Capturing history, one shot at a time

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Greg Erwin
  • 18th Wing Public Affairs
Some children grow up wanting to be doctors, actors, professional athletes or business owners. However, life doesn’t always turn out the way that you have envisioned it in your mind. For some, that realization happens when they complete high school, and have to make a decision on the next step in their life.

Once you complete high school, there are generally three options – go be a part of the workforce, go to college and continue your education or go into the military. Just like playing the board game “The Game of Life,” each path creates a new opportunity.

When I graduated high school in 2006, I had two life paths in front of me – either enter the Air Force or go to college to compete in track and field. At the time the Air Force was a serious option, but I saw a chance to continue competing as an athlete and chose “option B.” Ten years later, the Air Force option was on the table again, and this time I made sure to not pass it up.

I come from three generations of military service, with my great-grandfather and grandfather serving in the Army and my father serving in the Air Force. I have always had a deep appreciation of the military and the sacrifices needed by families to keep everyone else safe. After discussing the experience with my father, I found his career in intelligence interesting. To this day, he still is unable to talk about things he learned in the service, even though the Vietnam era has long since passed its classification time.

When joining the military, they make sure you’re medically fit through the Military Entrance Processing Station process, and you’re intelligent enough to serve in a career field via the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery testing. Even though I succeeded in both areas, the job I wanted was not available and I came in under the “open general” listing – meaning I would let the needs of the Air Force determine my career path. When making a big life decision, such as joining the military, allowing someone else to make that career choice is difficult.

Upon joining and going through the rigors of basic training, the day came where I found out what my job would be – a 3N0X5. Curious about what that meant, I asked all of my flightmates in the training squadron, and only two of the more than 50 individuals had any clue what that was. 

“You’re going to be a photojournalist as a part of public affairs.”

I had never picked up a camera before and, truth be told, I hate being in photographs. So how was a person – who hated photography, never held a camera, and didn’t understand the logic on why some pictures are good and some are terrible – going to be able to be successful in the field? All it took was a chance to relate the bigger picture into “why” the job is needed.

Every second of every day is history.

The key to our job as public affairs is simply telling people’s stories. Everyone has a story and whether they think it is important or not: it is. 
Every moment is history, and someone has to be trained to capture that moment in time so our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren can learn from our experiences.

When put into perspective – why capturing history is important – that was the moment where the light bulb turned on and my mission became crystal clear. As someone who grew up enjoying history and appreciating the military, to be a part of military history on a daily basis is an opportunity that I am extremely grateful for. At the end of the day, my work may be seen and discussed by my children, grandchildren, etc. the same way “The Kiss” or “Raising the flag on Iwo Jima” are shown in school when studying American history. 

Being stationed at Kadena is a daily reminder of history and why I am truly blessed to have found a home in the Air Force – capturing hearts and minds through images and telling people’s stories – even if the pathway to this moment felt more like the pathway to the poor farm than the pathway to millionaire acres.