By Lisa R. RhodesDecember 19, 2013
The sacrifice and service of Spc. Hilda I. Clayton, the first combat documentation and production specialist to be killed in Afghanistan, was recognized in an emotional ceremony at the Defense Information School on Dec. 13.
A plate bearing Clayton's name was unveiled in the DINFOS Hall of Heroes during a 20-minute ceremony that left several of the Soldier's comrades in tears.
Clayton, who was assigned to the 55th Signal Company (Combat Camera), 21st Signal Brigade, was killed July 2 during a deployment to Afghanistan. She was documenting an Afghan National Army training exercise when a mortar system failed.
Clayton was 22.
"This is a bittersweet day," said Col. Jeremy Martin, commandant of DINFOS. "We come to honor one of our own. Specialist Clayton volunteered to serve her country in uniform, and she offered what President Lincoln so aptly referred to as 'the last best measure of devotion' in support of our country."
The DINFOS Hall of Heroes, established in 2006, honors men and women killed in combat while serving in a public affairs or visual information job specialty.
Before Clayton's induction, 107 nameplates hung in the hall. Each nameplate includes the service member's name, rank, service branch, date of death and the name of the conflict in which he or she died.
Maj. Kyle Yates, commander of Combat Camera, was the guest speaker.
Other guests included Clayton's husband, Spc. Chase Clayton, a supply specialist with Combat Camera; Ray B. Shepherd, director of the Defense Media Activity; and Roger King, executive officer at DMA.
Navy Lt. Todd DeLaney, command chaplain of DINFOS, gave the invocation.
In his speech, Yates called Clayton a "commander's Soldier" -- someone who not only is "trainable, but also most importantly, possesses all of the qualities that a commander cannot teach or train into them," he said.
"Hilda epitomized what it means to be a commander's Soldier."
Yates described Clayton as eager to not only do her job, but "to do it better than she had ever done before, and better than her fellow Soldiers to her left or right."
Clayton was a "quiet professional" who "let her actions do the talking -- and they did," Yates said. "You could not rest your laurels around Specialist Clayton."
Clayton was born May 21, 1991 in Augusta, Ga. After attending cosmetology school at Augusta Technical Community College, she earned her license to practice cosmetology.
Clayton joined the Army on Sept. 21, 2011 as a 25V, combat documentation and production specialist. She attended basic combat training at Fort Jackson, SC., and later completed Advanced Individual Training at DINFOS.
While at DINFOS, she completed the basic still photography and video documentation courses.
Clayton and her husband met in elementary school in Augusta. They decided to join the Army -- she as a combat photographer and he as a supply specialist. The couple married on Dec. 29, 2011.
Clayton was later assigned to Combat Camera. In April, she was deployed in support of the Department of the Army across Regional Command-East during Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. She was deployed to support the Combined Joint Task Force 101.
Clayton was then forward-deployed as the Combat Camera asset covering the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division.
In his remarks, Yates said Combat Camera held its first Best COMCAM competition in June. The weeklong competition is dedicated to identifying the "best Combat Camera team through the completion of tough, arduous and exhausting tasks, while also documenting each task of the competition through the collection of photographs and videos, and creating final multimedia products of the highest standards," Yates said.
Beginning with this year's competition, the best combat camera team will have its name inscribed on the Spc. Hilda I. Clayton Best COMCAM Award.
"This is not something that we simply do in honor of her, but something done to signify how she embodied the best of Combat Camera," Yates said. "[Clayton] left a legacy for all of us to follow.
"As we unveil her nameplate on the Wall of Heroes, all who walk by from now on will see her sacrifice and legacy, and that it lives on."
After Yates' speech, Tech Sgt. Joshua Strang, a basic still photography instructor at DINFOS who taught Clayton and served as emcee, tearfully unveiled Clayton's nameplate.
Later, several Soldiers from Combat Camera huddled together in front of the wall and cried.
Staff Sgt. Kaily Brown, a squad leader at Combat Camera, said Clayton trained with her deployment team late last year. She was Clayon's platoon leader when she arrived at the unit in 2012.
Brown said Clayton was "very squared away" as a Soldier and was always "doing the right thing."
"She was one of those Soldier's that you could rely on to get the job done," Brown said.
Brown's team was in Afghanistan when Clayton was killed. They attended the memorial service conducted there.
"We were able to get some closure," Brown said.
But Friday's ceremony, she said, "stirred back up the emotions and feelings that took us back to when we lost her."
Brown said Clayton's induction in the DINFOS Hall of Heroes was a proper way to honor Clayton.
"It would have made her proud," Brown said.