Combat camera sailors receive Bronze Star

By Andrew Scutro - Staff writer
Posted : Tuesday Jan 16, 2007 6:08:31 EST

Mass Communications Specialist 1st Class Steven Harbour, 32, joined the Navy 15 years ago not knowing what he wanted to get out of his career.

After boot camp, he ended up as a nonrated airman apprentice.

When he got to his squadron, the rate he wanted, Aviation Warfare Systems Operator, was not accepting strikers.

He didn’t know what to do.

His command master chief told him he could stay within the aviation community as a photographer’s mate.

“I said, “What’s a PH?’ and he said, ‘All they do is take pictures’,” Harbour recalls. “I said, ‘All right. Sign me up’.”

Last week Harbour was awarded the Bronze Star for action in Iraq.

And Harbour, a combat cameraman assigned to the Navy Expeditionary Combat Command, was not the only one to be awarded the high honor.

Three other combat camera sailors were also recognized for their service in Iraq attached to Army and Marine units: Mass Communications Specialist 1st Class David Hoffman, Mass Communications Specialist 1st Class Jackey Jo Bratt and Chief Mass Communications Specialist Thomas E. Jones Jr.

Unlike an embedded journalist who goes out with a military unit to write a specific story, combat camera sailors embed with military units to document operations. They go where the forces go, so if that means going on house-to-house raids, they’re in the raiding party.

Their footage is used by local commanders to analyze missions, but also by psychological operations units to influence the local populations.

Being with those units means combat camera sailors carry weapons, so sometimes they need to shoot more than just pictures.

When the Marine unit he was with came under coordinated attack in Ramadi, Harbour had to do just that. His award citation says he shot his way out of a pinned-down position while getting “graphic imagery” of the engagement.

“It’s not like we sit and think about, well, do I put my camera away?” he said. “You do what you are trained to do, and that’s exactly what I did.”

Hoffman, who is 33, has a similar career path. As a recruit, he had his pick of jobs based on his test scores but he didn’t know what any of ratings meant. Then he saw that he could be a photographer’s mate.

“I had no idea the Navy had photographers,” he said. The recruiter “pulled up the description of what we did, and it sold me.”

Hoffman served on the aircraft carrier Constellation for five years, in Europe and at the White House before going to Iraq in July 2006.

“With me, I’ve tried to vary up my career,” he said. “Coming to combat camera was just the next logical step. It’s definitely been an experience so far.”

Jones served with Army Special Forces units in Iraq. He was with them enough to qualify for the Army’s Combat Action Badge, but he can’t wear it on his Navy uniform.

“None of us who came into this community did it for the recognition,” Jones said. “You do your job because that’s what you pay us to do. Everything else falls as it may.”

Harbour has done two Iraq tours, one with only Army units the second with Army and Marine units.

As an eyewitness to combat he has come back with a realistic view of war.

“The people who have seen it understand there’s nothing really cool about it. It’s actually not that glamorous and it’s scary. It’s not something to brag about,” he said. “It’s not something that makes you a better man or woman. It’s actually a tragic thing. For you to be there something obviously has gone bad.”