As a photojournalist Airman, I have documented some amazing stories of the Air Force. Unfortunately, I have also had the duty to document the military’s ugly side.
I’ve photographed U.S. and allied paratroopers jumping from the skies together. I’ve also written stories of creative Airmen finding different ways to raise awareness for social ills and how the base came together to take care of military dependents in dark and trying times.
I’ve met some great people who do awesome things, but there are parts of the job that I hate.
You see, part of my job as a photojournalist is alert photography. An alert photographer’s duties include documenting crime scenes, accidents involving government-owned vehicles, damage to government property, injuries and — you guessed it — deaths. As you may have already figured out, it is one of the not-so-rosy aspects of my job.
I want to share with you one of my experiences when I was on alert.
It was 2 o’clock on a cold, autumn morning when I was suddenly awakened by a ring; it was that dreaded phone call. I sat up in my bed, rubbed my eyes and got a few yawns out before answering the phone.
“Alert photographer, how may I help you?” I asked. “What happened? … Where? Ok, I’ll be there shortly.”
The call was about a domestic assault, and security forces needed photographic documentation of the injuries and other pertinent evidence.
So I put on my jacket, grabbed my camera gear, hopped in my car and hit the long, lonely road. The drive was probably only 20 minutes, but it felt like an eternity. A thick, ghostly fog blanketed the whole landscape around me, dropping my visibility drastically. The highway, which usually roared with motorists, was almost empty by now. Probably the only sounds heard at this time were my tires, spinning and echoing into the darkness.
I arrived and was met by a security forces Airman who gave me directions as to what photographs they needed. After documenting the injuries, he led me to the scene of the incident: a dorm room. I looked around and noticed a picture set up on a bookshelf. It was the same two people from the assault.
In the picture, they were smiling and embracing each other. I saw happiness and joy in their eyes. Now it seems what was once a happy relationship was thrown out the window of that dormitory. I can only imagine what became of them that night.
As I headed back to my car, I shook hands with the Airman who was escorting me and said, “I really hope this will be the last time we work together in this kind of situation.”
Deep down in my heart however, I knew it wouldn’t be, and it definitely wasn’t. I have responded to at least two more assault cases after that incident.
Every time I respond to incidents like this, I think of my wife and soon-to-be-born son.
I have asked myself repeatedly why anybody would do such wretched things to people they supposedly love.
For me, the most unpleasant aspect of this duty is not the grisliness of the scenes you may come across or the tricks your mind might play on you long after the incident. It’s also not the dreadful flashbacks and mental images that haunt you like a ghost no matter how hard you try to shake them off. Nor is it even the incessant ringing of that cursed phone, reverberating for countless hours in your imagination even though the phone is completely silent.
For me, the most bothersome aspect of alert photography is seeing the look of betrayal in the eyes of the victims.
That is what I hate about my job, because the thought of abusing someone who has entrusted their life to you makes my blood boil. It sickens me. I am indignant for the spouses, friends and students I have documented because I’m sure at some point they trusted and loved the people who abused them. Cases like these affect me more now that I am a husband and father, and I cringe at the thought of anything of the sort happening to my family.
That is why I encourage you to sit down with your loved ones and go through old photos together regularly. Open up that old photo album, and if you don’t have an album, make one. Take a walk down memory lane and reminisce about good times together. Stop looking at your smartphones and start looking at your spouses and children. Look them in the eye and hold their hand; you don’t even have to say anything, just be there for them.
I’m not saying that if you do this your relationships will magically change for good. However, it might help you appreciate your spouses, children, friends and loved ones just a little bit more. This, I believe, can help us steer our relationships to a brighter and more hopeful path.