AL ASAD, Iraq -- The ability to capture moments that remain etched in the archives of Marine Corps lore, as well as the less extravagant happenings that occur on a daily basis, makes the combat cameramen of Marine Wing Support Squadron 273, Marine Wing Support Group 37, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, a unique and valuable asset, as well as torch-bearers of a profession with a lengthy history.
"Combat photography dates back to the start of photography in the armed services during the Civil War," remarked 29-year-old Sgt. Justin T. Kaleta, combat photographer, MWSS-273.
According to Pfc. Andrew D. Pendracki, combat videographer, MWSS-273, the combat camera mission is a diverse one that requires initiative and drive to accomplish.
"Our job is to document what's going on with whatever unit we're assigned," said the 21-year-old. "Any operation (MWSS) 273 and 3rd MAW conducts, we have the ability to document for intelligence purposes, or just for documentation purposes."
"We do this by finding out when operations are going on and by asking what specific sections in our unit are doing," added the native of Troy, Mich. "Sometimes we get tasked with jobs from our higher (chain of command), and we'll spend anywhere from a few hours to a few days covering ordinary and out-of-the-ordinary events."
Performing their duty in a war zone as opposed to a garrison environment has allowed the combat cameramen of MWSS-273 to put training into action, said Kaleta.
"Ideally, we deploy as a team and in a perfect setting, we will take one digital camera and one video camera with us that is set up for close, medium and wide-angle action, so that we can capture the whole perspective of a mission," he noted. "I also like to find out if the mission will continue into the night, so that I can attach a scope to my camera to get night-vision shots as well."
"In Iraq, all of the training missions we've done in the past comes into effect because we have to know exactly what we are videotaping and photographing in order to get the best angles and (camera) shots to tell the story through video or images," mentioned Pendracki. "Working (here) has opened my eyes as to what combat camera is capable of and how much our work is needed here."
Shortly after assuming control of the unit, Lt. Col. David S. Heesacker, commanding officer, MWSS-273, quickly discovered the significance of having combat cameramen available in a hostile theater of operations.
"I didn't have a real good idea or appreciation of all their capabilities until I started talking to their (previous) company commander and realized everything they brought to the table and what they could do," said the 48 year-old, "especially from a documentary and historical standpoint.
"Having a combat camera section has been very valuable to my unit, particularly in the explosive ordnance disposal field, when we send our technicians out to render improvised explosive devices safe," continued the native of Boone, N.C.
"They've been able to capture some things with photography that has allowed us to go back and examine them, in order to identify (dangerous) situations we didn't know were there and possibly save lives," Heesacker emphasized. "They are also able to take pictures of the ground so we can compare training results with other training we've conducted before."
During their current deployment to Iraq, the combat cameramen of MWSS-273 have also been able to make a dramatic impact within their unit on a more personal level, reflected Heesacker.
"Because (MWSS-273) is blessed with uniquely skilled individuals, our combat cameramen have been really proactive in taking a lot of photographs of the Marines as they work, which we post on our key volunteer website," he said. "They've also been able to make two deployment videos using both motion and still pictures for the Marines to have a copy of and take home with them from Iraq.
"They've done a great job and the Marines and family members really loved it," he added. "They've been a pleasant surprise and the things they've been able to do has been a real force multiplier for us, being able to see the results of their work.
"They get instant recognition on the things that we've done and their work has definitely had a positive effect on the morale of the unit," concluded Heesacker.
Perhaps nowhere is the enthusiasm toward the work they do as evident than from the combat cameramen themselves.
"The best part of my job is that I get to do it all," expressed Kaleta. "I've been along on missions with just about every type of unit and it was an absolute joy to work with them."
"I just love taking photos and shooting video. It's a great feeling to know that our work is being seen back at home," smiled Pendracki.