It’s day two here on base, and so far the experience has been overwhelmingly incredible. I’m learning many military acronyms and lingo, so I’ve decided to titled each post with a cool new term I’ll definitely be using in day-to-day conversations back home.
I’ll start at the beginning.
After an early start Monday, followed by terrible traffic, baggage troubles, an $84 flight transfer fee and a short trip over the mountains, I made it to the Edmonton airport safe and sound.
Two men in uniform were awaiting my arrival. They escorted me to the car and accompanied me on the two-hour drive to the CFB Wainwright military base.
I was nervous, of course: I headed into this opportunity unprepared and slightly blind, and was expecting to be thrown into a bootcamp-like situation.
Boy was I wrong.
One of the soldiers I’ve befriended likened the practical experience I’ll get next week to a giant game of lasertag. The people here are friendly, the food is actually tasty and apart from adhering to a strict time schedule and base rules, the other journalists and I have some liberty in how we spend our time.
Last night, for example, I spent my free time with the other girls and our new soldier friends who are also taking part in the program here. We watched the Canucks game, beers in hand, and talked about monarchism and media and military. (Can you spell patriotism?)
As for the learning portion here, everything is an experience, whether it’s learning the base rules, or learning how to pack the enormous rucksacks we’ll be backpacking around while embedded.
Beginning May 2, I’ll start my actual reporting. This week is dedicated to tours of the area and briefings that range from Canada’s role in Afghanistan, to how to properly get into a Chinook or Griffon (both of which are very intense-looking helicopters).
A little info on the course: We’re embedded from the 2nd to the 10th. We’re split up into groups, and accompanied by a driver who will take us from town to town. Part of the back country has been transformed into a replica of Afghanistan, which includes various cities and FOBs (forward operating bases).
The area is huge: Over 600 square kilometres.
It’s also an extensive exercise, which includes over 3000 people. Some are Afghan actors who play the roles of civilians, warlords, government officials and terrorists. Others are soldiers, who take part in the exercise so they can practice manoeuvres and train before they ship out.
Our role here is to provide a media presence in the “game,” so that soldiers can learn how to interact with journalists and practice protecting us.
And we will need protecting. There are realistic simulations that replicate mass casualty events, among other things.
As a part of the program, we also get to wear WES vests that, just like in lasertag, will let you know if you’ve been killed or injured. If you die, you drop to the ground. If you are living, but limbless, you have to scream and are transported to a helicopter and airlifted out quickly as your “life metre” counts down.
It’s intense, it’s real. And there’s more to come.