By George F. Stowe III
For two weeks during the month of March, EPCC’s Mass Communication department journalism students headed to the McGregor Range Complex in New Mexico to partake in Iron Focus 15, a mock pre-deployment training exercise where the student journalists helped enhance soldier and unit preparedness in dealing with media covering conflicts.
Alexandra Hinojosa, mass communication lecturer, headed the journalists on the mission of being embedded with the fighting men and women of the Army’s 1st armored division station at Fort Bliss.
Major Philip E Crabtree, deputy public affairs officer of the 1st armored division, said the exercise was a good training opportunity with the media.
Julio Ceasar Chavez / Tejano Tribune
Lt. Sean Deuville acts as an insurgent and delivers an RPG launcher to his allies for Iron Focus training.
“Soldiers often don’t focus on the world at large when conducting the operation,” Crabtree said. “This gives a soldier a chance to realize that the largest stakeholder, the American people, are interested in what they do. Embedding students in a military deployment scenario can help bridge the gap between school and real-world journalistic settings.”
In preparation for the event, student journalists attended a three-hour boot camp indoctrination in order to make the transition from college to camouflage.
During this event, they were given the option of their choice of an overnight, one day or two day stay while they prepared either a documented journal, photo gallery or a video collage of the various drills and mock scenarios that went on during the exercise.
Upon first glance of viewing the troops in action, multimedia student Julio Cesar Chavez said the training was very well organized.
Julio was assigned to the 1st armored brigade where he stayed overnight to documented troop movement as a photographer and raw footage as a videographer.
“It was really interesting and pretty exciting to have this opportunity go out and report,” he said.
Mass media and journalism students from NMSU and UTEP also participated in a fictitious simulated event, where laser adaptive blanks were being fired.
Other attendees included Armando Durazo, the senior editor for El Paso Times, Kate Gannon, UTEP multimedia professor, and Chris Babcock, news director of Channel 9.
Having been nominated by Lisa Elliott, assistant professor of mass communications department, Alexandra Hinojosa acted as the liaison for EPCC.
“[It was a] Great opportunity to practice journalism skills in the field as well as decide whether combat correspondence is a possible career direction,” she said. “Simply put, not many journalists get the opportunity to experience soldiers in action, it definitely gave us a greater appreciation for what the Army does.
“If opportunity presents itself, students who are interested in journalism or public relations should capitalize on this privilege and do an overnight stay.”
The next joint exercise is tentatively scheduled for January 2016.
EPCC journalist and photographer, who stayed overnight, said experience changed his outlook on the Army.
“All I can say is that I loved the chance to work side-by-side with the Army,” Morales said.
“I will never view them the same way again, they are really awesome people.”