Pentagon’s Boot Camp For Journalists Begins

By: Deborah Hastings, AP National Writer

(AP) With tours of aircraft carriers and submarines and lessons in seasickness, nearly five dozen journalists began an unprecedented “media boot camp.”

The U.S. military, anxious to improve its relationship with the press during wartime, promised a new, hands-on training session to help the Department of Defense better learn how to accommodate the media, and vice versa.

Aboard the USS Harry S. Truman on Monday, Rear Adm. John Stufflebeem, the ubiquitous Navy spokesman of the Afghanistan War, promised reporters, “We are going to tell you the truth. We are going to tell you what we can tell you, and we are going to tell you when we can’t.”

The training — hosted first by the Navy, then the Marines — began on Saturday with 58 journalists bouncing 40 miles across 6-foot waves to the USS Iwo Jima, the Navy’s newest amphibious assault ship. The craft sails Marines and all their battle needs to overseas combat locales.

In groups of three, reporters and photographers arrived on LCACs (landing craft air cushions), propeller-driven amphibious vessels that looked not unlike giant metal boxes. It is a mode of transportation not recommended for those prone to seasickness.

The LCACs motored up the ship’s lowered aft ramp and drove into the belly of the Iwo Jima, depositing several green-tinged journalists who’d filled their Navy-provided plastic sickness bags.

A brief, claustrophobic tour was also provided of the USS Hampton, one of the Navy’s nuclear-powered submarines. But information about the heavily guarded, black sub peeking from the waters off Norfolk was not forthcoming.

“How deep can this go?” asks one reporter. “Deep,” came the only reply.

The Navy also provided tours of two other craft: The Norfolk-docked USS Leyte Gulf, a battle cruiser capable of land surveillance and radar tracking from at least 200 miles; and the USS Arleigh Burke, a 100,000-horsepower destroyer, which as Capt. Clay Harris puts it, “we like to call the sportscar of the Navy.”

Officials say the Defense Department wants to improve its image after the Persian Gulf War and the Afghanistan conflict, where journalists’ access was severely restricted.

Or, as, Pentagon spokeswoman Torie Clarke puts it, “we want to raise the comfort level.”

Safety, they say, is also a concern. Eight journalists were killed in the Afghanistan war, including Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, who was kidnapped in Karachi, Pakistan, and beheaded.

Training with the Marines begins Tuesday in Quantico, Va. There, journalists face the daunting task of jogging five miles with 25-pound packs.

There are a series of media boot camps planned, Stufflebeem and other officials say. The Pentagon may take some of those participants and “embed” them with front line units in Iraq.

Despite the Pentagon’s efforts, all is not copacetic between the media and the military in this first boot camp.

How journalists file stories and images from the front line, when they can file, and what they can file, has not been decided.

A minor furor erupted Monday when some press officers suggested that journalists couldn’t use cell and satellite phones during wartime, and that all media filing would be done through military equipment.

Afterward, higher-ranking military press officers assured journalists that media communication details had not been completed, and that news organizations should be allowed to transmit over their own equipment.

“We trust you because you’re good Americans and you have a job to do,” Stufflebeem said aboard the Harry S. Truman. “But not the same job we have.”

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