Creative in Combat: Lessons from a war zone

First I want to say in no way am I intending to justify conflict or support any specific political agendas. This blog is solely intended to share an experience that shaped me as a videographer and aspiring photographer.

All of the photos in this blog are those I captured in 2005 during my first deployment in Iraq. The camera was something that I gravitated towards heavily on this deployment. I also uploaded a VLOG to the Tasty Dangerous Youtube channel that is directly connected to this blog.

I found a sense of comfort in a photo. It was a documented truth that was unadulterated by bias or opinion. As my bro use to always say… “It is what it is”.

That said, I’m thankful I had the opportunity to serve my country and learn from the experiences it afforded me. The time I spent in the service afforded me a number of experiences I’m grateful for.

Epiphany In Thought

It’s been many years since I carried a weapon for a living, but the memory of this time is forever carved in the history of my being. I went into the military shortly after 9/11. I had the belief I would be fighting an enemy who meant harm to me, my family and our way of life.

What I found after deploying was as a combatant in a foreign land it was I that was part of a force inflicting a way of life on another people. However, seeing what was happening in Iraq at the time, I felt obligated to be there. In doing so I was able to protect those who weren’t able to defend themself.

Within the first month of my first deployment I had an epiphany as a young soldier. I wasn’t in a foreign land so much to fight an enemy. I was in a foreign land to provide security for those who couldn’t defend themself.

“The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him.”

– G.K. Chesterton

It was my duty to ensure the civilians in their homeland had someone they could trust and confide in. To ensure their children had a future. Although there was an enemy, a very intelligent and skilled one at that, it didn’t strike me as our primary objective.

Frozen In Time

This blog is to share the moment in time I realized the power of a photo. The understanding that a single photo could be more powerful than all the bullets and bombs. I’ll be sharing the photo in question shortly and illustrating my point.

There will be those who argue there are times where fighting and war are necessary. To those people I will extend an olive branch and agree to a limited extent. Yes, there are some violent and extremely nasty people in this world that can’t be negotiated with.

“Some men just wanna watch the world burn.”

Alfred from Batman the Dark Knight

However, that’s not what I’m trying to illustrate in this blog. More-so I’m interested in sharing the exact moment that changed me as a human. That moment in time that is frozen for me.

I often think about the young girl I was able to photograph and the exact moment in time. The circumstances that surrounded the series of events that led us there. The hope that one day I can find my way back to share the photos with the families in the village.

The following photo is the exact picture I took on May 1, 2005 in a small village north of Baghdad. I took this photo on a busted up point and shoot camera. As much as I wish the photo was much more crisp, I still get a rush of emotions when I see it all these years later.

I remember seeing her walking from behind the gate in the distance and peering at our small team as if we were aliens who had just landed. The look of curiosity and confusion on her face is one that will never escape me.

This was quite possibly the most humbling experience in my life and one I’m happy to share. In this moment I realized there was no amount of hardship in my own life that could compare to this little girl. She taught me a valuable lesson in life that day and one that has stuck with me everyday since.

Lessons Learned

A smile goes a long way. It’s also a choice. Someone always has it worse. Someone always has it better.

Learn to be content with where you are and what you have. That said, never stop believing you can improve your own position in life.

Eventually the girl in pink made her way closer to our squad and the group of kids that had formed around us. After tossing out a few granola bars the kids and adults, for the most part, realized we were there for good.

The girl in pink and the other children and families all showed the true extent of human resolve that day. Even under the most extreme circumstances, in a war torn country just trying to get water, they were able to smile.

The little girl had no shoes and could have used a new set of clothes, but she was more focused on the intent of those around her. I find these days I have little patience for people with first world problems. I also have little patience for people who don’t show positive intent when interacting with me.

The Mission

Our squad was sent to a village near our base. There was a conflict between them and a neighboring village over their water supply. These small villages were located just a short ways from the Tigris river in Iraq and got their supply of water from an aqueduct that flowed from the river.

The conflict was that the village closer to the Tigris had pushed dirt into the aqueduct, which in turn stopped it from flowing further down to the next village. Our mission was to help resolve the conflict between the two villages to create a “good neighbor” environment.

It’s my understanding that our higher ups were able to get the situation resolved. However the extent of my knowledge to this altercation ended as we pulled out of the village. Yet, the lesson learned carried on forever.

I found it amazing that these kids had such massive smiles, even under the circumstances. Their country was in turmoil and political unrest. There was a full blown insurgency and rampant violence everywhere you turned.

Even the prospect of having drinking water was significant. Coming from the states this was a brutal awakening to the realities of the world. It’s something that makes it almost difficult to be in regular conversations with many people these days.

I think this is a big reason why veterans tend to find comfort in hanging with their own kind. In many ways they understand each other, especially those who’ve deployed. The act of experiencing this perspective on life shapes you and it’s something that sticks with you for the rest of your life.

To wrap this up, I’ll just say this. A photo really is worth a thousand word. I’m looking forward to this next chapter in my journey of gaining more experience as a photographer. I’ll be sure to keep you posted when I capture that next photo that captures me in the same way that I capture it.

Sandstorms were a way of life….

If you have questions or ideas you’d like to have me dig into, please feel free to connect and I’ll see how I can help! Until next time, keep living that Tasty Dangerous lifestyle!

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