Much of an embed depends on the reporter's personality and character. At first, soldiers and Marines are inclined to look at hacks as "pukes" -- necessary evils. If you wind up sticking the course with them, and they learn you're there just to do your job as they are to do theirs, you can forge a solid working relationship.
If, on the other hand, you're looking for "gotcha" scoops or view your uniformed companions as hired killers or losers who can't make it on the outside, you're not going to get much in the way of newsworthy information.
Much also depends on the public information officer who's your guide with the unit. I was lucky twice -- Maj. (then Capt.) Bruce Drake with 10th Mountain in '08 and the next summer Maj. Scott Nauman with the 1st Infantry Division in Baghdad. They were smart and salty and decided early on it was worth their time and effort to give the McClatchy guy access in return for coverage.
Critics of the embed system say you have to pull your punches as a reporter if your life literally depends on the people you're covering. Two responses: if your stories are accurate, most of the troops will buy in, because they know the truth. Second, you can always write other stories about the unit after you leave it.
With the 10th Mountain, for instance, I wanted to report on what the unit was doing in a war zone to deal with PTSD. Few people in uniform want to talk about that, especially those who may be going through it. And commanders don't want the issue raised because some troops still view it as a stigma.
Yet Bruce Drake got me in to see anybody I wanted, and the story is still the only one I know of that describes how an Army unit engaged in warfare deals with the hidden enemy of combat stress. (It helped that the commanding officer was alert to its effects, because during his second week in Iraq, his personal security detail lost four men to an IED; he and his sergeant major put the men in body bags.)
Contrast that with the Persian Gulf War pool system. I was lucky because at least I got to be out in the desert, not stuck in a hotel in Dhah-ran or Riyadh. In return for access, however, all our dispatches had to be cleared in the field and again back at the Joint Information Bureau in Dhahran. You could not travel on your own, as a unilateral, without getting busted by allied troops and sent to the rear. There were no scoops because everybody got to use all pool reports. Plus you always had to be accompanied by a PIO.
The result was, to use the old Korean expression, like a frog looking out of a well. You saw only a tiny slice of the war. I wound up basically embedded with the 37th Engineer Battalion from Fort Bragg, N.C., because Maj. Randy Riggins, its executive officer, told my PIO he could take me, and me only, into Iraq in his Humvee. (It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship, and I was Randy and Naomi's best man six years ago.)
Somalia was freaky-scary hot. I hired a fixer/translator, car and driver and three AK-47-carrying bodyguards for $100 a day. Even so, my third day in Mogadishu I foolishly went into the city center with only the driver. After sticking rifle barrels in my cheek and ribs, three Somali thugs stole my fanny pack which had my passport, credit cards and photos of my kids. (I had $6,000 in cash in a money belt around my waist, which they missed.) I was lucky -- a week later, at the same place, an Italian journalist was shot and killed for his gold necklace.
I ran into the 10th Mountain outside the capital, and a Marine officer conducted a regular briefing at the U.S. "embassy" (which was attacked by automatic weapons fire one afternoon while we were listening to the good news). But we were on our own to move around, stay safe and get stories.