- The Washington Times - Monday, November 25, 2002

Journalists participating in the Pentagon's weeklong "media boot camp," which ended over the weekend, watched Marines storm through burned-out buildings on the base in Quantico, Va., as part of a series of urban combat exercises.
The Marines are perfecting a technique that includes breaching and searching inner-city areas room by room before going building by building and eventually block by block.
With a war looming in Iraq, where U.S. ground troops may be forced to stage a siege on Baghdad, the training exercises have taken on a new degree of relevance.
"Fighting in the city is the wave of the future," Marine Capt. Eric Reid said.
Reporters and photographers, wearing bulletproof vests and combat helmets, were encouraged to practice taking cover while still being able to witness and photograph the urban combat exercises. The training included the use of M-16 rifles and grenades with live paint-pellet ammunition.
Nearly 60 reporters and photographers wandered freely through the Marine base's urban combat training campus, watching troops sweep through rooms and buildings in a mock search for enemy combatants.
"Everybody's figured out that fighting the U.S. in the open field is a bad idea, so now they're trying to draw us into the city," Capt. Reid said.
He added that the world's growing population will only enhance that phenomenon in future conflicts.
Urban combat results in a much higher risk of casualties than open-field combat and in recent conflicts has been carried out mainly by U.S. Special Forces.
Tactical missions in cities require considerably larger numbers of troops than are needed to execute more traditional field operations.
The media boot camp, organized by the Pentagon to "raise the comfort level of journalists" vying for placement with U.S. troops during a war, included instruction on basic first aid, land-mine recognition, how to use gas masks, how to safely ride on helicopters into combat areas, and how to take cover from direct and indirect fire.
One Russian news-service reporter and one television reporter from the United Arab Emirates were among the 58 journalists from 31 news organizations, including The Washington Times, that participated.
Journalists were given military-issue masks and full-body toxic-waste suits to train for surviving a nuclear-, chemical- or biological-weapon attack. The training included exposure to tear gas inside Quantico's gas chamber. Journalists felt the burn of the gas on their faces, and in their eyes, ears and throats, when instructors encouraged them to briefly remove their masks inside the chamber.
The goal of the exercise was to make journalist feel confident that the masks work, instructors explained.
Outside the gas chamber, officers, and enlisted men and women from the Army and Marines periodically surprised the journalists by screaming "Gas, gas, gas" The journalists were given 10 seconds to secure the masks to their faces. "Ten seconds is all it takes and then you're dead," one instructor explained.
In another exercise, journalists were flown in CH-53 Echo Super Sea Stallion and CH-46 Sea Knight helicopters, both of which are used mainly for transporting troops and cargo. At one point the helicopters landed in a simulated "hot landing zone" where loud explosions and machine-gun fire forced the group to take cover.
Throughout the media boot camp, military officials encouraged a conversational atmosphere between the journalists, and their Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine instructors. The result was a mainly positive series of impromptu question-and-answer sessions.
Asked during one session by a reporter with The Times whether morale in the military is higher than it was at the start of the Persian Gulf war, Lt. General Edward Hanlon, the highest-ranking officer at Quantico, said: "I don't know that in my 35 years of active duty that the morale in the Marine Corps has been as high as it is today."


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