Mast Fall 2001
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From the Front Lines:

Saying goodbye

D-Day for Operation Anaconda

Entering the fray

Left in the dark

Weathering the combat

Realities of the job

Making hard choices

 

Other Features Stories:

We're Changing Things

A Degree of Difficulty

United by a Friend

From the Front Lines

Left in the dark

Martin SavageJust as it started to get dark, an officer came to Savidge and McWhinnie to tell them the soldiers had found an al Qaeda compound with a lot of weapons, maps and materials he thought they should photograph.

"We thought about shooting it the next morning, but Scotty says, 'There's good light, let's run down there, shoot, and get back before dark.'"

So they ran about one kilometer in their shirtsleeves because they had been dressed lightly for the warm daytime temperatures. Once they started filming, however, they heard gunfire.

"I went outside to see what was happening, and then all hell broke loose. The ridge line where we came from had heavy mortar fire, tracer fire, heavy machine gun fire. It started as a small 'pop, pop, pop' and became a full-scale attack."

They wanted to get back to the ridge, but the soldiers escorting them knew better. Mortar teams started firing, and the gunfire continued for 45 minutes. The soldiers knew their fellow troops would be high on adrenaline and could confuse them for enemy troops if they tried to return - or al Qaeda would shoot them. The dilemma: Savidge and McWhinnie had no cold weather gear.

"We had left it on the ridge because we were just going to be gone for 20 minutes. It began to dawn on us as it got colder and colder that we made it through the firefight but we weren't going to make it through the night because it was heading for zero degrees and we were in T-shirts." They and two other journalists with them stayed close to share body warmth, but it wasn't working. The soldiers had brought only enough gear for themselves. They asked an officer what they should do.

His advice: walk up and down the mountain behind them to exercise and generate heat.

"I climbed up once and started stumbling back down (in total darkness). I realized there was no way we could keep this up all night. You're shaking violently from the cold. Eventually I got back down on the ground and lay down behind a wall and just lay there and actually started to feel better. I knew that was a problem."

Hypothermia was setting in. Savidge had stopped shivering, he no longer felt cold, and he felt ready to fall asleep.

"My mind was screaming at me to wake up." Fortunately, McWhinnie realized what was happening and got a medic, who dragged Savidge to his feet and started walking him up the mountain again, asking him questions to make sure he was mentally sharp. Eventually everyone got together in a number of ponchos and lay down on the ground together, "spooning" as the soldiers called it.

"We spent the night like that, holding on to one another, and we made it through. It was the most miserable night of my life, but we survived."

NEXT: Weathering the combat

 

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