Marine Corps

July 12, 2012

Say Cheeese: You’re on Combat Camera

Lance Cpl. Sean Dennison
Desert Warrior Staff

U.S. Marines with Second Low Altitude Air Defense Battalion, Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N.C., provides security during Assault Support Tactics 3 (AST-3) at Kiwanis Park, Yuma, Ariz., April 20, 2012. AST-3 supported Weapons and Tactics Instructor Course 2-12 hosted by Marine Aviation Weapons and Tactics Squadron 1 based in MCAS Yuma.

Where does imagery you see around base come from?

Those photos on the slides you saw in boot camp? The pictures in your curriculum at MOS school? The pamphlets for that Marine Corps Birthday you attended? The training videos seen at safety stand downs?

They come from the Marines within the 4600 military occupational specialty field, Combat Camera.

They’re common sights around any Marine installation, the Marines toting cameras and capturing moments of Corps life.

“There are COMCAM assets assigned to every element of the Marine Air Ground Task Force (MAGTF) at the (Ground Combat Element, Air Combat Element, Marine Logistics Groups and bases and stations),” said Gunnery Sgt. Rhonda Mera, the station Combat Camera chief and a native of Niagara Falls, N.Y. “Marine Corps Combat Camera is organized and structured to provide commanders with photographic, video, digital, printed products and archival capabilities which directly support Marine Corps operations, enhancing decision-making processes and situational awareness.”

Combat Camera Marines have been around since at least World War II, according to Mera. Throughout the field’s history, it’s been called the Training Audio Visual Support Center, the Training Visual Information Support Center and Combat Visual Information Center. Today, it’s known across the Corps as Combat Camera.

While normally falling under the S-3/G-3 Training sections, MCAS Yuma’s Combat Camera is unique regarding the section it’s a part of.

“Yuma COMCAM is the only Combat Camera in the Marine Corps to fall under communications,” said Mera, noting that station combat camera is part of the S-6 department.

Combat cameramen and women provide a variety of products for commanders to use for mission-essential tasks, including still photography, videos and graphics. The material’s use includes advertising an event on station, official command photos and providing source material for imagery analysts.

With the job requiring an eye for detail, it’s no surprise, then, a few of the Marines here have backgrounds in art or graphic design.

“I joined specifically for Combat Camera,” Cpl. Justin Bopp, the Combat Camera graphics and reproduction section chief and a native of Des Moines, Iowa, whose experienced in a variety of art forms. “I knew whatever job I had in COMCAM, I’d be fine with it.”

“I originally went to college for graphic design,” said Lance Cpl. Ryan Lampro, the Combat Camera video chief and a native of Pittsfield, Mass. “I didn’t like where my life was going and wanted to change.”

Another aspect of Yuma’s Combat Camera section is the Marines’ versatility.

“A perk of Combat Camera here is we’re all centralized and we have the ability to cross-train in different sections,” said Bopp.

The Marines’ different skill sets come in handy with the different tasks they perform, like documenting changes of commands, taking photographs for the Criminal Investigation Division. Where there’s a need for imagery, there’s a need for Combat Camera.

“Marine Corps COMCAM acquires and exploits still and motion imagery in support of combat, information operations, humanitarian, special force, intelligence, reconnaissance, engineering, legal, public affairs and other operations involving the Military Services,” said Mera of the Marines’ repertoire.

Mera gave her own example of the effectiveness of Combat Camera in a forward environment. During the Iraq campaigns, Combat Camera was part of information and psychological operations. The Marines made pamphlets showing visuals of Marines helping locals and explaining through pictures how insurgents were harming the local villages.

“The only way to get information out to them was through images,” said Mera.

Even as operations in Afghanistan and overseas continue, Combat Camera still provides imagery such as terrain layout and individual identification to help combatant commanders control their respective area of operations.

The job does have its pitfalls, however. A common mistake is that Combat Camera and Public Affairs are one in the same.

“They think we write stories,” said Bopp with a laugh.

“How I like to break it down for most people to understand is:  COMCAM supports the ‘proverbial combatant commander in the field’.  PAO supports the ‘proverbial combatant commander in the eyes of the public’,” added Mera.

As well, because of the intricate nature of Combat Camera, it can be hard for outsiders to understand what they do.

“We provide material for mission-essential tasks,” said Lampro.

With modes of visual representation constantly changing and technology ever advancing, it’s a safe bet Combat Camera will remain an integral part of Corps operations.

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