Photographers' Blog

Kids in camo

By Pichi Chuang

The Albert kindergarten and day care center in the central Taiwan city of Taichung is as joyful and vibrant as any other, with its colorful plastic slides and trampolines, but what makes it different is the children. From five to nine years old wearing camouflage uniforms they practice crawling and handstands on foam cushions in the front yard, copying the training of army special forces frogmen.

Principal Fong Yun said “I think most Taiwanese children lack confidence compared with kids from other countries.” Inspired by U.S. physical therapist Glenn Doman’s theories, 15 years ago she created a series of exercises that combine military drills and gymnastics, believing that they would help children develop physical and mental strength.

“All our children have had a hard time practicing the exercises. When they encounter obstacles in the course of their life, such as college entrance exams, job hunting, or even marriage, the experience they gain here by practicing very hard and finding a way to do it perfectly is very helpful,” said Fong, adding that the exercises help develop digestive systems and the brain’s language center as well as courage and strength.

The center offers hour-long training sessions every morning, and some kids even ask for more practice in the afternoons. The training is well-known around Taichung, and some parents are willing to drive over 30 minutes each day to take their children there. One father came to register his son, but the principal told him he would have to join an ever lengthening waiting list because the classes are so popular.

On a recent visit during summer vacation classes, several children were going through their routines, obviously enjoying themselves, performing one-handed side somersaults in the hallway during the 10 minute break between other classes.

The SWAT of Salt Lake

Draper, Utah

By Jim Urquhart

It was four in the morning and for the second day in a row I found myself on the highway headed for a photo assignment before the sun rose. Still a bit tired and sore from the day before, I was however in a decent mood. The day before at the same hour I was trying to get to the start line of the Salt Lake City Marathon in the pouring rain, sleet and hail. On that morning I was assigned to photograph security efforts at the marathon, the first since the Boston Marathon bombing.

That day I covered prevention, this morning I was covering the team that are called in to help when the situation has already gone bad. The Salt Lake City Police Department SWAT team was going to be running candidates through an obstacle course as part of a test of physical fitness.

It was day one of the department’s SWAT school. Candidates spent the next six days participating in exercises designed to educate and test their physical abilities along with their decision-making skills in stressful situations.

Soccer SWAT team

By Peter Andrews

Through my Polish police contacts, I learned that members of various SWAT teams and the border guards would hold a special training exercise in the town of Zamosc. The exercise was conducted as part of preparations by the Polish special forces leading up to the EURO 2012 soccer tournament, to be held in Poland and Ukraine this summer. This training event was to be observed by various representatives from different countries.

As I arrived at the military training ground, I realized that some of the instructors were my old friends whom I have known for as many as eighteen years. It helped me immensely to be accepted by people who were being trained. The forces were divided into three teams of SWAT and border guards being trained on different public transport vehicles, in various techniques of approaching a hijacked bus followed by mastering the techniques of entering and rescuing hostages from inside the vehicle.

Witnessing dozens of similar exercises I’m always amazed by the speed and agility with which these men can move. It also helps me understand how much time, effort and dedication they have to invest to be able to work with such precision.

Crawling for honor

The problem with covering military events in Taiwan is that they are conducted in a controlled environment where almost everything is staged for the media. However, sometimes I would like to see the true grit of army life and the side that is rarely seen in public. Being conscripted to the military myself in Singapore, I have witnessed how tough training can be in the army.

My quest to illustrate this in Taiwan was fulfilled when I negotiated exclusive access to cover the final stage of a nine-week intensive Amphibious Training Program for Taiwan Marine Corps titled “Road to Heaven”.

Taiwan Marines’ “Road to Heaven” test from Nicky Loh on Vimeo.

Training for the unforeseen

Recently I was one of a group of journalists who attended a four-day hostile environment training course in Bangkok. I was unsure just what to expect as I’d been told all sorts of tales – mostly scary – about what sort of things would happen to us.

Vivek

The group numbered 14; all of us Reuters journalists, including text correspondents, video producers and photographers. There were five of us from Pictures - Seoul staffer Jo Yong-Hak, Chief Photographer Japan Mike Caronna, Amit Guptafrom Jammu in Indian-administered Kashmir, Pichi Chuang from Taipei and Victor Frailefrom Hong Kong. The level of experience in the group varied wildly, from highly experienced correspondents, producers and photographers, to neophytes like me. 

On the first day of the course, our instructors introduced themselves – they were both ex-Australian SAS personnel, with a wealth of experience of operating in dangerous places including East Timor, Iraq and Afghanistan.

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