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Reprinted from the Fall 2011 edition of InterCom

Editor's Note: This guest article by Alex Luchsinger replaces Elaine Taylor's regular column in this issue. We plan to periodically feature columns by our alumni in this space. Luchsinger is a 2009 broadcast journalism alumnus who now works for CBS News.

(Garmsir, Helmand Province, Afghanistan) My heart thumped as the mine detector whistled in the darkness, a familiar feeling – something I hadn't felt in quite some time. Every step was a gamble as we moved methodically along the dirt roads that meandered through the corn fields. Illumination mortars shined in the distance, providing dim light in the eerie black night. I could just make out the silhouette of the Marine 30 meters ahead. Murky irrigation canals ran parallel to the fields, and every few minutes, a farmer's dogs would charge the platoon, snarling and barking. Just three months out of graduate school, I was in Afghanistan, and back with the Marines – shouldering a camera, no longer a rifle.

It is here in Garmsir, near the Pakistan border in Helmand Province, that the Marines have been battling the Taliban for more than two years. The area is responsible for 90 percent of the world's opium exports, something the Marines have been trying to eradicate since they took control of the area from British forces. The Marines seek to provide farmers alternative ways to earn a living — wheat, corn and cotton seeds — in hopes of preventing opium profits from falling into the hands of the Taliban.

The Marines are making significant progress in Garmsir. They've reopened schools once closed by the Taliban and rid the area of many insurgents. But their efforts are far from finished. The Taliban still control 80 percent of Afghanistan, leaving many questioning President Obama's plan for a 2014 withdrawal of U.S. forces.

My interest in conflict areas stems from serving in the Marine Corps. I was deployed in Iraq in 2005. I was fascinated by my experiences in that region and around the world and decided to pursue a degree in journalism after leaving the military. My goal as an undergraduate student in the School of Journalism and Mass Communications was to become a foreign correspondent, with hopes of one day embedding with the military in a combat zone. I was well aware this was a lofty goal and would take a while to work up to. I never thought I would get the opportunity as soon as I did. The skills and relationships that I took away from the journalism program at USC prepared me for my future in the field. I am fortunate to have had such a well-rounded program that taught me how to shoot, edit and produce stories for multiple platforms.

I decided to further hone my skills and went on to graduate school at Columbia University after graduating from USC in 2009. Instantly, my skills from undergrad courses came in handy. Having that foundation alleviated a lot of the pressure from the rigorous academic course load at Columbia, and without those skills, my life would have been much more difficult.

CBS News asked me if I'd be interested in embedding with Marines in Afghanistan for two weeks, working as a producer and photographer. I said "yes" before they could tell me to think about it for a few days. I was able to forgo the conflict training because of my background, as well as camera training because of my experience in college and graduate school.

I hope to continue covering stories overseas in my career with CBS. I am forever grateful for the skills I learned and proud to be a part of the Carolina community.

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