FORT HUACHUCA, Arizona (September 12, 2017) -- While Federal organizations were conducting rescue and assistance missions in eastern Texas after the destruction caused by Hurricane Harvey, team members from the 55th Signal Company (Combat Camera), from Fort Meade, Maryland, were always close by. Several Army photo and video documentation specialists have been on-site since August 27, and out in the most devastated parts of the state documenting coordination, relief and rescue efforts of the dozens of organizations tasked with a mission that has become the costliest in U.S. history.
Setting up with the task force base in Austin, Texas, members of the only active component Combat Camera unit quickly started their part of the monumental effort.
"I was woken up by a phone call at 0730 from my squad leader," said Spc. Austin Boucher, a combat photographer and videographer from Watertown, Connecticut. "He told me to get my gear ready because I was going out to Texas to document the situation on the ground. Our flights left later that day, so we all had a short amount of time to get ready."
They were on the ground within hours of their call to support. The team's mission took them into some of the hardest hit areas of the state. Documenting rescues and relief supply runs in flooded neighborhoods, and joint civilian and military operations -- all conducted in a very short period of time -- has presented a number of opportunities to coordinate and cooperate with several federal and civilian relief organizations.
While on the ground, they receive support from different organizations in the form of a place to work and sleep, and access to communications to provide them a means to send their products to home station.
"The support we receive when on the ground is great," said Pfc. Joseph Cannon, a combat photographer and videographer from San Antonio, Texas. "We've received help from not only other military units but from other organizations such as Red Cross, FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency), and SBA (Small Business Administration). They've provided us with information of the surrounding areas, that in turn allows us to get the photos and video we need."
And while support from other organizations is welcome, it is their training at home station and support from within the team is what keeps them going.
"These guys and gals are doing really well," said Staff Sgt. Carl Greenwell, team lead. "It takes real professionals to stay focused because missions don't always go as planned. I'm really impressed how these guys keep their heads up and keep driving on."
"The training 'Combat Camera' receives is thorough for all sorts of missions," Cannon said. "That includes missions that are projected for short periods of time or longer ones. We are always ready to do our job with whatever it takes for however long it takes."
So far, the team has documented more than 20 civilian and military rescue and assistance missions throughout the area.
"Bringing in DoD assets into these situations help a lot," Greenwell said. "The Services can help provide those things the states don't necessarily have on-hand. Once the situation is worked to a manageable level, then the states take over."
As the team continues to document support, the evidence of the people's resiliency is unmistakable.
"We were in a government van following an LMTV (Light-Medium Tactical Vehicle) through a flooded neighborhood en-route to rescue an elderly woman," Boucher said. "The roads were nearly impassable. Water was up to the windowsills of some houses, and for a while I didn't see anybody.
"But as we were driving passed what looked like a vacant home, I saw two kids in bathing suits laughing and playing in nearly two-feet of brown floodwater on the side of this house. They both stood up, smiled and waved at us with bright eyes and excitement. It was a short, yet telling moment. These kids, despite all they've lost -- all they've endured, still manage to live their childhood."
Other members of the team include Spc. Elizabeth Brown and Spc. Hayley Gardner.
Staying in-line with their reputation as one of the most utilized and deployed units in the Army, the team was reassigned September 8, to document support and assistance operations in Florida, after the arrival of Hurricane Irma.
Note: The 55th Signal Company (Combat Camera) is a subordinate unit of the 114th Signal Battalion, 21st Signal Brigade, 7th Signal Command (Theater), under the U.S. Army Network Enterprise Technology Command.