CAMP LEMONIER, Djibouti -- Cameras first became essential pieces of equipment in combat during the Mexican-American War of 1846-1847. Military photographers, referred to as combat cameramen, have since used cameras for everything from documenting military exercises to capturing the horrors of war.
A three-man detachment of airmen from the Air Force's only active-duty combat camera unit, 1st Combat Camera Squadron from Charleston Air Force Base, S.C., are keeping up that tradition in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
"Our imagery gives the decision makers a set of eyes to see how the troops are living and what kinds of training is going on," said Staff Sgt. Cherie A. Thurlby, a still photographer.
Thurlby and fellow Staff Sgts. Dawn A. Anderson and James W. Tabourne spent a week here covering some of the units supporting Combined Joint Task Force - Horn of Africa.
Anderson, a videographer, explained, "Normally, we are on a ninety-day rotation. During the time we are in the AOR (area of responsibility), we are based out of Seeb, but our mission is to get to every base that we are responsible for covering in the AOR."
Since December, when the three staff sergeants first arrived at Seeb, they were the only Air Force combat camera team in the AOR, so they were responsible for 11 bases.
"Now, there are other combat camera teams here, so we have split up the load," said Anderson, who worked for an NBC affiliate as a cameraman prior to joining the active-duty Air Force.
Even though the team has less area to cover, it still faces several other day-to-day challenges.
Sometimes getting the imagery sent out can be difficult. That's where Tabourne, "the maintainer," comes in handy.
The environment here is dusty and hot, which can severely damage camera equipment.
Tabourne explained his purpose, "I make sure the cameras and equipment are clean and maintained properly. I also make sure the equipment is up and running when we transmit images."
Thurlby added, "Almost every deployment I've been on, I've had a lens go down or a camera malfunction. Without the maintainer, we just wouldn't be able to repair any of our stuff. We love the maintainer."
The imagery produced by combat cameramen is released to many outlets, such as other units and different media networks to give the viewing public an idea of what the military is capable of.
"One of the biggest problems we deal with is people who don't understand what we do," said Thurlby. "When we try to go out with the units, there is always someone who will try to keep us away because I guess they think photos aren't really important, but they don't realize how important our job is. After we explain to them our mission, then they see how valuable combat camera really is to the overall mission."