JOHN YDSTIE, host:
For reporters in Iraq embedding, living with the U.S. military is one way to cover the war. NPR's Anne Garrels was recently embedded with units based out of Camp Falcon in Baghdad. What she didn't describe in her reports this week was just how hard it is to get there. And it wasn't permitted to turn on her tape recorder during the journey, but she did send us this postcard.
ANNE GARRELS: Camp Falcon is, in theory, an easy 20-minute drive south from the NPR office. Once upon a time, I would whip down there on my own. Now, the drivers are too frightened to take me to southwest Baghdad.
Moqtada Sadr's Shiite militias set up illegal checkpoints, pulling Sunnis out of their cars for an uncertain fate. And there are Sunni insurgents too. If getting into the base is achieved without instant leaving is risky, you could be followed, kidnapped or shot at.
So now I have to rely on the American military to get me there, and this short trip can literally take days. Sometimes, I take a midnight armored bus from the Green Zone in Central Baghdad for a 12-mile ride to a huge base at the airport. Weary passengers are put up in communal tents full of cots until they can make the next leg of their journey wherever it may be and however they can make it.
On my recent trip to Camp Falcon, an enterprising Army sergeant got me a seat on a helicopter. I head in to the fortified Green Zone for takeoff. There the usual seven body checks topped off with a sniffer dog. One of the Iraqi women security guards, patting me down now, knows my body so well. She regularly comments on the fluctuating state of my weight.
The soldiers waiting with me know the drill well. There's an air of resignation. The air is still and really hot. Everyone carries a bottle of water to fend off dehydration. From time to time, a voice rings out ordering people to take cover.
Then, just as mysteriously, there's no clear - the Green Zone is being targeted more often and more accurately by mortars and rockets. I'm bumped off my flight several times and end up having to fly another 20 miles north to the Taji base, wait 10 hours and get another chopper just to make what should be an easy trip five miles south. But it could have been worse and it has been.
The chopper crew leaves the doors open for ventilation. An airman watches as we all strap ourselves in as tightly as possible. Hot wind pummels us; it's like being inside a hair dryer. The relief of finally reaching Camp Falcon is undercut by the banal news there's a water emergency on; no showers for the time being.
There's also a communications blackout following the death of a soldier. That means no phone calls, no Internet for three days until the military can officially inform the family. A soldier from Falcon has died at least every week since March. Soldiers here are used to being incommunicado.
YDSTIE: That's Anne Garrels and this is NPR News.
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