August 15, 2010

Running for Stability

by Matthew Freire, Syracuse University, August 2010

With a sober face and straight voice Staff Sergeant Smith said, “I got some bad news. Marcy got hit.”

I wanted to laugh and joke like usual until I saw the Sergeant’s eyes. Staring into them I could triangulate the tone of his voice. Truth overcame my body. Hunger grew in my throat like a foreign object. I couldn't swallow.

“What happened?”

“We don't really know the full story yet but we do know he was hit by some type of rocket, and he’s in critical condition right now in the Bahgram hospital. He will lose one leg, possibly both. Once he’s stable enough they will send him to Walter Reed,” Sergeant Smith said.

With hope I said, “so he’s alive.”

“Yes,” Smitty said, “he’s still alive. When I get more information I'll let you know.”

Silence suffocated the room. I stood looking at nothing, biting my lower lip, nodding my head.

Smitty broke the silence. “Are you all right?”

I was now staring at my tactical gear on the floor. Still nodding my head as if I could not breathe, I looked at Smitty and said, “at least he's not dead.” I needed air. I turned and walked out the door.

It was dark outside. Only red lights were authorized at night at the FOB (Forward Operation Base). White lights provide directions to incoming rockets. It was pouring rain. In moments I was completely soaked, realizing this was the first time Afghanistan skies rained on me. My team of eleven had only been “in country” for three weeks and I had only been on four missions. Now five words were on playback in my head, “At least he’s not dead.”

My mind was racing, so I ran to see if I could catch it. I began to reminisce about old times of fun and adventure Marcy and I shared. I wished I could be with him, and hear his loud Long Island accent. Will I see him again? What state will he be in? Marcy loved his job more than anything. Being a combat camera soldier was all he wanted to do. Will he be able to keep his job? My thoughts became self-centered. If Marcy died I would have to document his memorial ceremony. But my desire to do Marcy justice in documenting his fallen comrade ceremony would compete with my desire as a friend to be a pall bearer. There were more selfish thoughts. I had just arrived down range in Afghanistan. I wanted to stay. I wanted to do my job. There was so much I wanted to experience.

Ashamed of my egocentric thoughts I started thinking about the process of thinking, of running for stability. The rain acted like the tears I could not shed. Tears were inadequate to honor my friend.

Soaking wet I realized how crazy we combat camera soldiers are. We run into combat with weapons that cannot immediately kill the enemy. We run with our cameras up and our rifles slung at our sides. I was jealous of Marcy because he had already experienced combat. I had to slap my self-centered face and pivot back to those five words, “At least he’s not dead.”

April 2, 2010

What is Combat Camera?

Wayne Gray and I came up with this idea in Afghanistan. We both shot it and Wayne edited it. The target audience is 55th combat camera soldiers but I think more people can appreciate it for what it is. At the end it shows where our footage is used.

March 23, 2010

Background on the Why We Fight Documentary

"I was impressed with the “Why We Fight” documentary on Tyler Ginter’s blog and so I got in contact with him about a write-up. As it turns out a friend of his Matt Freire was the one who had shot and put it together. So I contacted Matt to get not only his production write-up but what life is like in the Army as a combat cameraman. His piece documents the feeling and sentiment of the Afghan people who are tired of war and offer a perspective that most people don’t see.

"Here is his write-up:"

I joined the Army in 2004 as a 25V combat documentation production specialist or more commonly know as combat camera “COMCAM." I joined the military because I was becoming lethargic and I had no real direction. I did a little freelance graphic design and weekly competed in slam poetry contests but something was missing. I heard you could be a graphic designer for the military and they would pay for school. On top of all that I was fascinated with the wars going on and I really wanted to go over and experience it for myself, do my part for my country. When I joined the recruiters said all the slots for graphic designers were full but they had a slot in combat camera. As soon as I heard the name I was hooked. I said I wanted that job.

Life of a COMCAM in a war zone to me is bliss. (The Passionate Fool Focuses) I would go back in a second. I didn’t want to leave. I loved being in Afghanistan and doing my job. There is no other job in the military where you get to be around and experience everyone else’s job, not just in our military but all the coalition forces. I believe I’ve documented military from around 30 different countries.

I never really thought of my job as dangerous even after my good friend on my COMCAM team lost his leg in the first month of being in the country. (Soldiering Comes with a Cost) There are hazards and dangers doing this job because we look for the high action missions and we get on as many as possible. It’s hard to juggle having a M4 assault rifle and a Canon 5D MKII slung around my neck and trying to decide which one I should use.

One of the things I love about my job is I am the only one that does it when I go on missions. I am the one that’s documenting how it really is for history, for battle field commanders, for the soldiers, for the world. My job is different form the other camera jobs in the military because I just document. I don’t go out looking for a message, I don’t go out to try to make a story, I just document how it is. (As You Pay Last Respects to Your Soldier)

The video "Why We Fight" just put itself together. I was with these Afghan fighters for a few months documenting what they do and one day they were doing some weapons training. I pulled a few aside with both our interpreters and started asking random questions like hows the training going on, why do you come out here every day and fight, how do you feel about America, and then I went on my way. A few months later I was looking over my footage and I found the interviews and that’s when it hit me how powerful their words are. These people are just like us. They are tired of war and they fight so their families can live in peace. I never looked at Afghans in this way until this deployment.

My team was the first team in the military to deploy to a combat zone with HDSLR’s. I loved having the ability to do both photo and video in one small compact machine.

Before the HDSLR I was using a Nikon D2x and a Sony PD-170. If I had a mission I would have to pick one or the other because there is just not enough room to carry both. When I go on missions with different units I have the same gear they have plus my camera gear so i need to be as light and compact as possible. HDSLR’s accomplish so much: they're light, compact, tough, have the ability to change lens quickly.

My camera got beat up, it looked horrible by the end, the whole camera was covered in tape including the back screen because most of my missions were done at night and I couldn’t let light leak while doing video.

The scene in "Why We Fight" that shows a 9 banger flash grenade going off was during training, so I just set my camera on the ground and took a few steps back from it. The camera was fine, it's a beast that can take a beating. I did go through many lens filters through my deployment though. I had two primary lenses. I used the 24-105mm f/4 and the 50mm f/1.4. Kept it simple and light weight. I also did use a lens baby on a few missions which I don’t recommend to anyone in a combat zone. It takes too much changing out f stops and manually focusing. I think I was the first for that and hopefully last.

How I carried the camera, I would wolf hook it to a carabiner on my body armor and it would just hang on my left side while my M4 was laid across my chest. For audio I just used an onboard mic and a lavaliere for the interviews that I hooked up but in post realized I set them up incorrectly, so really only the onboard mic is all I used.

Advice for those that might want to do this job:

First, hit the gym. You go out on missions where you have body armor, helmet, ammo, ruck sack with food, supplies, everything infantry joe has, plus whatever camera gear you have, and when they stop to take a break you have to have the energy to run around and still document. (I Don't Want to Limp Away from this One) The job never ends. When you get back from your mission and everyone cleans their weapons and goes to bed, you have to capture and edit all your work and transmit via ftp.

Second, get your mind right. Getting your mind right means understanding you might have to document some bloody gory stuff and then later go back and look at it again when you put a product together. (Troops in Contact: A Sound You Never Want to Hear) (I'm Not in the Mood to Argue)

Third, if you feel like you want to do this job in my military, be worth a damn and give a damn. (Afghan Interrogation Comes with a Chill) (Send it With Technicolor Sauce)

I love this job so much and I am so passionate about this job. If you are in my field don’t just steal oxygen and justify your existence!

Matt Freire

March 12, 2010

Why We Fight

Why We Fight filmed by Matt Freire, edited by Matt Freire and Tyler Ginter.

"Why We Fight" contains never-before released footage of the Afghanistan Special Forces, Strike Force Lion, who describe their own personal reasons why they continue to fight the war against terrorist threats within their country.

All footage was filmed entirely on the Canon 5DMKII by Matthew Freire during his nine-month combat tour under some of the most dangerous locations and roughest conditions in Afghanistan while supporting the elite United States Special Forces.

Strike Force Lion is a hand-selected elite group of Afghan Fighters trained by the United States Special Forces with the purpose of eliminating terrorist threats in the Khowst Province of Afghanistan.

These are strong, brave, and fierce fighters that do everything they can for peace.

Filmed by: Matthew Freire

Edited and Color Corrected by: Matthew Freire, Tyler Ginter

Canon 5DMKII
Canon 24-105mm F4
Canon 50mm F1.4
Final Cut Pro
Magic Bullet Looks
Magic Bullet Mojo

All footage has been cleared for Public Release.

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