Sgt. Laticia Davis is afraid of needles, so Staff Sgt. Jason Foy holds her hand and talks to her while Pfc. Justin Russell gives her an anthrax vaccine. Approximately 300 soldiers from various units in the 1-25th Stryker Brigade prepared to depart for NTC training at Fort Irwin, Cali. Soldiers received anthrax and small pox shots. Copyright 2011 by Cheryl Hatch

On Saturday, JR Ancheta, Jeric Quiliza and I met Maj. David Mattox, USAARAK deputy public affairs officer, at the front gate at Fort Wainwright, Alaska. Approximately 300 soldiers from the 1-25th Stryker Brigade were departing for Fort Irwin, California, and we would document it. Many of the brigade’s 4,ooo soldiers had already left for California.

In a unique collaboration and relationship, University of Alaska Fairbanks journalism students and soldiers at Fort Wainwright learn from each other, training side by side. In the past, students have attended local training exercises and covered press conferences and ceremonies. The military wants the soldiers to learn how to interact with members of the media and the students learn how to get to a story and work within the culture and regulations of the military.

At Fort Irwin, the soldiers will spend 30 days in the desert at the National Training Center for a final round of training and testing their skills before their upcoming deployment to Afghanistan in late spring 2011.

The NTC brochure reads “This is as real as it gets short of war.”

For JR and Jeric, Saturday marked the beginning of a real journalism adventure. JR, Jeric and Matt Anderson were selected to join me on a trip to Fort Irwin to embed with the 1-25th Stryker Brigade for three days in mid-February. A photojournalism student, JR will shoot still photographs. Jeric, a broadcast journalism major, will shoot video. Matt will do our print coverage. And I will boldly bring home audio. I’m going to leave my cameras behind and embrace a new skill and unfamiliar equipment. I’ll be learning and training right along side the students and the soldiers.

We’re incorporating the coverage into our school projects. JR is in my JRN305 class, “The Eyes Have It,” and he has proposed an intimate look at soldiers and their families as they prepare for deployment. Jeric will produce a film for his class, JRN480, Documentary Filmmaking, with Rob Prince. Matt will round out our project with written articles.

By the end of the semester, we plan to create a multi-media project that we can publish in numerous university publications. I will also be seeking local and national media outlets to share the work.

Pvt. Michael Wickers, 19, texts his fiancee, Payton, while Pfc. Eric Rivera, 20, left, listens to music and Pfc. Tyrone Brown, right, takes a nap. The soldiers are members of the 1-25th Stryker Brigade stationed at Fort Wainwright, AK. They are waiting for transportation to training at Fort Irwin, Calif. Copyright 2011 by Cheryl Hatch

Killing time before departure, soldiers play "Monopoly" on an iPad. From left: 2nd Lt.. John Conway, Staff Sgt. Sean Adkins, Staff Sgt. Charles Marsh, Sgt. Chaddrick Monroe and Sgt. Laticia Davis. Copyright 2011 Cheryl Hatch

University of Alaska Fairbanks journalism students Jeric Quiliza, 21, left, and JR Ancheta speak with Sen. Lisa Murkowski (AK-R) at Fort Wainwright, AK. Sen. Murkowski visited with the troops before their departure for training at Fort Irwin, Calif. Copyright 2011 Cheryl Hatch