I'm going to throw out another half-remembered quotation from high school English. “One doesn't go to a battle with one's best trousers on,” I seem to think the doctor in Ibsen's play “An Enemy of the People” said. It may have been “a war” rather than “a battle”. So if it's not advisable to wear a business suit to a war zone, what should a reporter wear? Those of you who have taken a peak at the photo-gallery on this site will realise that I tended to favour autumn/fall colours, greens and browns, and a pair of ruddy big hiking boots. Let's not talk about the protective gear – the ballistic plastic-helmeted Canadian soldiers got a big laugh out of my steel “pot”. Budget constraints meant I didn't have one of neat blue Kevlar protective vests, with ballistic plates fore and aft and matching helmet, emblazoned with the words “Press”. Or the fancy Australian chukka boots I found were so popular with male television presenters. By the way, why do so many of them insist on putting on their flack jackets only when they're on camera? Anyway, I'm not here to talk about protective gear.
I noticed that some of the US reporters, and a lot of US civilian contractors as well, wore American Army desert camouflage gear. One school of opinion is that this is a bad idea for two reasons – one the real soldiers will think you are taking the piss and second, that it might make you a target for the bad guys. The opposite school of opinion was that being the odd one out in the crowd by not wearing cammo might make you an obvious target for a sniper or some idiot with a suicide vest on who wants to give you a hug that will last for the rest of your life – about 90 seconds. The bad guys may not know you're a newspaper reporter but you're obviously not a soldier – maybe you're a visiting politician, or a spy, or someone else well worth killing. Funny story, at least I think it is: When queuing up for food at Kandahar base I noticed the US soldiers treated me with excessive courtesy. Someone had to tell me that it was my civilian clothing and lack of a firearm that accounted for this. Almost the only other guys, apart from some of my journalist colleagues, who wore civvies and didn't carry a gun in the dinner queue were the folks from the US Special Forces. Here's another observation for you; when Canadian military bigwigs visited, their body guards always wore civilian clothing. They stood out in the crowd like sore thumbs. These are not stupid people. There's obviously more to the civvies versus ammo debate than I realise.