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NEWS | April 3, 2012

1st CTCS photographer captures first place spot in the Annual MILPHOG competition

By Staff Sgt. Nicole Mickle Joint Base Charleston Public Affairs

It's Sept. 15 and the mid-day sun is beating down on a company of soldiers. They know something is about to happen, they can feel it in the air. The heat has sweat dripping and anticipation has their hearts racing. BLAST! A car bomb goes off and the chaos begins.

Staff Sgt. Ashley Hyatt, a photographer with the 1st Combat Camera Squadron at Joint Base Charleston - Air Base, takes a deep breath and focuses on the task at hand; documentation. She remembers the moment she took the photo that won first place in the Department of Defense's annual Military Photographer of the Year competition Combat Documentation category. She remembers the sound of the explosion and the shouts of the soldiers, the smell of smoke and her hands shaking. She had to tell herself repeatedly, "This is just a training exercise."

Hyatt was attending pre-deployment training for ground and aviation brigades at the National Training Center, Fort Irwin, Calif., Sept. 7 through 24, 2011. The training focused on providing tough, realistic, joint and combined arms training before service members deploy. Some of the training took place in a simulated Afghan village.

She wasn't training as just a photographer. She was expected to be a participant and was embedded with U.S. Army paratroopers from Bravo Company, 2/508th Parachute Infantry Regiment. Being embedded with the company meant she was expected to take photos as well as take on a combat role if necessary.

During this particular training scenario, she knew that something big was going to happen because an instructor pulled her away from her company and told her where to stand.

"He didn't give me any specifics but I knew that this was going to be important or they wouldn't have put so much emphasis on where I should be standing," said Hyatt. "As soon as the car bomb went off and the screams started I understood. They used a wounded warrior, real-life amputee as a simulated wounded soldier in the scenario which just added to the realistic nature of the training."

In the simulation the wounded soldier was lying close to where the explosion happened. Fake blood was everywhere and his leg was blown off.

"Click , Click, Click." She fired her camera and captured hundreds of photos of her team going through the worst case scenario exercise. It wasn't until she returned to her tent that evening and looked through her images that she got excited about the moments she had captured with her camera.

"That is my favorite part of being a photographer," said Hyatt. "Once you get back and start the editing process you sometimes come across photos that you get really enthusiastic about."

The photos were reviewed by Clarence Brown, photographic standards and training chief and other members of the 1st CTCS. The photo of the wounded soldier being put on a litter for evacuation stood out from the rest. She was encouraged to submit it to the Defense Information School's MILPHOG competition in the combat documentation category.

MILPHOG, an annual photo competition under the Visual Information Awards Program, is designed to recognize photographers for their achievements in furthering the objectives of military photography as a command information and documentation media within the Department of Defense. The program operates under the aegis of the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs and is administered by the Commandant of the Defense Information School.

"This was my first year submitting photos to MILPHOG," said Hyatt. "I was excited about my submissions but I wasn't overly confident that I would place."

The judging took place March 16. A live feed of the judging was available to military members from all over the world so they could witness the event. Hyatt was in a class and had no idea that her photo, one of 434 entries in the combat documentation category, had made it into the final judging. In a unanimous decision, three judges decided that her photo, "National Training Center" would take first place.

Airman 1st Class Melissa Goslin, a 1st CTCS photographer, sent her a text message with the worlds "And the first place photo for MILPHOG Combat Documentation goes too ... Staff Sgt. Ashley Hyatt!" Minutes after, members from her squadron pulled her out of class to give her the good news.

"I was so shocked and excited," said Hyatt. "It is such an honor to have one of my photos win MILPHOG. You are going up against the best photographers across all the military branches."

Hyatt is scheduled to attend the Communicators Excellence Awards ceremony at the Defense Information School, Fort George G. Meade, Md. on May 4 where she will be recognized for her achievement.

In addition to the ceremony, she will attend the White House News Photographers Association's 91st Annual "Eyes of History" awards dinner May 5 at the Ritz Carlton in Washington, D.C. The dinner honors media contest winners.

"At 1st Combat Camera, we are expected to always improve as documenters and it's important to remember that photography is incredibly subjective," said Hyatt. "When it really comes down to it, I just feel lucky that those three MILPHOG judges liked my photo."