Working overseas as a reporter is a great job.
You are always on the move, you get to go to exotic locales, cover interesting stories, and meet an array of different people. So, when I got engaged last year, I thought that some of that might come to a screeching halt.
So I thought.
My fiancée Katherine is a freelance still photographer, and we’ve been able to do a couple of stories together in less-than-hospitable spots. We just returned from a trip to Wales that was anything but a normal couple getaway.
The best way to describe it is a “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” style-vacation — full of attack scenarios, weapon identifying lessons, exercises that required fake guns pointed at our heads, and sessions that taught techniques on how to stop bleeding from gunshot wounds. Club Med this was not.
In fact, we never thought the trip would be a break from work, but had no idea it would be as exhausting as it ended up being.
We’ve lived in Afghanistan and traveled all over the Middle East together, but attending this “Surviving Hostile Regions” training course was a true eye-opener.
I have to be prepared to head anywhere in the Middle East for FOX News, often staying in places that would not leave a mint on your pillow. I’ve been doing this kind of work for years, but now realize that I’ve been lucky. In these kinds of environments, luck is always a factor; through this course we learned how to better the odds.
Katherine was able to attend the course thanks to a wonderful foundation called the Rory Peck Trust. Peck was a freelance TV cameraman killed in Moscow in 1993. His widow set up the trust to help freelance journalists in training for hostile environments, and to help if something goes wrong while on they are on assignment.
For our course, put on by AKE Group, we stayed in a charming countryside inn, in eastern Wales. The juxtaposition of chitchatting with colleagues from the BBC or CNN over a full-English breakfast, minutes before diving into the mud during a mock mortar attack was, to say the least, odd. I quickly learned to eat a light breakfast. Think yogurt and toast, not black pudding and sausage.
Our fellow students ranged from experienced ex-soldiers and diplomats, who were in places like Nepal and Sri Lanka just weeks before, to a two-person BBC crew off to do a documentary in southern Lebanon.
As a couple, we were a bit of a novelty. Many chuckles from our fellow students could be heard while we were struggling with directions during the map/compass reading lesson out in the countryside. I wondered if I wasn’t there during the first aid for burn victims seminar, whose arm Katherine would have pinched, when we were shown gruesome photos of third degree burns.
Looking back those were fun moments, but there’s one part of the course that was not a laughing matter. In one scenario I was a “casualty” during a mortar attack. Hearing Katherine yelling “Where’s Scott?” from inside the bunker, while I was lying in the mud, threw a lump into my throat.
Katherine and I will be in Italy for our honeymoon in just a few months. Hopefully not thinking about the stories and situation in the Middle East, but one thing you can be sure of — we will know what to do if Positano comes under attack.
Scott Heidler is a Middle East Correspondent for FOX News, based out of Jerusalem.