By: Marianna Wright
I volunteered to be dropped off with the engineers of the 33 Brigade. Here, I hit the ground running… So many faces, so many names, so much to do in preparation for the big training day. I fumble through my camera settings, trying desperately to remember myself; what I am supposed to be doing, and how the hell to do it? I put on a brave face. Now I remember how to make the camera use video and I begin interviewing.
As a direct-entry student in the Algonquin journalism class, this was quite the learning experience. Four of us were chosen for an assignment to be embedded reporters with the 33 Brigade. It sounded like such a wonderful opportunity – and we were right.
Six hundred and ninety-four soldiers from across Eastern Ontario came for the weekend. The occasion I speak of is a force-on-force training operation.
“We launched an amphibious assault with inflatable boats, travelled about a kilometer and a half, landed in separate locations and advanced forward,” said Lt.-Col. Kevin McLean.
I spoke to various members of the Armed Forces on the Saturday afternoon of my arrival. Everyone seemed pretty relaxed, friendly, and helpful. I stick to my plan to follow the engineering unit, so I get into a truck where I am driven to a main camp.
There was this lovely beach and the weather was spectacular. One soldier described it to me as “kickin’ it Baja” and I couldn’t help but concur.
On the beach I spoke to Warrant Officer Christopher Lasalle and I don’t think I will ever forget this conversation. I realized in minutes of talking to a man about his time in Yugoslavia in the 1990s that this experience may still be too sensitive to talk about.
I said “wow” to Lasalle, and he said to me sternly, “Not ‘wow’. Not ‘wow’ at all. Have you ever seen a mass grave before?”
The conversation ended soon after.
Taking pictures on the battlefield was my favourite part of the weekend. It was a training ground for everyone in the simulation. We, the journalists, were no exception.
I loved running across the field to get a better shot of the soldiers positioned on the ground. I heard a soldier be told to act like they’ve been hit and that they should start yelling that they’ve been hit to inform the others.
These little scenarios on the field were fun to observe. Around the end of the exercise, I approached one man laying on the ground where I first saw him upon arriving at the field.
“I’ve been laying here since 7 this morning – I was sleeping for like two hours,” Pte. S.P. Sanon said to me. Unfortunately for this man, he was “killed” early in the exercise.
I began this weekend as a new journalist. I had done only a handful of interviews, and I didn’t quite navigate through my camera settings with confidence. The time with the military changed this. I gained valuable experience having hundreds of interviewees at my fingertips and the biggest photo studio I could ever need.