UAF Journalism students JR Ancheta, from left, Jeric Quiliza and Matt Anderson phone home from the beach north of Santa Moncia, California. Copyright 2011 Cheryl Hatch

At 23:30 (we slip into military time for this trip) on Wednesday, Jan. 16, our adventure begins.

I pick up JR Ancheta, a still photographer and photojournalism major, at his dorm, and Jeric Quiliza, a videographer and broadcast journalism major, at his home off-campus. The third student, Matt Anderson, has his own ride to the airport. I’ve told him if he doesn’t meet us at check-in, I can’t cover the cost of his checked bag. He’s on his own.

With the help of Maj. Dave Mattox at the Public Affairs Office at Fort Wainwright, I had arranged an “embed” experience for three University of Alaska Fairbanks Journalism students to cover the 1-25th Stryker Brigade during their training at the National Training Center in the Mojave Desert near Fort Irwin, California. The department has a history of covering events connected to the soldiers. This trip allowed us to expand upon the collaboration of students and soldiers training side by side. The students learn how to work on an assignment in challenging situations with real deadlines and the soldiers learn how to work and interact with members of the media. We have separate yet equal missions. There are places where we can work together and places where our objectives may be at odds.

The Department of Journalism and the College of Liberal Arts covered the costs of the students’ airfare. I’m the Snedden Chair, therefore the Snedden endowment covered my travel expenses, including the rental car for our trip from Los Angeles to the Mojave Desert. We would get a lot of bang for our buck.

Prior to leaving Fairbanks, I created a mentor system for the students. UAF photojournalism professor Charles Mason would be JR’s mentor. Documentary filmmaker Rob Prince would be Jeric’s mentor. And veteran reporter and chair of the department Brian O’Donoghue would be Matt’s mentor.

We held a meeting to discuss our upcoming trip and walk through any potential problems we might encounter and any concerns the students had. We were presenting the students with a rare and incredible opportunity. With advance planning and discussion, I hoped we could help them prepare to make the best of our assignment. They’d return home with stories to tell–and to publish in local and, ideally, national media.

Brian warned the students that they might need to be assertive and persistent about getting access. Rob suggested Jeric keep the camera rolling if he were denied access to an event. I had them create a list of story ideas. They had a complete packing list. Check. Check. Check. Ready to roll.

JR had checked and rechecked–and checked a final time–his packing list and his gear. JR was ready to go. Jeric said he packed about an hour before departure. Matt called me at 22:00 and asked what kind of bag to pack. He played a game of broomball with his intramural squad at 22:30 then showered and made it to the airport as we began clearing security. He paid for his own baggage fee.

I’d gone to the airport at 06:00 that morning to secure window seats for our trip. Matt went online and changed his seat. OK.

We leave at 01:30 Thursday, landing at LAX at 09:30. I leave to get the rental car, pick up the students and their baggage and head for a rendez-vous with a friend from my days in Cairo, Michael Nelson, now based in LA as a staff photographer with the European Press Agency.

Michael Nelson, from left, LA-based staff photographer with the European Press Association, poses for a photo with UAF Jouranalism students JR Ancheta, Jeric Quiliza and Matt Anderson before the students depart an "embed" assignement with the 1-25th Stryker Brigade. The Fort Wainwright soldiers were training at the U.S. Army National Training Center in the Mojave Desert. Copyright 2011 Cheryl Hatch

Michael Nelson, from left, LA-based staff photographer with the European Press Association, poses for a photo with UAF Jouranalism students JR Ancheta, Jeric Quiliza and Matt Anderson before the students depart an "embed" assignement with the 1-25th Stryker Brigade. The Fort Wainwright soldiers were training at the U.S. Army National Training Center in the Mojave Desert. Copyright 2011 Cheryl Hatch

I’ve learned from my years of travel and work overseas, it’s important to take advantage of the time on the front end of a journey to get a good meal and rest a bit before plunging into an assignment. I figured it would be a great chance for the students to network and get last-minute tips/advice with a professional photojournalist.

We had an early lunch at Back on the Beach Cafe north of Santa Monica with the sun shining on our faces and the surf of the Pacific Ocean a short walk from our table. After dipping our toes in the water, we said good-bye.

I had to get out of Los Angeles, heading east on the I-10 and reach Fort Irwin before 15:30. JR would be my navigator.

Jeric and Matt promptly fell asleep in the back seat. And so began our journey to “the box.”

Matt Anderson sleeps during the three-hour journey east on the I-10 from Los Angeles toward Fort Irwin, California. Copyright 2011 Cheyrl Hatch

Jeric Quiliza sleeps during the three-hour journey east on the I-10 from Los Angeles toward Fort Irwin, California. Copyright 2011 Cheryl Hatch

Advertisements