a soldier's return

Sometimes photo stories fall into your lap, but I find that most of my photo stories come from thinking of an idea and then tracking down a source. With the holidays coming up, I thought it would be really important to find a soldier who was coming home from a tour overseas to be with his family over the holidays. soldier returning from afghanistanThough Virginia has quite a few military bases, there aren't a lot here in the valley. Though we do have a National Guard unit that is local, they have all returned from serving. So I was lucky to find, in my searching, that there was a lieutenant colonel named Robert Rizzo who was serving a tour in Afghanistan — he worked out of Charlottesville, but lived in Staunton. And it just so happened that he was returning within days of me tracking him down.

soldier returning from afghanistan on christmas

world magnetsSo, the first time I met Rizzo's wife, Kable Rizzo, was on the way to pick him up from the airport. She gave him a heads up so he knew to expect me during their reunion. I felt so blessed and thankful that they allowed me to come with them for such an intimate moment. Kable was so nervous and excited to see Robert, and we bonded on the way to the airport in Charlottesville. Turns out her family had lived for a couple years in Finland while Robert served as an attaché there, so we chatted about Scandinavia for quite awhile.

Over the next few weeks, I popped in an out of their lives to capture simple family moments — hanging ornaments on the tree, soccer games, family meals, etc. Though, because the Rizzos have teenagers, those moments were sometimes tense, like when Robert and his daughter Kable (the name is a family name) argued about whether or not she should go out with her boyfriend that night. I was glad the Rizzos were so open, and not just about their Norman Rockwell moments. It helped me characterize that though coming home is a blessing to a family, it can sometimes be difficult for someone to just slip back in after being gone for six months.

I'm incredibly grateful to the Rizzos for letting me into their lives and allowing me to show everything. Not that there was a lot to hide — they're a wonderful family with very sweet kids. And everyone has a reason for doing a story — and the Rizzo's reason was to remind readers that there are still soldiers overseas that don't get to be with their families for Christmas.

Megan Williams worked with me on this story and did a really nice job on it. Check out her story and the photo gallery on The News Leader's website.

Afghanistan soldier playing with kids

camouflaged

We all have interests. And if you're been looking at my work for any period of time, you'll have noticed that the military is one of mine. mizzou rotc female soldierNo, I'm not some nerdy history buff or interested in modern warfare or anything like that. I'm the black sheep of my family. And not in the normal sense in that I'm some social outcast from them. But everyone in my family — my father, my mother, both of my grandfathers, my uncle and my sister — have military experience. So I've been around it all of my life. And since my sister is in the ROTC battalion at MU, I get to hear her talk about it all the time. So, I thought it would be a good idea to go out with the battalion and photograph the female cadets on a field training exercise in Macon, Missouri.

female army soldierI photographed the ROTC's field training exercise (FTX) from 4 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Saturday for my Picture Story capstone's one-day story. I'd say 17 hours is a pretty good amount of time to spend on a traditional one-day story, no matter how tired I was.

rotc cadetFor the assignment, we were supposed to employ the traditional tools of a picture story, keeping things in mind such as lens choice, types of shots, framing, style and storytelling. I had a pretty wide idea — female cadets — and that allowed me to explore a variety of situations through the different levels of female cadets in their battalion, who were all doing different things depending on their year.

rotc marchOverall, my shooting was very up and down during the day. I started out really excited, then went to really bored and uninspired. Then I had to march through the thorny woods for awhile, so I was just really tired and did not want to work very hard, which was not good. But later on the day, around dinner time, I felt like I got my bearings, figured out what I was missing, and got excited by the light around me and the things that were going on.

army womanI think one of the things I lacked doing in my story was photographing abstractly. I was searching for eye candy — things that were pretty, had good light, were visually interesting. But I think I struggled thinking about concepts within my photographs, which this story had a lot of potential to do. I feel like I missed some opportunities showing the relationships between female and male cadets in the battalion and did not highlight the possible inner struggle that females may have in the army. I also think I may have set females apart from males too much, when in reality, at this level in ROTC, females do nothing different from males (aside from PT and hair standards).

army woman with gunI have a lot of singles that I really like, because I think they're pretty, but I don't feel like I upheld the "journalist" part of photojournalist. I feel like I should have asked more questions and spent more time thinking about what my story was. And I feel like that's reflected in my story, which does an OK job of addressing some issues females have, but not a complete one.

red lens flashlightI think one of the things I did a good job of, though, was finding the light and varying my types of shots. I found I had a variety of pictures that were wide, tight, medium, etc. I got the variance of storytelling down visually, just not story-wise, I suppose!

rotc armyIt was a really great day and I had a great time with the females I spent time with throughout my very long, cold, windy day in Macon, Missouri. Although I don't know if I'll be going on another FTX any time soon — it was a day in exercise , marching and journalism! — I know I will be spending more time telling stories about individuals in the military and I hope this may be a starting off point to get my mind thinking about issues — or non-issues — that can arise with females in the military.

Soldier's Farewell

To wrap up my very military-oriented day Friday, I said goodbye to some very brave soldiers.

On Friday, after shooting ROTC's CWST (and taking a nap since I woke up before 5 a.m.), Grant Hindsley and I ventured out to Jefferson City High School. I had gotten word from KOMU's twitter account that there would be a farewell ceremony for the 428th Transportation Company. I was intrigued.

"Moments" are a photographer's dream. Photographers seem to have this serious boner for moments and events where moments are rampant. And I knew that a company of soldiers leaving for Iraq would be chock full of moments.

The 428th Transportation Company, a reserve unit, left for Iraq for Operation New Dawn. Although the Iraq was is technically "over," occupation in countries where we are fighting an insurgency are rarely over.

As it could be expected, the farewell ceremony was quite emotional. I was very actually kind of nervous going to the event. I think often of the prospect of two of my loved ones leaving for a foreign country for war someday. I didn't know if my emotions would get the better of me during the event.

I was also very careful photographing this event. Surprisingly, Grant and I were the only members of the media that showed up. I was glad it wasn't some media frenzy with reporters taking advantage of an emotional situation. Of course, I was kind of doing that, but I always try to have much more poise and tact when photographing events such as these.

For example, I was very careful about firing off a bunch of shots during patriotic moments. I didn't take any pictures during the national anthem or during the numerous prayers that were said during the ceremony.

I was also very careful about sticking my camera in people's faces. During the ceremony, husbands and wives were very touchy and a few women were crying. I didn't want to just get up in their face and snap a few. I tried to slowly and surreptitiously move, acting like I was preoccupied with other things when framing up the shot. Of course, being noticed is inevitable in most situations, but I always like to try and diminish any notice of myself. I also talked to those in attendance at length afterwards instead of just getting their names and going on my way.

Photographing children is also equally difficult. Children seem to have a serious radar when it comes to camera. Most are hams and love you to take their picture. That, or they're super shy and hide their faces. I find that usually, the longer you stick around and photograph children, the more they will get accustomed to your presence. And then they will ignore you.

All photographs copyright Katie Currid © 2010. All rights reserved.

ROTC CWST and other acronyms

I woke up at 4:40 a.m. on Friday morning. Who am I?

Getting up bright and early isn't exactly a college student's favorite past time, but the Army ROTC students do it almost every day. With PT (physical training) on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays and incentive PT for those who didn't pass their PT test on Mondays and Fridays, there are lots of early mornings for ROTC students.

Both my sister, Annie, and my boyfriend, Tyler, are in ROTC. Not only are two of my favorite people cadets, but I feel like practically everyone around me is in the army. My parents, who were both officers, met in the Army before they were married and my uncle was a lieutenant colonel and spent a lot of time in Somalia. My best friend, Samantha Moore, is an army wife and her husband just graduated from West Point. They are currently spending a short time at Fort Knox in Kentucky while her husband, J.D., goes through BOLC (Basic Office Leaders Course).

So, what I'm saying is, I get to hear about the army a lot. And with Tyler and Annie, I get to hear about them complain about PT a lot, whether it's 8-mile ruck marches or the blisters their boots give them.

Last year, Tyler went through CWST (Combat Water Survival Training) for ROTC. For CWST, the cadets go to the Student Recreation Complex at MU and train in the water. They jump off the high dive blindfolded with their rifles, have to tread water for 10 minutes, swim with their rifles, etc. I was intrigued by this event after he told me about it and began to look forward to the next year so I could be able to shoot it.

So, I did. Which is why I woke up at 4:40 a.m. to take pictures. And, as much as I love sleep, coffee works too. And it was worth it.

Grant Hindsley also shot the event. Grant did a lot of work with the Army ROTC program last year for a project for his Fundamentals of Photojournalism class. Grant also had the opportunity to shoot underwater because he built some really awesome underwater housing with a plastic fish tank.

Because I have an interest in war photography, I've been trying to shoot more events that involve the military. Obviously, CWST is absolutely nothing compared to Iraq, I really enjoy working with the military and hope to continue to do so, whether it's in a foreign country or on base or in ROTC.

Grant and I also shot a farewell ceremony for a National Guard troop leaving for Iraq for Operation New Dawn on Friday. More pictures to come.

All photographs copyright © Katie Currid 2010. All rights reserved.

My Best Friend's Wedding

Summer is here and that means the weddings are too. Although everyone is getting married around me, a very special person in my life got married last weekend — my best friend from high school, Samantha Goode, and her long-time boyfriend and Westpoint graduate, JD Moore.

Although I would've loved to photograph Sam and JD's wedding, I was, not-so unfortunately, in it. Samantha made her sister Stephanie, her cousin Shelby, her other best friend Jessica and me bridesmaids! We wore adorable watermelon-colored dresses and had Gerber daises for our bouquets.

Of course, we were not as beautiful as the bride! And Samantha may have slapped a wedding together in four months, but there's no way anyone could have known — everything was planned and decorated, from the pews to the guestbook, down to the gift table at the reception.

Because JD is now a second lieutenant in the army (he branched armor), the wedding had some military traditions in it. Some of the groomsmen were Westpoint graduates, and there was also a 6-man saber arch, which is my favorite military wedding tradition. The bride and groom walk through the saber arch at the end of the wedding, but before they can get through it, the last two saber bearers cross their swords and tell the newly married couple that they cannot pass without a kiss. The new couple kisses, and typically, one of the saber bearers smacks the butt of the bride with his sword. This took some practicing during rehearsal, but it was perfectly executed at the wedding.

The reception was also very fun. The 8 Westpoint boys who were there acted as if they hadn't had a drop of liquor or seen a cute girl in months (they hadn't). We danced and drank and just had an excellent time. I tried to snap some pictures of the more Sam-esque moments, such as her signing Miley Cyrus' Party in the U.S.A., and when Jessica, Stephanie and I had to help her go to the bathroom in her bridal gown.

Now Sam and JD are off to Fort Knox in Kentucky in a month for JD to train for his new officer position. After that, they will be headed to Fort Carson in Colorado (near Colorado Springs). Sam's a new army wife, and I will miss her so very much. I've known her and JD as a couple almost as long as I've been friends with her, however, so I know they will have a beautiful and happy life together. I can only wish them the best!

Photographs are copyright © Katie Currid, 2010, and may not be distributed or reproduced without permission.

Understanding the Missouri Militia

It's hard to be a part of a misunderstood or marginalized group. It's even harder to be a part of that group and try and maintain a positive image. However, the Missouri Militia works to do just that.

I've said it before - when I first started this project, I expected a lot of different things. One big thing was the angle of my

story (which I previously wanted to focus on the now-defunct MIAC report), but I also had different expectations.

I had different expectations about the men in the Missouri Militia. I had different expectations about their goals, what their purpose was, and what kind of people they were. I expected what most other people expect when they hear the world 'militia' - radicals, conservatives, maybe racists, people forming together because they think America is too liberal, etc.

But, as far as I can tell, that's not what this group is all about. From my experiences with them, these typical assumptions are just not in their core purpose. Perhaps some individuals are conservative, maybe some are radicals or even racists, but the entire group does not promote these ideals in practice, when they get together or in their goals as an organization.

From my reporting and from what I have seen, this group of the Missouri Militia really focuses on community. They give blood, put together food drives and their primary goal is to serve the state in cases of natural disasters. That's it.

And I feel as though this is accurate. That's what I chose to focus on in my story.

This angle came about for many reasons. Some of it was becasuse of all the stories I've seen in the past - sensationalism. But also because these men are just genuine.

I didn't just go out and photograph this group for an hour or two. I did my research, made my phone calls, talked to different men, conducted interviews, took pictures, edited audio and recorded video over three months. I'm not going to say that's a

long time, but it's long enough to become suspicious that a group isn't giving you the real deal.

As I was finishing up this project, I was really worried about being biased. I think any time you spend 3 months with a group, they grow on you. From what I saw, these men were sincere. I know if I had a flat tire or if I got lost on my way home (which is not a farfetched idea), any of these men would be there in a second to fix me up.

Because of this, I worked really hard not to omit questionable quotes. I worked hard not to make everything look peachy. I feel that I did the best that I could while being contextual. Sure, the men talked about politics between trainings. Of course religion came up - the men prayed before every training and every meal. But was this important? Perhaps. That's why some of it is included. Is it the entire story, however? Not to me.

To me, this is what the militia is and it is my story. I came in with one expectation and left with a completely different outlook and I think, through that, my project is as objective as it can be.

I'm not going to make excuses and say being objective is impossible; of course it is, but that doesn't mean you don't try. What's important is to ask yourself tough questions and to make sure you're hard on yourself, and in turn, hard on your subject.

Lots of people belonged to marginalized groups. The men of the Missouri Militia are an example. However, I am, too. As a journalist, I had one hard time getting these guys to trust me. Just like I did to them, they assumed things about me - that I

was a liberal, sensationalist reporter who loves taking things out of context. Maybe I am liberal. Maybe I'm not. I'll never tell, but I hope that I showed them that there are decent reporters out there just like they showed me that not all militias are what people expect them to be.

I encourage you all to read my past blog posts about this group and watch the Flash project, the actual story, that I put together. This Flash project was a part of a class I am in at MU called Electronic Photojournalism.

I am incredibly pleased with my project, my images, design, editing and the overall story. I look to improve this in the future, however, and will be spending more time with the militia over the summer. If you enjoyed my work so far, feel free to continually check back here.

 

Another day with the Missouri Militia

If you are a male or female between the ages of 18-64, you are part of the militia. So am I. Every citizen of the state of Missouri, and most states for that matter, is a member of a militia.

I learned this Saturday when I travelled to Odessa, Mo. for my second session with the third brigade of the Missouri Militia. Today, the militia was having a medical class and covered CPR, the Heimlich maneuver and other simple medical procedures that could help someone in the case of the absence of a medic. The militia also invited their children and wives to come and observe what they were all about and taught them the same medical techniques they were learning.

As I've been exploring the story of the Missouri Militia, my story angle has changed some. Initially, I wanted to focus on the Missouri Initiative Analysis Center (MIAC) document that had come out, addressing all militias as terrorist organizations. However, that document has since become discredited and is no longer an issue. Now, I am mostly focusing on what the Missouri Militia's mission statement is and their goal to become state recognized.

When I initially came into this project, I thought the Missouri Militia was an organization that would act as a watchdog of the government in case it got too powerful. Although militia members have stated that they support limited government, that is not their main goal.

The militia's main concern is to act as a volunteer force in cases of natural disaster, especially when the government has limited resources, like the National Guard. They also focus on acting immediately in these cases, as oftentimes the government will have a slow response time. They also talked about helping with search parties in cases of lost children. Missouri Militia member Randy, who is an ex-U.S. military officer and served in Rhodesia, has stated that he wants to train every militia member to the equivalent status of a sergeant to assist the U.S. military and lead civilians in these cases such as these.

Sumpter is also working with the state to become recognized as an organization that can be utilized in cases of great need for the state. The militia has talked with state representatives and is working to talk to the governor to make this happen. However, in an interview with Sumpter, he expressed concerns, such as funding. Sumpter stressed the idea of no political affiliation as an organization, because he worried that if their political views did not align with those of a state official, they would be forced to disband if they were state recognized. He also stressed not wanting to be government funded, worrying that their equipment could be taken away with a politician disagreed with their mission.

State Rep. Mike McGhee also showed up to the militia training Saturday. McGhee is a republican politician and a Tea Party supporter. Apparently, McGhee is the neighbor of Bill, who hosts the militia trainings. McGhee dropped by to visit the militia members and to thank them for what they were doing. I luckily nabbed an interview with him and gained a really great voice on the political perspective of the militia.

I will be going back out to join the Missouri Militia in early May. I'm worried because the training day is two days before my final project for the class is due, but I think if I'm thorough, I can edit the audio and put together some multimedia within that time frame. At least, I hope so!

Working with the militia has been great so far. Regardless of how I feel about the premise of the organization (this is me nixing conflicts of interest), the men involved are really great, down home kind of guys that would do anything for you, whether you're a stranger, family member or even a journalist.