Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Training For The Unknown

I close my eyes, pretend to sleep. Maybe I'm dreaming. Maybe I'll awake soon. But as I lay here, reality kicks in and I'm no longer asleep--instead, I'm laying flat on my stomach, head buried into the ground, arms and legs are spread apart in a most awkward position. My head is completely hooded with a black cloth--and I'm gasping for air as it envelopes my entire face. Darkness never felt so real.

When you're held hostage, there are too many thoughts running through your mind. Too many scenarios unfolding in a theatre of unforgiving plots. It's almost like dying a slow death, wondering when that moment will come.

Loud explosions erupt around me, but I cannot see a thing. I can hear it. I can smell it. But I cannot tell if my fellow photographers are dead or alive. And for a brief moment, under complete darkness, I had to remind myself that I've yet to die--so I continue breathing, gasping for air, looking for light.

***************

As a photographer on foreign assignment, one of the scariest and most deadly scenarios we face is that of which I've described above. Time and time again, foreign journalists and photographers are held hostage for ransom, political gain, or other terrorist related ordeal. It's a nightmare that I hope will never come alive--but lately, it's horror that I've had to face in reality.

Thankfully, it was only a training exercise.

I'm currently in Strasburg, Virginia--deep in the mountains of a remote training ground that caters to photographers and journalists who cover stories in the developing world, conflict zones, and in hostile environments. I've been here since Monday, and so far, I've been killed many times, set off booby traps that desolated my entire team, and even managed to accidentally enter a field littered with landmines.

The training that I'm currently taking is put together by an elite team of seasoned military professionals. My group consisted of 16 people, most of which are photographers and journalists from the BBC, Associated Press, CNN, and Non Governmental Organizations that operate in foreign countries.

So far, as I'm going thru this training, I'm amazed at the amount of information that is flooding my knowledge bank. Things like choosing the safest hotel room, back tracking your way out of a field of landmines, treating shock and trauma victims, finding bullet wounds and shrapnel, dealing with check points and security details--most of which I've faced before, but never with such strategic precision as this. It's knowledge that can one day save a life--or my own. Hopefully, I'll never have to use it.

I'll be here until Friday. Tomorrow, I'll be trained how to dodge incoming bullets, evasive body maneuvering, stop arterial bleeding, and how to bandage shrapnel wounds.

I'll be writing more descriptive in a future post. Stay tuned.

13 comments:

Bon Don said...

RON!!! you are not allowed to scare the crap out of me like that again!!!

Alexandra said...

Intense. I still think about Laura Ling in North Korea and wonder how many nameless photogs/journalists are being held hostage all over the world. I am glad you are getting this training so you can avoid the scenarios at all costs.

Sebastian said...

Aw, I thought some captors had given you 5 minutes to blog about your ordeal, and I was about to take part in some kind of international rescue -- Save Ron!

... But hey, I'm glad you're not ACTUALLY captured.

Sounds like a lot of fun though. Being taught by experts is always such a rich experience. Being able to ask them anything, and they know the answer. Very enlightening, and slightly humbling :)

Hillbilly Duhn said...

UGh. You know, until you wrote that just now, I don't think that, THAT part of your job occured to me. You hear about that stuff all the time on t.v., hell, now all I can think of is, Man, you are so much braver then I gave you credit for.

I bow down to you in a Wayne's WOrld kind of way, "I am not worthy"....was that wayne's world, maybe it was another movie, oh well, you get the idea. :)

DUTA said...

Here in Israel where I live, every citizen has to know these things: what hotel room to choose, which air company is safer, how to deal with shock/trauma/security details. etc... Life is not easy, and things are getting worse all over the world. Now that G. Bush who declared war on terrorism is no longer president, America is considered by terror countries "a piece of cake".So it's not only photographers and journalists that have to undergo security training, but every citizen.The sooner, the better.

Sarah, The New Girl said...

wow. that's some intense training. You definitely hear a lot about journalists and photographers being abducted on the news... so it's good that you're training for something like that... but scary. hopefully you'll never have to put that training to good use.

although, on the lighter side, your training tomorrow on how to dodge a bullet could be useful when you get home. bet no one will challenge you to paintball!! :)

be safe!

canadasue said...

Peace be with you... I'm on my way to work in Cambodia and found you through google... thanks for going places and telling stories which need telling... your presence bears witness and gives meaning

TheChicGeek said...

Wow, this is so cool, Ron! It sounds like a fabulous experience and you're attaining skills that could possibly save your life some day.
It's my prayer for you that you never have to be put in that situation.
I recently asked a friend if he felt the military training he received to prepare himself for a prisioner of war situation would really help if he found himself situated as such. The training just seemed so incredibly difficult and very gruesome. He said most definitely, yes. He was glad to have experienced it and felt it would help him if he was ever put in that situation. This sounds similar and like a highly beneficial course for people in your line of work to take. I'm glad you are preparing yourself for the worst.
You certainly lead an exciting life. It's always a treat to see What in The World Ron is Up To....LOL..
You are just too cool for school, Mister :D
Stay Safe and Many Blessings to You!

Dan Denardo said...

Oh, man. Hang in there, dude. I'm feelin' your pain.

- Dan

Desert Rat said...

What a wonderful training to have for you guys, I would have never thought of it but it makes sense!

I'm so glad to hear you are there and learning techniques that could save your life!

Young Traveler said...

Seriously. Intense.

Don't die. What would I do without your blog?

John said...

Only 4 posts for May? I hope I'm not infecting you. You've got a beautiful gift for photography and writing so hope to see more stuffs from you, bro :D

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