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Photographer sees war first hand

(U.S. Air Force graphic/Sylvia Saab)

(U.S. Air Force graphic/Sylvia Saab)

Air Force photographer Chanise Epps

Air Force photographer Chanise Epps

Air Force photographer Chanise Epps documenting attack

Air Force photographer Chanise Epps documenting attack

Air Force photographer Chanise Epps documenting attack

Air Force photographer Chanise Epps documenting attack

Air Force photographer Chanise Epps documenting attack

Air Force photographer Chanise Epps documenting attack

FORT GEORGE G. MEADE, Md. (AFNS) -- During her deployment with a provincial reconstruction team in Afghanistan in 2010, Senior Airman Chanise Epps proved that a simple hand-held camera can be just as effective in war as the high-tech U-2 imagery she normally worked with back home.

"I think photography is important, because without photography how will the story be told?" Epps said.

While assigned to a small forward operating base, Senior Airman Chanise Epps' FOB came under heavy mortar and small arms fire from insurgent forces Dec. 28, 2010. For three intense hours, she courageously performed combat camera documentation, capturing more than 600 images of base defense and firefighting efforts.

"I was like, 'Aww man! This is really happening! I need to document it!' That was the first thing that came to my mind," Epps said.

In the first two hours alone, several mortar rounds caused a massive fire on the FOB that destroyed the fuel storage depot, vehicle maintenance facility, and several fighting positions.

Airman Epps willingly put herself at risk, moving to a fighting position that had been abandoned due to heat and explosion hazard, all the while ensuring a better angle for intelligence collection. She quickly processed the imagery and provided it to FOB leadership.

The images provided a crucial assessment of the damage and magnitude of destruction, enabling leadership to enhance the FOB's defenses in near-real time, including reinforcing garrison battle and counter-firing positions.
 
Later her photographs were used as evidence to prosecute insurgents detained during the attack, and the images aided interrogations of the detainees in order to identify other violent extremists.

Airman Epps' actions were commendable. Armed with a camera as her primary weapon, her bravery and quick thinking were in keeping with the highest values of an Air Force combat camera photographer. For her actions, she was awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal, as well as the Army's Combat Action Badge.

The citation cited that, with little thought to her own safety, Airman Epps stationed herself between the firefighters and the flames to capture accurate and compelling photos of the destruction. With mortar attacks overhead and fires burning all around her, she continued taking photos for the entire length of the conflict.

"I feel like was just doing my job. I was just doing what I had to do," she said of her selfless actions. "It's just a tremendous feeling to be able to serve your country and actually being out there and able to say, 'I did the best that I could for my country and I served my country."

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