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In The Line Of Fire

Army Corps of Engineers shoots Iraqi reconstruction: Sand—gritty granules that infiltrate every piece of video equipment and computer technology. Travel days that become a half week long due to unplanned delays. IEDs, roadside bombs, and renegade gangs waiting for an

Army Corps of Engineers shoots Iraqi reconstruction:

Sand—gritty granules that infiltrate every piece of video equipment and computer technology. Travel days that become a half-week long due to unplanned delays. IEDs, roadside bombs, and renegade gangs waiting for an opportunity to inflict damage on a travel convoy.

These are just a few examples of the challenges faced in Iraq by a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers public affairs videographer—part of a crew of specialists using video and Internet technologies since the establishment of the Corps’ Gulf Region Division (GRD) in Baghdad in January 2004.

Providing engineering support for military and civil construction while assisting Iraq’s government in assuming responsibility for its reconstruction is an integral part of USACE’s worldwide mission. USACE includes close to 6,000 military and 30,000 civilian personnel based in approximately 90 countries, but deployment to Iraq is not a simple process.

Every USACE employee must volunteer; no one is simply assigned to go to Iraq. Once an individual volunteers, he or she faces an intensive process of paperwork and medical exams that can take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months. In the case of public affairs specialists,

Kevin Casey at the Al Quds Electrical Generation Expansion Project. PHOTO COURTESY USACE deployment to Iraq generally lasts for six months to one year.

In Baghdad, there is a team of seven USACE public affairs specialists who document the Corps’ involvement with Iraq’s numerous reconstruction projects and programs. They also put a face on the personnel who carry out these initiatives.

Programs include the Women’s Initiative Program—which helps Iraqi women start businesses and bid on contracts, and personal stories focus on the USACE men and women, civilian and military, who assist in the rebuilding and reconstruction projects and programs.

According to DeDe Cordell, chief of public affairs for the USACE GRD, there are “some amazing people doing some amazing work that no one hears about” and it’s the public affairs department’s duty to get those stories out into the public sphere.

Video footage from USACE’s coverage winds up on the USACE YouTube page, but USACE stories also appear with the Soldiers Media Center, AFN and the Pentagon Channel.

USACE also posts its video through DVIDS, the Digital Video Image Distribution System, which anyone can register to use. DVIDS makes it simple to download video and repurpose it for other markets or personal consumption.

Additionally, many individual stories are marketed directly to local broadcasters markets, which allows American citizens to view the reconstruction work that their neighbors, old college buddies, students, and loved ones are involved with in Iraq.

“For every one of those local news stations that pick up our story because of the local community tie, that’s hundreds of thousands of people who can hear what the USACE is doing in Iraq,” said Cordell.

Shooting video is problematic due to environmental and situational complications, so the process is kept fairly simple. The camera of choice is the Sony DSR-PD170, which has an ECM-NV1 condenser mic mounted on top. While the mic is inexpensive, it has good directional quality, according to Rick Haverinen, public affairs specialist with USACE GRD, Baghdad.

For interviews, Haverinen removes the mic from the camera and mounts it onto a baby boom that then sits on a regular floor mic stand. He also carries a Sony UTXB1, URX-P1 wireless mic system, but tries to stay away from using it since the sound can be “a bit harsh.” A Bogen 501 pan head on a 3001 BN tripod, and a

Former broadcaster Julie Cupernall lines up a shot. PHOTO COURTESY USACE Sony DSR-11 tape deck completes the video package.

“This is a one-man-band kind of thing and I can’t quite carry a light kit with me if I’m doing one trip,” he said. “I have the hard-shell Sony camera case and another bag with a light and cables and maybe a roll of duct tape. I also carry the baby boom so I can place the mic overhead because the sound quality is better that way. I would recommend a baby boom in this environment. It’s one more thing to carry, but it’s useful.”

To counteract the dust, cameras are loaded and unloaded inside a vehicle or building whenever possible. “There will be infiltration. You can blow dust off, but it’s still going to find its way in even when there’s no wind. The dust is only exacerbated when the wind is up; it goes everywhere,” said Haverinen. “I would also recommend for anyone shooting over here that they use cameras with chips rather than tape because of the sand issue.”

Until recently, video was edited using Avid Liquid, but there was a lack of support for the software. “We needed something that was current,” said Cordell. USACE GRD recently purchased a Mac laptop with Final Cut Pro so that videographers can edit on the road rather than wait until they return to headquarters.

“Travel here is such a challenge, and there are often travel delays,” said Cordell. “The new laptop enables the videographer to edit while he or she is waiting.”

Perhaps the most challenging part of the USACE videographer’s job has to do with security. USACE public affairs specialists do not carry weapons and a private security firm has been contracted to protect them out in the field.

“We travel in small conveys and in packs,” said Haverinen. “We never travel alone. When we’re on the ground, we travel in armored vehicles, but we don’t carry weapons. The private contractors and military personnel carry weapons and are our life support.”