We were told of our selection as embeds on May 20. The intervening months have been a blessing – plenty of time to prepare, research, and get gear together. The wait isn’t without drawbacks, though. Three months is a long time to think about the potential what-ifs, and there are a great many. The question I keep coming back to is the one I expect to hear the most when, God willing (insha’Allah?), we return: "What’s it like over there?"
I’ve tried my best to answer this question for myself, reading up on the war from the perspective of other reporters and soldiers. I’ve seen some video from friends in the military that probably treads pretty close to the edge of what the armed forces will allow their soldiers to send home. I even ran across some good photos from around the base where we’ll be stationed.
Even with all of that background material to study, the conclusion I’ve come to is that Iraq isn’t a place that I can comprehend until we arrive. I’m reminded of the first time I went to New York City. I had seen countless pictures of the Manhattan skyline, flown through it in movies, and read about it for three years thanks to a gift subscription to The New Yorker and the New York Times online. When it came down to it, though, the first time I really understood what it was like to be in New York was when I emerged from the Lincoln Tunnel into Manhattan and lost the sky to buildings so high I couldn’t see the tops from my window. I learned more about New York in that instant than in the previous 17 years of my life.
I have a feeling Iraq will be the same way, which poses an interesting question: when people ask me, “What’s it like over there?” what am I going to say?