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MacDill's shooters ensure base history will live on

by Nick Stubbs
Thunderbolt staff writer

This is how the Photo Lab crew looks from the other side of the camera. Left to right in rear are Airman First Class Jason Robertson, Senior Airman Heather Miller, Master Sgt. Valarie Weaver, Airman First Class Mellissa Padilla, Airman First Class Carlye LaPointe. Tech Sgt. Doug Lingerfelt and Staff Sgt. Chad Chisholm, kneeling

Photo by Nick Stubbs

If a picture is worth a thousand words, the 6th Air Mobility Wing Photo Lab is a virtual library, where the images of MacDill through the years tell the long history of an active and unique air base that sits in the middle of Tampa Bay.

Home to multiple commands including the 6th AMW, U.S. Central Command and U.S. Special Operations Command, host to many nations at Coalition Village, and a destination for celebrities and political leaders, MacDill seldom disappoints when it comes to photo ops, making it a plum of an assignment for photographers.

"It is either chaotic or tranquil; there's no in between," said Senior Airman Heather Miller, a photographer who added there is so much more to the job than most realize.

Staff Sgt. Chad Chisholm agrees, noting being on call to document every base fender bender or to stand by in the middle of the night waiting for a general to step off a plane takes its toll but the crew all share a passion for capturing images and contributing to the number one mission of the lab: documenting MacDill's history.

Not every photo is a gem of historical import but the all-digital operation allows everything to go into a database for posterity. If they are lucky, they don't have to wait years for their work to be recognized. Lab photographers often open a magazine or newspaper and see an image they captured at MacDill (often with no credit).

Just seeing your work published anywhere is a "kick," said Airman Miller.

The often long hours and workload surrounding many events are tempered by the little rewards of the job, said Airman 1st Class Carlye LaPointe. For her, the thanks are in the smiles and her subject doesn't have to be the president or a movie actor to make her feel she's captured an important image.

"When I can see how happy my photos have made someone who had their retirement ceremony, that's it for me," she said. "The smile on their face is the reward."

The crew also has the satisfaction of knowing that many Airmen make the journey from Jacksonville and other locations, just to get their promotion portraits done at MacDill Photo.

The photo crew laments that Air Force regulations for official portraits and functions provide less opportunity for creativity, but events like the upcoming Airfest help make up for it.

"We like things like that because we can be more artistic," said Sergeant Chisholm, noting the event is a pleasant departure from what are known around the shop as "shake and takes" and "grin and grips."

Sergeant Chisholm and Airman Miller both emphasized that being a military photographer has given them a broader understanding of the Air Force and the overall mission at MacDill.

"Compared to being a maintainer (his previous job), I see so much more of the Air Force mission and how everyone works," said Sergeant. Chisholm. "It's been eye opening for me."

Airman Miller said when she changed career fields, she was seeking a job that would immerse her into all aspects of the Air Force. When she found the photo lab, she knew she struck pay dirt.

"It's the best job I can imagine," she said.

Who could argue? With portfolios that include the likes of President Bush, The Rock, Robert DeNiro, numerous music stars and sports heroes, not to mention the gratitude of everyone from first year Airmen to top brass, MacDill's shooters seem to have captured the high profile images of their time and more than a few hearts among the everyday Airmen.




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