Sunday, December 11, 2005

A Morning in Downtown Ramadi Iraq

Ramadi Iraq
Saturday December 10 2005

If you have ever attended your child’s pre school and had to sit on one of those small chairs they use, where the legs are eight inches off the ground and the back comes up less than a foot, well then you have met the man who designed the seats that they use in Military Humvee’s. Now take this seat put it in a cold car, with a heater that blows dust at hurricane force, add complete Military body armor including a Kevlar helmet and find yourself in the car park of the Government Center in Ramadi at four AM, our next live shot is an hour away and welcome to another day on the road with Ollie North and Producer Greg Johnson.

The advice from a Marine was that when you cross this piece of ground between building A and the actual offices “ It is advised that you move swiftly, Sir “ there have been Snipers in those buildings.

Life on the road in Ramadi is anything but dull. Everything is coordinated and planned because as things get better in some ways they can become more dangerous in other ways. You lock the doors on the fully armored humvees when you travel around the city, not for security but safety. The reason being that if a roadside bomb, known as an IED, “Improvised Explosive Device” goes off next to you it can literally blow the door off the vehicle. We all wear earplugs whilst traveling again in case a bomb goes off and the as always you are rolling the camera again in case a bomb goes off, by the end of this trip we will of shot endless hours of video of just driving thru the streets.

This is our fifth trip back to spend time with the forces based here for an extended period, and what is scary is that we actually now know the streets of Ramadi. Its like being in a city where you jump in a cab and start to question the cab driver as to why he is taking such and such way when you could of gone this way. Only here, the “cab drivers” are heavily armed and we change routes for security so if we go the back way it is normally for a good reason.

I had had no sleep for nearly thirty six hours apart from trying to curl up in the frozen humvee for an hour, it had got so cold that I had in fact managed to get my arms inside my flak jacket to try and save body warmth. After filming the dawn breaking over the city from the roof and the Marines on guard, I found an old lounge sofa in a hallway and was trying to catch some sleep before we were scheduled to move back to our Camp.

One of those times when you are asleep but not asleep, when suddenly standing over me is a Marine saying in the great way they do, when an order is an order but in a nice way shaking me out of my half sleep with a “James , Col North wants you on the roof NOW”.
Now when traveling with Ollie that means only one thing, something is happening and happening now. Slinging on the flak jacket and Kevlar helmet grabbing the camera and going thru the mental checklist as you run out of the door, the sound of heavy machine gun punched thru the air.

An IED had just blown up a U.S. military truck carrying 300 gallons of gas 500 yards away down the road outside the offices on the main road and the Marines were now firing to keep the Insurgents from throwing more bombs at the smoking vehicle as they tried to get the gas to explode and destroy the truck which sitting there damaged but still recoverable.

Ollie and I ran the last few yards of open ground on the edge of the compound and scrambled up into the outpost looking down the road at the scene. People often think fighting a battle is chaos, when in fact it normally a very controlled and calculated operation. The Lieutenant and the Machine Gunner plan and execute everything down to the last detail, three other Marines watch observe and work together backing up everything, there are ten eyes on the objective and these guys can observe something as small as a water bottle being thrown from a side alley from 500 yards.

For the next half hour bunkered up in the outpost we filmed the Marines of Kilo Company take control and when the Machine Gun fires the air is almost sucked out of the lookout, the first few times you instinctively jump and the camera moves. Just like the Marines have standard field procedures Ollie and I too work as a team to co-ordinate the filming we shoot different angles to ensure that not do we see the firing of the gun but also what it is being fired at. This is no movie set with unlimited space and time to ask for another take, but full combat and there are no second takes, it is cramped and you film thru gaps in sandbags and behind Marines, you cannot ask someone to move to get a better angle to film from because they have a gun trained down the road.

We hear on the radio that a convoy is moving back to the Camp where our transmission is based from and we have to leave, once again “now” and saying a quick goodbye to the guys we scamper down and running across the courtyard we jump into the humvee’s and head back out onto the streets of Ramadi to run the gauntlet to get back and send the pictures to New York, just another morning in Iraq.

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