Faking the funk

“I’ve got you on a flight to Seitz. You’ll stay a few days,” the boss-lady said.

Another trip down south. I didn’t even know what the story was. It didn’t matter. They were all the same. Convoy to such-n-such, delivering such-n-such; or on the FOB with a unit that installs such-n-such on so many such-n-such vehicles.

Here’s how it works: We have a list of what companies and battalions are in our brigade. The commander gives us a quota—something like two stories per company, or one story per every few weeks or months. It’s a numbers thing.

No news, nothing that has to do with feelings, opinions, or current events—just reasons why the particular unit featured was the absolute best at what they did, regardless of reality.

Every mechanics shop is retrofitting ten thousand pieces a day, honing their skills through discipline and coming together as a team. Every group of fuelers is competent in their routes, confident in their leadership and ready to spread democracy. Every supply yard is projecting full-spectrum expeditionary combat logistical readiness to the forefront of theater operations.  It’s the BTJ syndrome—having to portray everyone as so amazing, they’re “better than Jesus.”

And that’s it, really—give everybody a chance for a page in the yearbook. Since everybody is perfect, everybody is equal. It’s like how we handle awards in the Army nowadays. Everybody gets a medal for showing up to work—everybody is special. The guy who sipped coffee and the guy who endured months of combat both will get the same award, depending on rank, of course.

While learning about my profession from the Defense Information School on Fort Meade, Md., I became a believer. I was the scribe of the Army—a historian. I would tell the Army story, to help write history, document the victories of the American people. I would make a difference. If the news was bad, I would tell it anyway. Truth was our mantra—not just in the “root out the scandal” sense, but laying out the grim reality of war, the attitudes, feelings, and humanity of the troops. We were told to be genuine.

But the disconnect between ideal and reality was still there. And now I work for a photo booth—lights, give me a smile, click.

I’m afraid when I get home people will be a bit disappointed too. Everyone is itching for photos that “tell the story” and all I have are the standard “feature” photos that my higher-ups want—three quarter, two eyes visible, hands working—just a human prop with a different background.

Is it journalism? Am I a journalist? Does it still count toward championing truth? As long as it makes someone feel better, is that ok?

“Hey! Take my picture,” I get it a dozen times when walking around with a lens around my neck. At first I would come back with, “What are you doing that needs to have a picture taken?” Not that I was too good to take their picture, but I was constantly on the lookout for what was “happening” not just what was there.

But maybe it doesn’t matter. Now I just say “sure” and take the peoples’ picture. Maybe it’ll make them happy.

“Is this going to be on CNN?” they often ask afterward.

“No, not likely,” I’ll say. “I’m not with CNN; I’m just an Army journalist.”

“Oh,” and the excitement drains from their faces as they walk off, uninterested.

Yeah, brother, I wouldn’t be too impressed by me either.


About salemonz

Born in San Diego, Calif. Raised as a Navy Brat, I jumped ship and crossed over to the Army. Served as an enlisted journalist for a bunch of years, then helped the DoD figure out what the hell to do with social media. After the Army, now I drift down the river of life, trying not to be a jerk.

9 responses to “Faking the funk”

  1. wilsonian says :

    I suppose this is a question you’ll sit with for a long time.

    Your blog may just be a tool to redeem that. It’s been important to me since I found it, anyway.

    And you’re a damn fine photographer. You transform those ‘doing’ into those ‘being’ their role.

  2. Radio Free Babylon says :

    You’ve found the “truth” outlet you were seeking – you are the Army’s scribe here in this blog.

  3. brogonzo says :

    Those initial thoughts in IET were fun, yeah? Too bad ideals are quickly tried, sentenced, and executed by higher-ups who are constantly looking for backup for their OER bullet-points. “Truth” is only useful if it fits into a set of bronze star recommendation paperwork.

  4. salmons says :

    Well then I’ll keep bloggin’!

    God bless, I’m out on mission. See you in a few days.

  5. BWJones says :

    You would have to consider that even though you *are* taking photos for the army that may not represent what you *want* to be doing, you are still documenting history, right Sgt? No, seriously….. It is one of the reasons that I fell in love with photography. I am talking about the documentation of events that we may not realize are significant until years later. Proximity of people, places and time are hard to appreciate in the moment, but often it takes more extended time periods for history and significance to play itself out.

    At the very least, photographs can be an amazingly valuable resource to historians. For example, in researching some family history that I wrote about here:

    I was able to use some photographs that I posted here:

    as an incredible resource.

    Keep it up, do your job and post the more interesting bits here. Oh, and *do* take the photos that you want to….. just save ’em for later. You never know how valuable they might become….

  6. Salmons says :

    Sweet photogs BW. I remember seeing those on your stuff earlier. I’ll have to post some of my Wash. shots myself on the ol’ blog. Yeah, they’re on Flicr, but not everyone checks that out!

    Nice mug too, btw! Hawt.

  7. David Green says :

    Just remember that the photos that hang on the walls at DINFOS stand alone from the stories. We look at them and even though they are just guys mugging for the camera and doing their jobs we still get a sense of what it was like for them. Someday some poor smuck like myself will be asked to put together a montage of photos from Iraq and we’ll go to DVIDS and pull down a bunch a stuff with no real regard for how well the person in the picture did his/her job. We’ll pull it down because it is a piece of history and you my friend were there to document it.

  8. Lessie says :

    You do a great job within the formula — 3/4s, both eyes, two hands working. Love the perspective/angles in the photos.

  9. salmons says :

    Well rock on then David and Lessie 🙂 Glad you like ’em!

    I guess I just get tired of them, but I suppose everybody gets tired of anything they work with on a regular basis.

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