Participants in the Senior Airman Jason Cunningham Remembrance Ruck March trudge along the perimeter of Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, March 4, 2012. Cunningham was a pararescueman who died in combat March 4, 2002, while saving 10 men’s lives. The Air Force’s Camp Cunningham at Bagram Airfield is named after him. The ruck march was one part of a three-part ceremony held in remembrance of the 10 year anniversary of his heroic sacrifice. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Ericka Engblom)
A 455th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron crew works as a team repairing an A-10 Thunderbolt at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, April 6, 2012. The 455th EAMXS is responsible for repairing and maintaining military aircraft on Bagram as well as performing preventative maintenance inspections. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Ericka Engblom)
Members of the 455th Expeditionary Aerial Port Squadron prepare to unload a C-17 aircraft during a Relief in Place/Transfer of Authority at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, March 20, 2012. The RIP/TOA moved over 17,000 passengers and 4,000 tons of cargo and allowed 1st Infantry Division to settle into their new mission of handling the dealings the Afghan government and Afghan National Security Forces. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Ericka Engblom)
Senior Airman Kristana Perue-Ortega shares a moment over Skype with her fiancé at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, Jan. 23, 2012. Perue-Ortega is an inbound clerk with the 455th Expeditionary Logistics Readiness Squadron and is deployed from Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Ericka Engblom)
Commentary by Airman 1st Class Ericka Engblom
27th Special Operations Wing Public Affairs
6/29/2012 - CANNON AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. -- When I first found out last August that I was deploying, I was absolutely thrilled.
Ever since my days at the Defense Information School, Ft. George G. Meade, Md., I had been hearing stories of all the exciting things U.S. Air Force photographers, such as myself, got to see and do while overseas.
I was told I'd document Special Operations Forces as they took out terrorists, accompany security forces on patrols through hostile territory, and photograph local children as they went to school. From what I had heard, deployment was the pinnacle of a military photographer career and I was itching to be able to experience it for myself.
However, when I got to Bagram, Afghanistan, it wasn't nearly the glamorous or exciting time others' stories had led me to believe it would be. In fact, I wasn't even allowed to go off base, which surprised me a bit.
It took me a while, but eventually I got over my disappointment. I realized there were just as many interesting and exciting things happening inside of Bagram's boundaries, and being the only Air Force photographer on the base, I would have the chance to see them all.
I certainly did see my share of interesting things. During the six months I was in Afghanistan, I documented aircraft that I didn't know existed. I saw several squadrons stand up, people working on every kind of job imaginable and how important understanding other cultures can be.
I went everywhere on base. Soaking up the deployed experience like a sunbather soaks up sunshine. Though it wasn't anything like I thought it would be, it was definitely the adventure that I had been promised.
I remember one of the first photo shoots I went on to document volunteers that took wounded warriors from planes to the base hospital. It was a mind-blowing experience to see firsthand the human impact of a war that I've watched on the news for the past 10 years.
On another shoot, I followed a security forces member as they stood guard in a tower. By midnight, I was tired, cranky and feeling extremely sorry for the tower guards. Night after night they stood up in a cold dark box watching over Bagram and I don't think most people ever gave them a second thought. It helped me appreciate their hard work day after day.
Now that I'm back at Cannon Air Force Base, N.M, I realize that these experiences have helped me become a stronger person. Being deployed made me gain confidence that I didn't have before. I used to be unsure of my ability if a really difficult shoot came along, usually passing it off to a more experienced person in the shop. After this deployment I feel like saying, "bring it on, I can handle anything you throw my way."
I am a better photographer and a better Airman because of this adventure.