Dateline Iraq

Journalism students go to war

By Brian Patrick O’Donoghue

Embeds

Jessica Hoffman photographs Camp Victory from Al Faw Palace in Baghdad. The palace, constructed during Saddam Hussein’s regime, serves as headquarters for the U.S. Army and other coalition forces.
Jessica Hoffman photographs Camp Victory from Al Faw Palace in Baghdad. The palace, constructed during Saddam Hussein’s regime, serves as headquarters for the U.S. Army and other coalition forces.

The liability form spelled out the downside.

“I AM VOLUNTARILY ENTERING A WAR ZONE that has already claimed the lives of civilians, journalists and armed soldiers,” the university’s waiver stated. “I understand that journalists working in the Middle East have been killed, captured, tortured, beheaded, injured, and traumatized, while undertaking activities very similar or identical to those that I am …”

Three UAF journalism students and I went through the two-page document line by line with Julie Baecker, chief risk officer for the University of Alaska system. She made sure Jennifer Canfield, Tom Hewitt, Jessica Hoffman and this professor had received the articles e-mailed with that waiver, including a graphic account of The Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl’s kidnapping and murder.

“Our role isn’t placing limits on what our student learners can do,” Baecker explained. “It’s ensuring they have the information needed to make informed choices.”

In weekly teleconferences leading up to the jump-off date, I’d done my best to scare these students off. It didn’t help that experienced war correspondents were confident students could handle the assignment, especially with the security embedding provided.

Joking about our faint prospects of surviving a month embedded with Alaska-based soldiers serving in Diyala province, Iraq, we each signed on the line and initialed where required.

What followed surpassed expectations.