Are you ready for your embed?

December 20, 2011

By Umit Bektas

When I was informed of the date from which I was to be embedded with a U.S. military unit in Afghanistan, I luckily had enough time to prepare. I felt I had to plan everything before I left so I drew up a “to do” list. A major item on the list was the packing of my bags.

I knew I should carefully plan what I was to take. I knew I should travel light but at the same time have everything I would need on hand. Given the nature of the assignment and the conditions in Afghanistan, it would probably be impossible to secure anything I may have left behind. Fearing that my own list may be lacking some essentials, I contacted Kabul-based Ahmad Masood and other Reuters photographers who had been embedded before me. Masood, most likely the recipient of many such queries before, promptly sent back a comprehensive document he had prepared with a list of what I needed to take with me as well as other useful information. Along with other details from colleagues, I then knew exactly what I needed to take with me.

The first priority was the security equipment – body armor and helmet. Without them in your number one bag, you can not be embedded. So I put these two items in a separate bag.

The second bag contained all the equipment I would need to take photos and transmit. I was going to need two cameras but to be on the safe side, I took a third. As I was planning to do a multimedia piece as well, I packed an audio-recorder and GoPro Camera too. Also a Bgan to give me the internet access necessary to transmit my photos and the Thuraya to ensure communication at all events. As I placed my laptop in its bag, I thought “what if it breaks down” and added a nine-inch backup laptop too. Also packed was one spare battery for each piece of equipment that ran on them. For my cameras though, I took two spares each. As I would not be able to carry large lenses, I packed a converter, chargers, cables, memory cards, cleaning kits and adapters. All this filled up my largest bag.

As I was packing I noticed my mini-tripod. “Should I, or shouldn’t I?” It looked like the most trivial of all the equipment I needed to take on such an assignment. I was undecided. It was frustrating being torn between the idea of traveling light and the idea of taking along a mini-tripod. Finally, not wanting to be haunted by doubts by leaving it behind, I pushed it into the bag which was already growing too heavy.

Later in Afghanistan, during a night patrol in Logar province, I was really glad I did bring it along. The sky that night was as bright and full of stars as I had ever seen it before. The soldiers were chatting around a campfire. Smiling, I pulled out the tripod from my bag, set up the correct angle and set the camera for a 30 second exposure. The tripod had proved its worth.

My bag was filled with essential outdoor equipment as I would spend most of my time outdoors. Sleeping bag, thermal wear, camel bag, bvac, headlight, gloves etc. All this left little room for my own clothes. But I didn’t mind not taking them along as much as I would have minded leaving some of my equipment behind.

When I was unpacking after returning from Afghanistan recently, I realized there was not a single piece of equipment I had not used, or had carried to Afghanistan unnecessarily.

Was there really nothing I forgot to take along? Sure there was – a towel. Luckily, that was available in Kabul.


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Thank you for this very helpful information.
My question now is, how did you get embedded in the first place, how were you chosen for this assignment?

Thank you kindly

Posted by pwinner | Report as abusive

Thanks for this helpful post, Umit. Any chance we could either see a list of that equipment or a larger version of the second photo? Cheers!

Posted by TrentGilliss | Report as abusive

Very interessting Article!
Thank you for sharing this with us.

Posted by SebastianM | Report as abusive

Thank you for telling our story without bias. The pictures you took of us all over the period of time you were here tell the story of what we do better than any words can. Remember, you are always welcome at the Surgical unit for coffee and/ or cigars anytime!

Posted by Medic123 | Report as abusive

One of the best articles, maybe some of this will help me in my travels to forlorn areas of the world too, cheers and keep up your great work!!!

Posted by bavmoorthy | Report as abusive

You are embedded with one of our deeply missed & dearly loved ones. He’s a SFC in a medical unit “somewhere over the rainbow”. We look forward to reading your future posts & will pray for you, just as we do him. Take care & thanks…

Posted by twilighth2o | Report as abusive