'Still on Patrol'

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Erica Knight
  • 4th Combat Camera Squadron
As twilight settled upon the West coast, eight combat camera airmen here conducted a silent march for a fallen comrade-in-arms from the East coast July 30.

After learning of the recent death of U.S. Army Spc. Hilda Clayton, a combat documentation and production specialist assigned to the 55th Signal Company (Combat Camera), 21st Signal Brigade, Fort Meade, Md., seven enlisted members and one officer from the U.S. Air Force Reserve Command 4th Combat Camera Squadron donned full battle gear and conducted a memorial ruck march in her honor.

"The sun was falling, it was very solemn and quiet, and we weren't talking very much. It was our own march for [Clayton], and it ended with a 'HOOAH!" said Master Sgt. Carolyn Erfe, 4th CTCS aerial photography program manager. "It was very important to me that at least one female participated [in the march], and I was honored to be that female."

Clayton died July 2 in Qaraghahi, Afghanistan, while documenting Afghan National Army soldiers conducting mortar training. A mortar equipment failure caused an explosion that took the life of Clayton and three ANA soldiers.

Inspired from an online article he read about Clayton, Senior Master Sgt. David Smith, 4th CTCS photojournalism flight superintendent, was eager to gear up for a fellow fallen combat camera service member and received overwhelming support from his participating troops.

"We're all so busy and we don't really take the time to recognize the sacrifices made ... so when I heard about Specialist Clayton, I knew I needed to do something," said Smith. "She was 22 and could've been one of my (troops) here. She gave the ultimate sacrifice and what better way to (honor her) by sacrificing our time and exertion for her ... by carrying as much of a combat load as (Clayton) would've been carrying." Those in the ruck march wore full tactical load including helmets and training weapons.

Smith went on to say how dangerous the combat camera career field can be. Two members of 4th CTCS have been wounded-in-action since the inception of the unit in 1996.

After the ruck march, Smith contacted U.S. Army Capt. Drew Deal, an operations officer from Clayton's unit, to convey 4th CTCS's support by sharing the ruck march story. Deal was touched by the outpouring of support from unitsĀ of all military branches, but truly appreciated the motivated efforts of 4th CTCS and its members.

Deal was mainly shocked that the news of Clayton's passing had reached, not only the West coast, but sister services as well.

"It was a pleasant surprise to hear that (the 4th CTCS) conducted this march in honor of Specialist Clayton," he said. " The combat camera community is so close and tight-knit, so when someone passes away doing their job everyone is (affected). Combat camera has 'combat' in its name for a reason."

Clayton's unit is currently planning an annual combat camera competition where the winner of the week-long challenge claims the Clayton Award. Deal expressed that winning the award takes on substantial meaning considering the weight of its namesake.

Next July, Smith plans to organize another ruck march in Clayton's memory.

" It was the least we could do while she's still on patrol," said Smith.