for National Geographic News
National Geographic EXPLORER television producer Gary Scurka is in the thick of the action as the 1st U.S. Marine Expeditionary Force helps topple the regime of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. Scurka is embedded with a Marine unit that's been on the frontline of the rapid U.S. advance on Baghdad. The 3rd Battalion, 4th Marines have been engaged in missions near the southern Iraqi cities of Basra, and Umm Qasr, and most recently within the capital itself. (Scurka's frontline videophone reports air on MSNBC.)
Fierce combat has not hampered Scurka's determination to report on the story as it happens. But the veteran journalist's live battlefield dispatches are not his only objective.
Scurka is producing a National Geographic EXPLORER documentary that will present a U.S. Marine view of the war, and the personal stories of those doing the fighting. Over the past weeks, Scurka has experienced sandstorms, sleeplessness, sniper fire, and a suicide attack with his Marine hosts while documenting their stories.
Scurka's assigned unit has seen its fair share of combat. They were the first Marines to cross the bridge into Baghdad early this week. Scurka reported that the troops were elated, believing that "the closer they are to Baghdad, the closer they are to going home."
But a bitter price was paid for their success. As the Marines prepared to cross the bridge into Baghdad itself, the battalion suffered its heaviest losses of their campaign. Two Marines are reported to have been killed and two others were seriously wounded in an assault on their amphibious assault vehicle.
In the midst of it all was Scurka, who knows the dangers of combat from experience under fire in Afghanistan. While on assignment in that country for National Geographic EXPLORER he captured the dramatic story of relief organizations in northern Afghanistan following the U.S.-led assault on the country's Taliban regime. Scurka documented the obstacles relief organizations faced in distributing and protecting food dropped into the war zone. While covering the story, Scurka became the first journalist wounded in Afghanistan during the recent military campaign, suffering shrapnel wounds to his leg.
Despite his prior experience under fire, Scurka reported that he has been learning on the fly during the lightning-paced military campaign in Iraq. "We're embedded journalists. We're on our own out here," he reported. "We assume the same risk as the Marines we're with. I'm standing right next to them. You basically pick up some tips from the people that you ride with. You stay low, don't walk in open spaces. I think the smartest thing to do is to stay with a couple of Marines like I'm doing. If they move, I move. Those of us without military training are kind of learning it as we go."
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