Over the last two weeks I’ve been on orders with my Reserve unit (the 459th Air Refueling Wing) down at Andrews AFB to serve out my Annual Tour (AT). For the 2% of my readers who are military, you know what I’m talking about. For the remaining 98% of you “being on orders” and “Annual Tour” denote the “two weeks a year” you hear in the recruitment commercials.
Before singing up with the Reserves I was incredibly hesitant about going back into the military after my 5 year stint with Active duty. But two months later, I’m pretty darn happy I did, and I honestly have zero complaints.
So far, the 459th ARW has been incredibly accommodating to me; they brought me in as an overage, assigned me to operations, and let me hang my hat at the Public Affairs (PA) shop. Working with PA I am and will continue to capture awesome shots like the one pictured above regularly on my drill weekends.
Hopefully, a PA Officer position will open up within the shop in the next year (or less), which will allow me to attend the Defense Information School and enable me to cross train into another career field. The end goal of this whole exercise in trial and error is to eventually land a spot with the Combat Camera folks out at March AFB just east of Riverside, CA.
In the mean time, I am more than happy to keep shooting with the 459th PA shop and here are some of my favorite images that I’ve taken during my AT. The above shot is SSgt Hoffman firing off the M249 down at Ft APHill. The amazing thing about this picture is that the M249 ejects jackets downwards, so each of the three shells captured first bounced off of the barricade and then up in the air!
This is my favorite shot from the last two weeks, but I like to open up with a landscape shot since I think it “fills the frame” better than a portrait shot can. The gentleman pictured here is CMSgt Van Yahres who recently took over as the 459th’s Command Chief. A simple shot right outside of the wing headquarters taken with one strobe placed low (to get underneath his hat) and a 1/2 CTO gel to match the warm surroundings. He’s a great fella who’s real easy to shoot and you can read more about him and see where this image was published here!
Another shot from the Ft APHill range, this time of TSgt Junious, who I unfortunately didn’t get a chance to talk to but that still doesn’t preclude me from really liking this portrait shot. Before I took their group shot, I set up a strobe paired with a 1/4 CTO gel off to the side of group and told them that I would be happy to oblige any individual shots. Everyone was hesitant at first until TSgt Junious stepped up and quickly there after the rest of the group happily lined up…what were they afraid of???
Shifting gears, the wing was undergoing an inspection during the time I was there. Fortunately, the PA shop was exempt and free to continue about our daily business. One of the inspection criterion was to observe a confined fuel cell evacuation, which in so many words means that the maintainers had to pull a dummy out of the wing. It’s clear that TSgt Swain here is a bit weary of the approaching firefighters assisting during the exercise.
And finally, here’s a shot of the 459th’s Arial Port Squadron in charge of loading and unloading cargo from the KC-135. I never mind taking military group shots since everyone is keen to listen to my every command, and it’s a GREAT thing since I can get everyone in and out in a very timely manner.
And just one last reminder, all these images are PROPERTY OF THE USAFR, hence the reason why you may not download or purchase any of the pictures from me. Sorry, not my rules and I’m better off playing good solider on this one!
This has been a LONG time coming and I want to start off by saying thanks to everyone who has patiently been waiting for this first gallery to drop and I hope it was worth the wait. I’m going to try my hardest to keep this blog posting relatively short, but there is SO much I want to rant about! Just for starters, how many stories do you think could be spun from this shot?
Before I go off the deep end talking about airplanes, I want to thank my good friend Tom Robinson for making all this happen. I know he’s not going to like this picture, but I think it captures one of his best qualities, and if you couldn’t tell he’s a great people person…despite the “what the hell is Tom talking about?”look on Bill Kerchenfaut’s face. Tomwas the Deputy Chief of Police in Reno and used to be on the Board of Directors who organize the race every year. He really went out of his way to get me an all access press pass, which enabled me to take all these great shots and none of this would have been possible without him.
One of the big highlights of the race for me was discovering this aircraft. I have always been a HUGE F4U Corsair fan ever since I was a kid and even more after reading Baa Baa Black Sheep (a must read for anyone). I wondered why this Corsair was painted red and noticed that the race guide had it listed as a F2G which really confused me, until I got to a computer. As it turns out, the F2G was developed towards the end of WWII as a low altitude interceptor with 28 pistons!!! ONLY 5 of these aircraft were ever built and here was one racing over 50 years later, how incredible is that?!? I’m going to write more about the WWII fighter racing culture when I hit on my second day of shooting, during which I followed around a race team from sun up to sun down.
Some of my favorite moments from the races are these rare moments that remind me of being back on active duty with the air force.
Tom was nice enough to take me to one of the outfield pylons where we were literally 150 feet away from these aircraft screaming overhead. The planes would come hustling over a small hill and then would disappear in the blink of an eye. The first couple laps really caught me by surprise, but once I was able to get their rhythm I was able to set up for some pretty cool shots (1 and 2).
I’ve seen the Thunderbirds perform at least a dozen times, but this was my first time with a DSLR and some serious glass (I rented a 70-200mm 2.8 from Alphalensrental.com) and was really taken back by the images that I had managed to capture. This one reminds me of the American flag, anyone else?
I defintely went nuts with shooting and trying to capture the races the first day (I think I captured around 1,200 pictures), but one of my problems is (maybe it’s a problem?) that I can’t stand being next to another photographer! I HAVE to crawl around and find that shot that no one else is going to get. This was pretty difficult with all the FAA officials parked all over the ramp and with the small press box that was provided. But, I managed to work around it and ended up getting a couple of shots low to the ground on the west ramp underneath a firetruck (don’t worry, I asked them if I could crawl under it first) that turned out pretty well. This shot really gives you a good sense of how close they were to the ground.
And I think I’ll finish out the set with this old timeblack and white of the warbirds rounding the first turn. I’m so glad that I got a chance to attend and shoot this race with my camera. I am hooked on air racing and I am going to try to make it back year after year since no one is really sure how much longer these birds are going to keep flying.
You all are in for a real treat when Part II of my air race adventures premiers in about a month.
Last fall a good friend of mine, Chris Whong of Charmcity Networks (who also largely designed this site) asked me and a few friends to attend his promotion ceremony at Ft. McHenry in Baltimore. Being a military man myself, how could I turn down the chance?!?
This gallery is short, but sweet and the timing couldn’t be better. It was largely a clear day and the fall sunset made for a dramatic and warm backwash on the surrounding buildings. I just wish I had brought some gels to warm up my flash a bit to match the background, but the contrast also makes for a nice separation. I was lucky to have a diffuser on me since my flash was almost at its lowest power to hit those larger apertures in the setting sun (I think I was F 2.8 all day?).
Saluting the colors.
The moment of truth! Those Army guys are stones, my eyes would have been all over the place.
The ceremony finished up with the retiring of the colors, which was pretty cool considering the history of Ft. McHenry.