Battlefield video “is an essential tool for decision makers and commanders,” says a U.S. Department of Defense memorandum on combat camera operations.
J.J. SmithThe memo, written by Navy Rear Admiral R.L. Thomas and dated April 26, states, “In an era of global persistent conflict that requires mission support across the full range of military operations, proper consideration of the employment of combat camera capability and visiual information planners is critical to that mission support.”
The memo goes on to say, “Warfighters must proactively plan for, synchronize and employ” combat camera capabilities to ensure those “assets are in place to capture and rapidly disseminate directed visual information.”
What the memo does not state is that the job of providing military commanders with visual information not only is a dangerous one, but it’s a task that requires personnel to enter a warzone not as active combatants but primarily as recorder of events.
As of Nov. 2, at least 2,137 U.S. service personnel have died if Afghanistan, with 1,679 of those as a result of direct enemy action. I cannot obtain a figure on how many combat camera photographers and videographers have died on duty in Afghanistan or Iraq. But as a way to recognize how dangerous their job can be, in 2009 the U.S. Navy’s Chief of Information and the Defense Information School (DINFOS) have named an award after a combat photographer who was killed by and imporvised explosive device (IED) while on duty in Iraq.
The “1st Mass Communication Specialist Bobby McRill Excellence Award” is named for Petty Officer McRill’s “legacy of excellence.” He was a 16-year veteran of the Navy who served on the aircraft carriers the USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74), the USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71) and the USS Eisenhower (CVN 69). He was also part of several missions includeing Operations Noble Anvil/Allied Force, Souther Watch and Enduring Freedom. He was then assigned to the Naval Expeditionary Combat Command Detachment, Combat Camera Atlantic from Februay 2004 to April 2007, during which he documented the funeral of President Ronald Reagan, Guatemalan flood relief and Hurricane Katrina relief efforts.
In May 2007 he reported to Naval Special Warfare Group Two, a SEAL unit. He was with that unit when he passed away July 6, 2007, leaving a wife and three children.
In April 2009, Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Kathleen O’ Keefe received the first MC1 Bobby McRill Excellence Award.
“Receiving the Bobby McRill Award was an incredible honor,” she said. “I am incredibly grateful to the McRill family for being here, for shaking my hand and letting me know that honor,” she said.
While not every member of the armed forces who has given their “last full measure of devotion” to this country will be honored with an award established in their memory, they can be remembered for their service this Veterans Day.