Are you ready for your embed?
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.