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Journalists go from laptops to front lines

November 05, 2002|by TIM ROWLAND

If we go to war with Iraq, I may be missing for a while, and here's why. An article from the Associated Press last week stated:

"The Pentagon is offering to train journalists in the basics of military combat as part of its contingency planning for media coverage of a possible war with Iraq.

"Journalists would learn about military customs, ammunition, basic first aid and how to protect themselves in the event of nuclear, chemical and biological attack. They also would learn about the rules of engagement, the U.S. command structure and military customs."

Well, praise the Lord and pass the M-16. This is exactly what I've been waiting for all these long, dark years of writing about sewer districts and zoning board appeals.

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A mild-mannered columnist in times of peace, but come time for attack it's Tim Rowland, LAPTOP WARRIOR.

AL BASRAH, Jan. 22, 2003 - I slither along on my belly pushing my HK G-3 (what can I say, I have a weakness for the classics) battle rifle ahead of me through the impenetrable desert swamp, when I come upon a band of soldiers from the Iraqi Republican Guard. I pull a grenade pin out with my teeth and lob it into their position before standing tall and raking them with a withering field of lead.

As the smoke drifts away, I walk up to the prone, lifeless forms, pull out my notebook and say "So - do you have any comment?"

The thought of the soldier-journalist has so many upsides, I can't say. It would be a lot more interesting for the viewers, too. Who wouldn't love to see Lou Scally emphasize the poor air-quality index by wearing an Israeli-made gas mask? How much livelier would it be to see Diolinda Vaz asking a member of the al Kasmat-Hazoof family, "How has the U.S. embargo affected the people of Iraq and give me two good reasons why my cameraman shouldn't shoot you in the head."

I don't know about Channel 25, but unfortunately, The Herald-Mail is riddled with bean counters who might see a downside to arming a columnist with heavy artillery and sending him halfway around the world to cover a war that will already be thoroughly covered by international press.

So tentatively, I "put out a feeler" to our city editor to see how it would go. I wasn't entirely encouraged.

She looked carefully over the AP story and then at a short list of weaponry and support assets I had selected, which frankly, I had pared down to the bare minimum so as to be as cost-effective as possible.

"Mmm," she said, pursing her lips as she considered my offer. "It would probably cost a lot of money to fly you to Iraq. Maybe we could send you to West Virginia."

As she looked over my proposal a little closer, I noticed she was eying the uniform I'd picked out with considerable interest. Finally she said "Can I ask what would make you assume that they would start you out as a two-star general?"

I hadn't anticipated the question. "Well really," I said. "Can you name one member of the media with more military experience than me?"

She couldn't. Nor could she name one with less, either.

So there you have it; when it comes to Iraq War journalist soldiery, I am on the record of having first-mover status. That should put me in line for all the big movie bucks from productions like "Saving Private Brokaw" and "Full Polyester Jacket."

I'm ready. Because despite conventional wisdom, I've always felt the sword was mightier than the pen.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 2324, or you may e-mail him at timr@herald-mail.com.

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