Book Recollection: Shooter

Shooter: Combat From Behind the Camera

Decided it was time to finally start popping some items from the reading queue.  This particular book recollection has been staring me in the face for the last 6 months – yes, literally, it has been sitting 5 feet from my desk waiting patiently to be introduced to all my readers.  There it sat, passed over every day for something more important, left to collect dust alongside many other projects in a variety of finished states.  Fortunately for me, I am not easily shamed by my backlog, but rather embrace it as a badge of honor for all the things I do get through in a year (okay, maybe more like 3.5 years based on my photo backlog which is growing longer by the second).   Let’s go ahead and take care of this little bit of procrastination… still staring at me.

So, Today’s featured recollection is the product of Retired Staff Sergeant Stacy Pearsall.  Her work entitled Shooter: Combat from behind the Camera provides a glimpse into her career as a a combat photographer.  Oddly enough, a title also held by my brother Ron whenever he goes out in the field with Ticks, Bees, dive bombing birds and a particularly funny story about some harmless steers.  In contrast, Sergeant Pearsall was behind the camera while serving in the Air Force just north of Baghad in the very dangerous Diyala region.  I get stressed when we spot a new bird in a tree and try to quickly figure out the right setting to leave with an identifiable shot in the tin.  Sergeant Pearsall has to figure out settings while trying to keep from getting killed. Pretty much puts my piddly annoyances into perspective.  Shooter is a collection of her photographs taken in the war theater along with commentary about what it’s like to serve our country in this capacity.    Her photographs are a mixture of raw emotion and still point danger.  Page after page is filled with her vision, her viewpoint from the front seat of the war.  Thinking the military might be for you, want to see the world, then you might want to take a wade through time in her words a “worn torn apocalypse”.  After that,  give yourself a chance to reassess and make sure – still want to serve?  then you have my absolute gratitude.

Sergeant Pearsall noted that the Latin term photos translates to light and graphein means write.  This perfectly sums up what I thought of this book – the ability to write words with a collection of light that fell on her camera’s sensor.  As she puts it, the pictures she produces is the stand in when no amount of words will do.  She also leaves you with the chilling fact she might be taking someone’s last living picture.  Something to remember when you think your day is too stressful.

In summary, it is a quick read, but recommend taking the time to actually look at the pictures, imagine what it was like to be behind the camera and most of all, what must be going through the minds of the subjects at that very moment in time.  Thank you Staff Sergeant Stacy Pearsall, first for your service and second for sharing with the world your thoughts and photographs.

Hit the jump to see my takeaways:

    • US Military Policy – women are not allowed to serve in direct ground combat roles.  Women are permitted to serve in support units during combat (221,000 of DODs 1.4m positions closes to women.   combat photographer with the USA Air Force
    • enlisted in 1997 at age 17
    • started out as U-2 spy plane intelligence film processor.  Entered Combat Camera Squadron in January of 2002. Military photographer of the year in 2003 and 2007 (one of only two women to hold that title and first active duty female to receive that honor.
    • Was wounded – suffered three direct IED hits and suffered brain and neck injuries
    • Take s1000+ images a days – picks top 15-20 to send up/li>
    • Not allowed to edit photos beyond what you can do in a darkroom – job is to document what happened, not rewrite it
    • picture isn’t worth a 1,000 words – it’s all we got when no amount of words will do
    • Goal to tell the story in one picture by layering information in foreground, middle and background.
    • Her observations, most women in Iraq are property to be branded and tatooed, sold and bartered.  Think about that statement when you catch soundbites on a liberal news show touting the Women’s March supported by Sarsour and ask yourself why no one talks about that abuse
    • When looking through the viewfinder, focuses only on the simple things – life is given a four cornered boundary – everything else false away
    • Venting or showing emotion is not an option – she kept her fear, frustration, anger and anguish in the shadows.  My hypothesis is this that is the only way to process and cope with being in harm’s way in a modern society – which leads to the emotional trauma when introduced back into that society when they choose to continue to keep their feelings/emotions in the shadows.
    • Iraqi people are terrified of pistols due to Saddam Hussein’s execution squads putting people on their knees and executing them “for reasons known only to Hussein”… and yet the news outlets harp on the fact weapons of mass destruction were not found when it only takes a handgun to break the will of a people
    • The Iraqi people like us want the insurgents gone and willing to help the coalition to meet that end
    • Everything they have heard is manipulated by the government that has lived off their people like a parasite for 30 years.  When the only route to nourish your family is to take their gun and do their bidding.
    • Iraqi soldiers lack discipline – she recounts having seen several times where a group of Iraqi soldiers would be standing around, her shots and start shooting in whatever direction they happen to be facing oblivious to what may be in their path – coalition soldiers refer to this as the Iraqi Death Blossom.
    • Mentioned there is no one you can trust – one of the Iraqi cooks tried to poison the Iraqi Army units prior to a big mission.
    • Under fire, soldiers focus on finding targets and neutralizing them.  For the author it was about how to set the camera to get the image
    • Noted when it gets too hot, she drops the camera and takes up the rifle.  The artificial frames are removed and she focuses on using her finger to send rounds down.
    • There’s an unspoken rule – no one cries
    • The ones who survive live for the ones who didn’t and for those who come after
    • In the military you don’t acknowledge death or her maidens.
    • Latin term photos translates to light and graphein means write – The author writes through her photographs aware she might be taking someone’s last living picture.

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