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NEWS | March 22, 2016

My glimpse into Combat Camera

By Senior Airman Clayton Cupit Joint Base Charleston Public Affairs

Recently, I participated in the 1st Combat Camera Squadron's ten day annual Ability To Survive and Operate exercise. While this may be nothing extraordinary for combat cameramen, it opened up a whole new world for me. As a public affairs specialist, you are working in mostly an office environment. Sometimes you get to cover unique events that provide unusual and valuable  experiences but, for the most part, you're back at the office handling normal public affairs tasks.

During the exercise, we were constantly conducting hands-on training including honing our marksmanship skills on the range with the M4 Carbine rifle or the M9 Beretta pistol, carrying  out documentation missions or participating in large-scale scenarios.

The things I learned during this exercise will have a lasting impression on the rest of my military career. I was taught ways to increase my work efficiency through many programs we use as photojournalists. I was instructed how to conduct close quarters combat in an urban environment. Should I ever be involved in a mission downrange, this training could be the difference between life and death.

This exercise emphasized weapons training. Before participating in this training, I had only fired a weapon twice in my life; three years ago using the M16-A2 rifle at Basic Military Training and two weeks before ATSO at combat arms training to qualify on the weapons to be used during the exercise.

My team and I spent  the first two days of training on the firing range. We started with the M9, practicing a wide range of shooting techniques. To my surprise, I shot more accurately with my weak hand with no support hand than I did with a double supported grip. We practiced different firing positions to ensure we understood the correct way to shoot from each. Later, into the night, we switched to M4's and repeated the process.

During ATSO, our days were long but we prepared for it. Our team assigned documenters who would had the responsibility of providing deliverable images or video each day. At the end of the day, after completing all of our training, we had an hour to process our images or video to send up the chain. Some days we weren't scheduled to make it back to our operations center until late at night. We worked on our products while on the move using our laptops. Whether riding on the bus or waiting for our turn to shoot at the range, we did what was necessary to complete our daily assignment.

Because our team had a limited number of photographers and we were assigned to shoot every other day, the long nights just got longer. This is where the training I received to speed up my editing became extremely helpful in meeting tight deadlines.

Following weapons training, we spent a lot of time in the Army's simulators. We experienced a number of situations we might encounter with an Army or Marine unit downrange. For example, one scenario was Humvee convoy training with attached 50-caliber machine guns. In another simulator, the humvees would flip 360 degrees to simulate rollovers.

The next few days of training were at various ranges in Fort Jackson. Our instructors were a team comprised of members from different special operations forces, most were rangers from the U.S. Army's top tier operator units.

The tactics they taught us were the result of their experiences and training in ranger units.

The final days of training were our true tests. We took everything we learned since the beginning  of ATSO to respond to one, culminating scenario. The mission involved going into a potentially hostile town and rescuing a hostage, all while having Airmen assigned as combat cameramen to correctly document the operation. A dizzying array of information, situations and obstacles thrown at us. However, with proper communication, coordination and effort our team managed to navigate the town, rescue the hostage and successfully cover the operation.

Thinking back on the exercise, I learned things I never would have even thought of; everything from the weapons training, tactical movements and photography lessons from some of the best photojournalists in the Department of Defense.

It was a great opportunity to work with other Airmen who share my passion for photography and videography. It is when you're surrounded by people with the same goals as you where you learn the most.