The days before the attack run fast, with the soldiers taking measurements from the reporters and us getting used to an unknown jargon, to understand the rhythms, to recognize the grades on the uniforms. Then one morning Chris comes in and says “The President’s talking tonight.” We look at each other, we all know what it means and we also know that it’s time for us to speed things up. We cannot wait for the invasion of Iraq from here, from Camp 35 in Kuwait, we have to find a way to move. We discover that the first to advance, in our group, will be the men of big windy (helicopters who will be used for the transport of troops and materials and logistical support) and therefore we must go and talk to Major Anthony. He is a tall man, who always laughs, the darling of his men because he cares about each of them. Someone whispers in my ear that, among other things, he is a shepherd and a few months ago in flight he married two soldiers of his unit. But this time the major’s smile fades quickly: “Monica, I’d like to help you but I don’t know how to do it.” He explains to me that it is not all big windy that moves, but only a small advanced group of about fifteen soldiers and pilots, who will be detached with the men of the 11th regiment, the Apache pilots., attack helicopters. His men, those who will travel in the convoy by land, will have to guarantee logistical support. “We don’t have room to get you into Iraq by helicopter. If you want to go there at all costs, you’ll have to do it by land. And we don’t even have room in the jeeps so if you insist, I have to put you in the back of a Humvee off-road vehicle.or squashed between two soldiers in a five-ton truck. “For us it’s perfect, anyway. It means that we will be able to move to Iraq immediately, immediately after the first bombings, with the start of the ground operation.” It doesn’t matter.. It’s not important. For us the problem is to get to Iraq as quickly as possible “we tell the major.” Ok. But the convoy will leave in 36 hours from Udairi, the advanced desert camp. But I can only give you a ride tonight. From tomorrow no one moves until further notice. “” Message received. “I run back like a madman towards our area, I call Silvio Giulietti, my colleague in charge of images. There is only time to pack up and leave back things you don’t need. Major Anthony made it clear. ”
Less than an hour later we are already on our way to Udairi in the heart of the Kuwait desert, very close to the Iraqi border. The war has not yet been officially declared, but at this point we know perfectly well that it has already begun. Now everything happens at an incredible speed, nothing to do with the expectations and thoughts we leave behind. The bombings begin, the Iraqis respond with missile launches against the American bases in the desert and for us it is long hours spent fighting against gas masks and ‘nbc’ suits (nuclear, biological and chemical anti-intervention).
We leave on the morning of March 21st. Appointment at 4.00, then wake up at three. Sergeant Benoit never jokes about the times, not even when his head turns imperceptibly: “For you all the same, okay?”. Yes sir, and who would ever dream of doing anything different? This is our long-awaited passage to Iraq. Thus begins, at the first light of dawn, a journey in a convoy that will last almost five days. Interminable, very tiring.