On Anniversary of Tim Hetherington’s Death, Sebastian Junger Teaches War Reporting Skills

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Tim Hetherington in February 2011

A year ago today, Chris Hondros, a New York-based photographer on assignment for Getty Images, and Tim Hetherington were killed while covering battles in Libya between government forces and rebels. Many of the details surrounding the incident are fuzzy, but Hetherington's family immediately released a statement claiming the pair was killed by injuries caused by a rocket-propelled grenade—Hondros from severe brain injuries brought on by shrapnel, and Hetherington from heavy bleeding around the leg.

Just days after Hetherington's funeral in London, long-time friend and celebrated war reporter Sebastian Junger, an Outside correspondent, began thinking about starting an organization that would provide freelance journalists with emergency medical training, according to an early report from the Huffington Post's Michael Calderone. That organization, RISC (short for “Reporters Instructed in Saving Colleagues”), is now in the middle of hosting its first three-day, 24-hour training session in New York.

“Basically, [Hetherington's] death was my first sort of wake-up call,” Junger told the assembled crowd on Wednesday morning, according to Capital New York's Joe Pompeo, who was on the scene. “He was the first person I was really close to who was killed. That's a very particular experience. I think if it happened to me at 30, I would have reacted differently. But at this point in my life, it made me try to think about other ways I could contribute to the world of journalism.”

Junger, now a contributing editor at Vanity Fair and co-owner of The Half King Cafe & Bar in New York, also announced that he's done. Finished. “I've been reporting on war for almost 20 years,” he told the crowd, which included journalists from as far away as Cairo, according to Pompeo. “Since Tim Hetherington died, I've stopped.”

But even if he won't be going back into the field, Junger knows it better than most. (In addition to all of his past work, he co-created Restrepo, the Academy Award-nominated 2010 war documentary, with Hetherington.) He understands the risks. And he's seen how ill-prepared more war correspondents are. “Really all that had to be done was to slow down the bleeding until you got to the hopsital,” Junger said of Hetherington's shrapnel wounds. “He was 10 minutes from the hospital. So I heard that and thought, my God, most of the press corps I know barely knows how to put on a Band-Aid.”

And that's where RISC comes in. Following his speech, Junger handed things over to four instructors from Wildneress Medical Associates International, a Maine-based organization made up of medical rescue professionals and experienced educators that spent months developing a curriculum specifically for journalists in war zones. Those assembled sat through a presentation by a National Guard combat medic and then went to work, practicing how to make a tourniquet, clear the airways of a dummy, drag a wounded colleague to safety, perform CPR, and more. Today, the final day of the training program, the participants will go through an outdoor simulation, complete with the sounds of helicopters and explosions, of a conflict-reporting scenario.

“They're actually going to have some stress,” Judi Gauvreau, the U.S. Operations Coordinator of Medical Associated International, told Pompeo. “We want the students to feel that adrenaline and anxiety, so when they're in a battlefield, they can address it.”

Below, a short video shot by Pompeo at RISC training:

–Nicholas Jackson

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