Monday, July 2, 2012

An Unfitting Obituary

This past Saturday morning, I was assigned to cover a local Air National Guard group as they prepared to depart Charlotte, NC and head to the growing inferno that was once the Rocky Mountains.

I was told to shoot enough of it that we could potentially use it for a long form story known in the news world, as a package, for the 6 o'clock news.  I arrived, set up my tripod, put a mic on my interview subjects, gathered some b roll, and came away with 29 clips of video.

I would learn today, courtesy of one of my favorite assignment editors Ashley Talley, that those 29 clips would be the last time anyone photographed some of these airmen.

The story is still developing, but the long and short of it is this:  the 145th Airlift Wing from Charlotte, NC deployed three C-130 Hercules planes to Colorado to help battle the raging wildfires taking place right now.  From what we're all learning, only 2 of those planes will be coming home when the dust settles.

Here's a link about the story.

So when my iPhone went off this afternoon, alerting me that a new email had arrived from the desk, I opened it and my heart sank.

Now I don't want to appear dramatic, or like I am blowing this whole thing out of proportion, but when I learned some of these airmen had died; specifically Lt Col. Paul Mikeal, a man I'd interviewed less than 48 hours ago... I genuinely had tears in my eyes.  I cried...

And I keep asking myself "why?".  Was it because he was a member of the military?  Was it because he seemed so confident and assured of what he was about to go do? I told my wife this afternoon about this struggle that I had going on inside of me... And as she always does, she helped put it into perspective.

You see, as news photographers, we go to places where people have died all the time, and interview their families, friends, and loved ones and find out about them that way.  We don't meet them before they die.  I believe that's why this story has rocked me to the core.

I met this airman.  I shook his hand.  I looked him in the eye and told him my name.  I saw the confidence and genuine patriotism that he carried himself with.  All before he died.

As this story develops and the names are officially released, I am certain I will experience a range of emotions.  The one question I keep asking myself is "How and why did this happen?".

I am sure we'll learn the cause of the crash once a lengthy investigation takes place, and that all of these men will be laid to rest with military honors.  What I can't seem to shake is the sense of apathy I felt Saturday morning as I was there.

"Get the interviews, get the cutaways, get the b roll, and move out... You've got three other stories to shoot today."  That's what I kept telling myself... I shot 29 clips of video.  29 clips of video that will forever change the way I approach any story, from now on.

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