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Graduate conquers Cronkite boot camp after serving in Iraq

December 13, 2010

Christy Little worked as a multimedia journalist for the American Forces Network in Iraq where she jumped out of Black Hawk helicopters dressed in full body armor and carrying all of her broadcasting gear – plus a few guns.

“The M-16 drags on the ground because I’m only 5 feet, 3 inches tall,” she recalled with a laugh.

Little graduates in December from Arizona State University with her master’s degree in journalism from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

She spent the first semester of the Cronkite program in a boot camp that drilled students in multimedia journalism skills instead of basic Air Force tenets. Both boot camps challenged her skills and were tough to get through.

 “In both cases you're sleep deprived,” she said. “You shove food down your face as fast as you can during the few spare moments a day you have, and you're in constant fear of failing. But, in the end, you look back on those days with inexplicable pride on your accomplishments.”

After working as a reporter in Iraq and surviving bombing raids, Little decided to leave the military when she met her boyfriend, Chad Bricks, who was working for the Naval Media Center.

“Since he was Navy and I was Air Force, there was little chance we would be together. So we got out, and here we are,” she said.

Little and Bricks moved to Arizona, where she enrolled in graduate school to learn the latest journalism skills. She used GI Bill funds and relied on the university’s participation in the Veterans Administration’s Yellow Ribbon Program to pay for school.

“ASU is very supportive of its veterans,” she said. “I also won the $25,000 Tom and Helen Tarbox Scholarship through the Cronkite School for an essay I wrote on what the First Amendment means to me and how it applies to journalism today.”

Little managed to complete her studies while caring for a growing family. She gave birth to her second son, Cael Alexander Bricks, just 11 days before starting the program and delivered son Sloan Christian Bricks in October. Little’s first-born son, Raif Michael Byers, is 6.

 “I asked if could miss the first two weeks of school, and they suggested I defer enrollment,” Little said. “I said I could do it. I had two kids in the year-and-a-half I got my master’s. Sloan was only 10 days old when I started back to school, which happened to be on the busiest news day of the year for Cronkite NewsWatch - election night.”

She kept reminding herself: “I’ve survived worse. I can handle this,” she said. “Chad brought both boys down several times a day to breastfeed them.”

In Iraq, Little worked as an anchor and producer of the military’s Freedom Journal Iraq newscast and as technical director for live Multi-National Force-Iraq press conferences.

“I traveled throughout Iraq shooting stories on troops and their mission over there,” she said. Although she said she could have used a little help when jumping out of Black Hawk helicopters laden with armor and equipment, she wasn’t about to ask for assistance from fellow servicemen and women who had their own missions to accomplish.

During the Cronkite boot camp, Little was instrumental in developing a class website, “Streets of Dreams,” about Phoenix neighborhoods and its people. When the project started to feel overwhelming, Little gave her colleagues a locker room speech.

“I told them that you may be stressed out, but it could be worse. You could be dead,” she said.

Little vividly remembers Easter of 2008 when she woke at 6 a.m. to bombing in Baghdad that continued incessantly for months.

“At that time, I had a 3-year-old at home waiting for me,” she said. “There were bombs every day. The station is underground in Baghdad, so we lived where we worked. For the last two months, we just slept at work because it was safer.”

While she got her start in journalism while in the military, Little said the Cronkite School taught her multimedia producing skills and “filled in all the blanks for me.” She now feels prepared for the next step – a job as a multimedia journalist.

“This school has taught me all the things I didn’t know,” she said.

And she would like to show the military that she made the right choice in pursuing her journalism dreams. “One thing my commanding officer told me at my going-away ceremony was that this was the Air Force’s loss, but the nation’s gain. I want to prove that to them that the skills that they gave me will benefit the larger good.”