An Essay by Hannah Rauhut – Cover the Assignment – Washington, DC

October 19-24, 2012

“It is the indomitable spirit, the selfless service, the remarkable courage of the American soldier; strength of the Army, strength of our nation.” The entire arena erupted with applause as John McHugh, the United States Secretary of the Army, closed his speech. It was the opening ceremony of AUSA, the prestigious Association of the United States Army annual meeting. I squirmed anxiously in my seat as I waited in room 140B of the Washington Convention Center with Jordan and Evan. When would General Odierno arrive? I clutched my notepad nervously as I glanced around the room at the other intimidating reporters: the Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg – and then there was A Backpack Journalist, three teens in the front row of seats, attending the press conference for the Chief of Staff and Secretary of the Army. It was too much to comprehend! I was still in awe of how far I had come, and all I had experienced so far during my adventure in Washington, D.C. – and how much still awaited me!

My journey began on Friday, when the other interns and I visited the Pentagon and the White House. While my classmates back at Columbus High sat through their regular, everyday classes in school, I was out and about exploring the Capital on an exclusive tour of the Pentagon – including the press briefing room, broadcasting offices, and the chocolate shop (one of my favorite stops). Then we were off to the White House – and it wasn’t your typical tour of the dishes! An assistant to an aide of First Lady Michelle Obama took us to the presidential press briefing room, where she explained more about her job and we had the opportunity to speak to other reporters. As we passed by “Pebble Beach” on the front lawn heading our way out of the tall cast-iron gate, A Backpack Journalist witnessed the President take off in his helicopter from the roof of the White House – a great way to end a busy day.

Saturday, we headed over to the health expo to begin collecting information and warm up with a couple of interviews before the Army Ten-Miler. I went off, camera and voice recorder in hand, ready to explore and scout out the booths – and I did just that! I met and interviewed so many amazing people, including veterans and wounded warriors, and gathered so much information to start off with. A few of these wonderful people were the United States Olympic marksmanship unit (from Fort Benning!) that had competed in London, including gold-medalist Vincent Hancock and wounded soldier Joshua Olson. Afterwards, we drove back to the hotel and learned a few filmmaking skills from Gerome, and we helped create the wonderful Club Beyond promotion video.

Sunday was the big day itself – the Army Ten-Miler. After waking up early (too early!) in the morning, that is, with some help from coffee and donuts, A Backpack Journalist drove to the site of the race. We set up at the Army Reserves booth, where we rotated throughout the morning on different shifts to talk to any wandering visitors. I grabbed a camera and went to the starting line of the race – a beautiful archway covered in gold and black balloons, with a sea of runners bouncing behind the line with excitement, waiting for the signaling shot of the cannon to take off. First were the wounded warriors, and then the thousands of people, young and old, who had come to run despite the early hours and freezing morning air – all out of love and support for the Army. Afterwards, I interviewed a wounded soldier, who had participated in the race, as well as General Ingram, General Talley and his family, General Visot, and so many others.

Monday was day one of three of the AUSA conference – and there was so much to do! We were dressed so professionally in all black, our green media passes pinned to our nametags, and I felt so important among so many major corporations and other organizations. That morning, Jordan, Evan and I experienced a chance of a lifetime – a press conference with General Odierno and John McHugh. After waiting in anticipation in the media room, watching the wonderful opening ceremony from a tiny television screen, our moment of truth finally arrived as the conference began. Questions were hurdled left and right from other reporters, but A Backpack Journalist was not called on. However, General Odierno requested a question from Evan, and it turned out to be the best one yet! After the press conference ended, we were pulled aside to ask a couple more questions of the general and pose for a picture – I felt so honored! The following two days were absolutely incredible, continuing to interview various organizations in the giant room full of booths, gathering as much information as we could, and spreading the word about A Backpack Journalist. We also had the chance to visit the Vietnam Memorial Wall and the Lincoln Memorial; which were both hallowing and honoring experiences.

But the highlight of the whole trip was definitely our presentation during a family forum on Wednesday. For most of us, it was our last day together, but we didn’t let that put a damper on our morning. We were all nervous – even though we had prepared the night before, we all experienced inevitable pre-presentation anxiety as we waited to step up to the front of the room. Although there were not as many people there as we had anticipated, there were still a good number of visitors, and we all wanted to do our best. At last, A Backpack Journalist was introduced, and Ms. Dennis led us to the front of the stage. After providing a little information about our group of kids, it was our turn to talk about our experience in D.C. and what we had accomplished. I can’t describe exactly what went on during that time, but it was amazing. I was in tears by the time we had all finished speaking, along with the whole group and many of the audience members. We played our music video, “PTSD Won’t Stop Me,” and we received an enthusiastic standing ovation. I stood there at the front of the room, beaming and grinning from ear to ear; I was so proud and, quite honestly, overwhelmed with happiness.

It’s impossible for me to simply sum up all A Backpack Journalist did during our trip to Washington D.C., and I could go on and on about it. The late nights, hectic schedules, running around from one place to another; it was all worth it, and I can’t complain. I had such a blast, and it was one of the best times of my life! I became great friends with each and every one of the other Backpack Journalists, and I love them all. I’ve created lifelong memories and friendships, and this experience with journalism has given me a glimpse into a possible bright future. I am so honored and blessed to have experienced all I did that week, and I can’t wait to see what the future has in store!