Through my lens

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Ryan Conroy
  • 1st Special Operations Wing Public Affairs
What I’ve seen through my camera is harrowing, exceptional, heartbreaking and powerful. It’s a tumultuous series of stories that are sometimes unbelievable, but always remarkable.

My occupation in the Air Force allows me a different perspective than most. As a photojournalist for Special Operations, I’m front and center for a variety of different events while trying to distance myself through my lens as the story of the Air Force flashes before my eyes. And the story is more than airplanes and longer than the duty day.

There’s a motto these Airmen adhere to here that is hard to follow in the public affairs career field. They are “Quiet Professionals,” and I’ve been tasked to tell their stories to the world. So, you can see how those differing ideologies compete with each other.

But, what I see is too important not to be told.

I’ve seen the tears fall on the casket of a brave Special Tactics Airman, his mother clutching a flag and begging for answers. I’ve heard the thuds of his unit pounding their insignia flashes into the dark wood on a quiet morning. I’ve seen his family line up to say goodbye to their brother, their nephew, their grandson.

These are the hard days. Where the ultimate sacrifice has been given and we must mourn the loss of a comrade.

I’ve also been witness to an Air Force cross recipient, as a three-star general pins the medals to a line of brave warriors asked to go above and beyond the call of duty to save his fellow men in battle.

But there are also the men and women who work day in and day out in their duties. Their stories are constantly coming across my desk, and I’ve been blessed with sharing their narratives as well.

Throughout the year, I’ve told the story of a young Airman who survived hurricane Katrina and an aggressive neighborhood to earn his bachelor’s degree while in the Air Force. He is now on track to earn a medical degree.

I heard the story of an Uzbekistani immigrant, who didn’t speak a word of English upon arrival to America. I interviewed him in fluent English as he serves proudly as a commander’s executive.

There’s also the story of a master sergeant, who battled leukemia and thought his life and career was over. He is now in remission, a chief master sergeant and father of another child.

Those are the good days. The days where you can see the men and women we work beside battle inconceivable circumstances and come out on top.

Most Airmen are only offered a tunnel-vision view of the Air Force in their career fields. I’ve been given the privilege of being let into these “Quiet Professionals” lives on a daily basis.

I’m allowed to see these tough, battle-hardened Airmen as they trek the backwoods in full gear. The sweat soaked through their sand t-shirts, gritting it out because one day, their lives might depend on this training. The training is miserable. Some days I try to go out and keep up with them and I wonder how they don’t complain, because I sure want to. They serve diligently, with humility and courage, but most importantly -- quietly.

I’m grateful for the opportunities I’ve been given to see a different perspective and see our force in action. These men and women are the face of the Air Force, working to keep our country safe. They are content with never voicing their heroism and accomplishments, but I am not.