Sometimes it’s difficult to imagine the risks faced by our servicemen and women in the day-to-day operations that keep this country safe.
Today the civilian world is receiving a small, tragic glimpse of those risks.
The Army released images this week taken by 22-year-old combat photographer Spc. Hilda Clayton just moments before she died during a live-fire training accident in Afghanistan nearly four years ago, the Military Times reports.
“Not only did Clayton help document activities aimed at shaping and strengthening the partnership [in Afghanistan] but she also shared in the risk by participating in the effort,” stated an article published in the Army’s Military Review journal.
The images were released with the support of Clayton’s family. They depict the blast from an accidental mortar tube explosion that occurred on July 2, 2013, in the eastern Afghan area of Qaraghahi. The explosion killed Clayton along with four Afghan soldiers who were being trained in mortar operations.
Clayton had been tasked with documenting the event and training an Afghan Army photojournalist who also died in the accident.
Clayton was a Georgia native who served in the Army as a visual information specialist attached to the 4th Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division based at Forward Operating Base Gamberi.
She was a small part of a largely unknown effort by the Pentagon to create a visual record of U.S. military operations, according to CBS News.
As part of the storied Fort Meade, Md.-based 55th Signal Company, Clayton worked to “acquire and utilize still and motion imagery in support of combat, information, humanitarian, Special Forces, intelligence, reconnaissance, engineering, legal, public affairs,” and other operations around the world.
But Clayton enjoyed her job even beyond its role advancing the Army’s goals. “She died doing what she loved,” Spc. Shenee Brooks told CBS.
Brooks served in the same unit as Clayton, and when asked how she felt about the photo’s being made public, she said, “I don’t think any photo that I’ve seen can compare to that photo. She has the last shot of how she died in that photo.”
The combat camera unit has named their annual competition the SPC Hilda I. Clayton Best Combat Camera (COMCAM) Competition in Clayton’s honor.
Her name is also etched into the Hall of Heroes at the Defense Information School in Fort Meade, where she graduated in 2012.