FORT A.P. HILL, Va. — The Spc. Hilda I. Clayton Best Combat Camera Competition, now in its ninth year, is an event hosted annually by the 55th Signal Company (Combat Camera) to challenge combat camera personnel and honor the life of Clayton. This year’s competition was held at Fort A.P. Hill and concluded on May 24, 2022.
Clayton was assigned to the 55th Signal Company (Combat Camera), 114th Signal Battalion, 21st Signal Brigade, based at Fort Meade, Maryland. She deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, Regional Command-East and Combined Joint Task Force-101. She was tasked as the unit’s combat camera covering the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, “Task Force Long Knife.”
Clayton was involved in a deadly mortar explosion in Jalalabad, Afghanistan while documenting an Afghan military exercise. Her final camera shot captured the explosion that led to her death and claimed the lives of four Afghan soldiers.
The competition is a joint, multi-national event consisting of visual information specialists, public affairs mass communication specialists and combat photographers. Competitors from across the DOD and participating multinational partners are tested on physical, tactical and technical proficiencies.
“This competition is truly special for the Department of Defenses’ visual information, public affairs specialists and international combat camera photographers,” said U.S. Army Maj. Octavia Blackwell, the commander of the 55th Signal Company (Combat Camera). “Our earnest hope is that this competition brings honor to the hard work, selfless dedication and sacrifice that service members in these career fields bring to fight, every single day. With the Army’s decision to merge the visual information and public affairs career fields, we look forward to the continued growth of the ‘Best COMCAM’ competition.”
Similar to other military competitions, this event is composed of fitness trials and soldier tasks, with one major exception — the competitors are required to document each other. They must develop powerful, creative and informative visual information products to be submitted before the end of the five-day competition. Final products are then judged and graded by military and civilian personnel from visual information and public affairs career fields.
The Best Combat Camera Competition is a staple competition for DOD visual storytellers. Competitors assess their skills, strengths and weaknesses before the first event begins to ensure they’re ready for the challenge.
With the enduring effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and on-going unrest in Eastern Europe, military storytellers are far-flung and often find themselves supporting multi-faceted training rotations and deployments. Amidst this intensity of operations, 20 service members answered the call and applied to compete in the 2022 Best Combat Camera Competition.
This year’s competition includes service members from the active and reserve components of the U.S. Army, the reserve component of the U.S. Air Force as well as service members of the Israeli Defense Forces Combat Camera Unit.
Army units represented included:
- The 3rd Psychological Operations Battalion (Airborne), 8th Psychological Operations Group (Airborne) from Fort Bragg, North Carolina
- The 22nd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment, 18th Airborne Corps from Fort Bragg, North Carolina
- The 982nd Signal Company (Airborne) from Atlanta, Georgia
- The 55th Signal Company (Combat Camera) from Fort George G. Meade, Maryland
The Air Force Reserves were represented by the 4th Combat Camera Squadron, 315 Airlift Wing from Charleston, South Carolina.
The Israel Defense Forces were represented by the Combat Camera Unit from Tel Aviv, Israel — regular participants in the annual event.
With 18 competitors and 21 events, this year’s competition was in its history.
Events included Hero workout of the day, capabilities briefings, day and light land navigation, a swim event, undisclosed distance ruck marches, a tactical lane, sensitive site exploitation and a variety of ranges including pistol challenges, marksmanship qualifications and stress shoots.
For some competitors, travel for this event marked their first trip to the U.S.
“It’s exciting to learn about the culture of the U.S.A., and the Army, and work together,” said Sgt. Lee Hershkovitz of the Israeli Defense Forces Combat Camera Unit. “I’m looking forward to meeting new people, because we are combat photographers and they are combat photographers in another country. It’s very interesting to know what they do because in Israel, in the U.S., it’s not the same thing.”
When asked how she felt about the competition, Hershkovitz responded, “I’m a little bit nervous, but it’s going to be fun and interesting.”
This competition brings out the very best of military creatives. The competition serves as a melting pot of talent, equipment, technical knowledge and experience. New competitors and veteran-teams alike earn the respect of their fellow competitors while establishing long-lasting partnerships across their career fields.
The 315 Airlift Wing’s 4th Combat Camera Squadron’s Tech. Sgt. Corban Lundborg and Senior Airman Joseph LeVeille, won first place at the 2022 Spc. Hilda I. Clayton Best Combat Camera Competition. Their victory marks the first year a team from the Air Force Reserve won the event.
“It was a fun competition this year and it was good training” Lundborg said. “There were a lot of great teams. It’s really about getting to meet everyone in this career field, building relationships and getting better at our job.”
“It was a privilege to compete with such talented professionals and an honor to tell my dad’s story,” said LeVeille. One of the winning team’s project submissions was a video telling about how LeVeille’s father, who lost his life while serving in the Army, inspired him to join the military.
“As one of the more senior competitors, I love the training opportunities that come with this competition," Lundborg added. "The week isn’t all about beating the other teams, but putting your best foot forward and helping others along the way. We’re all able to learn from each other and give back to the community.”
The 55th Signal Company (Combat Camera) holds the proud distinction of being the U.S. Army's only active duty COMCAM unit. Their mission is to provide still and video documentation of Army operations during peacetime, contingencies, and combat. Ready to deploy on a moment's notice, the 55th employs state-of-the-art documentation equipment and is equipped with still and motion cameras, night vision equipment, and editing suites. The unit also has the distinction of an airborne capability requiring the unit to conduct monthly airborne operations to maintain the airborne qualified status of select members of the unit.
Editor's Note: U.S. Air Force Michael Dukes, 315th Airlift Wing, Command Information Chief and U.S. Army Sgt. Henry Villarama, 55th Signal Company (Combat Camera) contributed to this article.