As I've written before, my first year at Rota was a mess. Lacking formal training, I was lucky to find someone on base willing to teach me basic video production skills during the late-night shift when I was otherwise abandoned to a life on the "board": cueing, loading, checking, unloading, and packing videotapes for our closed-circuit television channel. During those long shifts, I learned enough to produce a music video and shortly afterward saw an increase in my opportunities to work with the news team. Unfortunately my fortune was short-lived. Before long I was tossed back into the control room, presumably to stay. Somehow I just couldn't do anything right. Then a Marine sergeant named Al Moore showed up and offered me another chance. For reasons I never did understand, he challenged a recalcitrant Chief and got me off the board for good.
Working for the Sarge made all the difference. He had high standards and expected a tight learning curve, but he also spent time teaching me stuff I never learned back at DINFOS. Little by little, with lots of trial and my share of error, I began to master the rudiments of electronic news gathering. Perhaps most importantly I learned that all the editing prowess in the world can't make up for crappy raw material. Under Sarge's tutelage I spent lots of time studying the mechanics of video production. My life was learning to set a white balance, turn a manual "rack focus," and troubleshoot a piece of gear in the field.
|Working an ancient camera while taping a visit by a Dept. of Education bigwig|
Each scene called for a different permutation, but the principle stuck with me. Story after story, I enlarged a collection of techniques to organize pieces into a coherent whole. It became a passion to me, so much so that I once had a dream comprised solely of sequences. I was videotaping an historical scene. My eyes glued to the viewfinder, I'd open wide, shoot ten seconds, select another angle, zoom in tight, shoot seven seconds, and keep going. The weird part? I'd just finished reading a passage of the bible before bedtime; in my dream I was covering the crucifixion as a news story. "Establish Jesus. Hold. Zoom in on those hands. Hold..."
I wasn't kidding about it being a passion.
Much of my news obsession involved the very physicality of the equipment, especially when we got a new-fangled Betacam. I swear I heard once that thing cost twice my salary. But, oh, what an amazing machine. No more connecting a heavy cable between an ancient camera and a finicky videotape recorder. I didn't even need extra lights for most shoots, just a lavalier for interviews. My beloved Batacam could do nearly everything else. With each shoot, I came to know that camera as well as my own hands. I remember swinging it confidently onto my shoulder, flipping switches by memory, and breathing slow to compose steady shots when a tripod wouldn't fit.
|Setting up for a shoot with my beloved Betacam|
Thanks to Sarge, I learned one other lesson too: collect a souvenir from every story. No, not a literal object (though I did get a swell ammunition case that way). Sarge was referring to an even better type of souvenir: experience. Thus when the Marines practiced fast-rope exercises, I wouldn't just videotape them; I'd tell the guys I needed to fast-rope too. And when we flew to an aircraft carrier for one reason for another, I didn't just ask about flight operations, I got topside to feel the heat of afterburners roaring over my head.
Best of all, when we visited the Fleet Logistics Support Squadron to feature their latest milestone in safe in-flight refueling, I knew enough to ask them to let me fly the plane. The guys in the cockpit were happy to get the attention our story would bring them, and that's how I enjoyed a few moments of carefully supervised flight experience over the Mediterranean Ocean. I remember that day so clearly: "keep your 'horizontal' level, and we won't crash." Call it an apocryphal story (I certainly don't want to get anyone in trouble) but I didn't get my leather aviator patch from a catalog!
Learning from an expert, building my confidence, and expanding my skills, I found myself far from those first cruddy days in Rota. I was a broadcast journalist. It didn't take long for me to start paying a bit more attention to my uniform, to saluting a bit more smartly, to generally being a "squared away sailor." I felt that I'd accomplished enough to never doubt my position there again. Of course, that's when a new guy showed up. He was our incoming Commanding Officer, and he wasn't gentle in his assessment of our operation: We were doing OK, but we needed to do much better. Even Sarge had his doubts that we were up for what would happen next.
More on that turn tomorrow. For now, let me tell you a bit more about today's discovery from my "Safe Deposit Closet."
This story deals with how Rota confronted a range of fiscal challenges as the Cold War began to wind down. While the job of a JO was to support the Navy's public affairs mission, I saw these stories as an opportunity to practice a more "hard news" journalistic persona. Announcing the risk of reduced commissary staffing and a potential decline in childcare availability, I hoped to present a factual assessment of changes faced by Rota when everything seemed in a state of upheaval.
Few contemporary viewers will care about every wonky detail in this piece. But anyone who spent time on base will dig the chance to see Rota in its late-eighties glory. Again, the color of this video is washed out by generation loss, but the memories remain fresh.
[Get higher-quality playback. To see the story in its highest possible quality (though it's still pretty awful due to the generation loss) visit its YouTube link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Vfw4n3cmGg - and select 480p. If the words on the lower-left are "jaggy," reload and try again. If the words are relatively smooth, you're seeing the video as it's intended.]