By CHERYL RODEWIGFebruary 15, 2012
This deployment was different for the Pointer Family.
When Spc. Jordan Pointer last deployed, his wife Elizabeth didn't get any Family photos before the farewell and nothing when he returned. When he deployed to Afghanistan last fall, however, he left behind not only a wife, daughter and son but also a set of memories preserved in pictures. And that made all the difference, Elizabeth said.
"It's just really given me something to hold onto," she said. "It makes me honestly feel better to see (the photos) and remember that love and what he's doing. Probably the most special one for me is the one of him kissing me in his uniform. I have it as an 11-by-14 in my bedroom. And since I see him in his uniform, it definitely makes me proud."
That's the whole goal behind Operation: Love ReUnited, a nonprofit organization that connects area photographers with military Families. The photographers provide their services free of charge for Families facing the stress of a deployment.
Meanwhile, Jordan has posted some of the pictures in his tent.
"He thought it was really cool," Elizabeth said. "He couldn't wait to get the pictures back, and he was really glad we did this."
Families can take advantage of up to two sessions per deployment. Packages include Pre-Deployment, Saying Goodbye, Already Deployed and Homecoming. Elizabeth selected an outdoor Pre-Deployment session and hopes to do a documentary-style Homecoming session when her husband returns in July.
"Those pictures mean a lot," she said. "Even when he's out of the Army, we'll get to remember that special time before and after deployment. It'll all be a memory one day."
Elizabeth chose Jackie Hampton Photography of Smiths Station, Ala., as her studio based on the online portfolio. It was also helpful, she said, that Hampton was a military spouse who could identify with the Pointers' situation.
"I found out about (OpLove) while my husband was deployed to Iraq during 2010," said Hampton, who signed up to volunteer nearly two years ago.
"It started because of pictures I took in the months before he left. I was desperate to freeze time -- record every precious, fleeting moment I could -- knowing he would be gone for so long," she said. "One day, almost by accident, I captured a photo of my husband and our boys walking down the railroad tracks near our house holding hands. Something about the picture struck me. I shared it online and before long I had complete strangers noticing it. Comments like 'This reminds me of my husband who is overseas right now' and 'I wish I had pictures like this of him' got me thinking."
Then Hampton found OpLove. Photographing the sessions can be an emotional experience, she said.
"It's always hard when you know you're photographing a Family about to endure that kind of separation," said Hampton, who did four sessions last year: three for Soldiers and one for a Sailor.
"I have a special spot in my heart for these Families because I know what it's like to be in the place where you feel like no one else can possibly understand the pain. You're grasping at the time slipping through your fingers and trying to burn every moment and detail into your brain. And photographing a 1-month-old baby whose daddy hasn't been home to hold him yet? It's absolutely gut-wrenching. But I've had amazing OpLove clients who are so grateful for someone to help them preserve an hour or two of their time together. There is so much strength to be found in them -- and it's beautiful."
For all military clients, Hampton waives the usual $200 session fee. After all, "photography," she said, "is the only way to freeze a moment and have it forever. And for military Families, that's important."
When her husband deployed, Hampton said she nearly plastered her walls with prints of her loved one.
"It was the best thing I could do for myself and my children," she said. "Every day they saw pictures of their daddy holding them, laughing with them, walking with them. If ever they started to forget who he was, all they had to do was look around. It gave them hope. The pictures I sent my husband had a similar effect.
It's remembering how it felt that inspires her to capture the best possible photos for others.
"It is always my first thought before every click," she said. "I strive to give them everything I can."
That type of passion is common in OpLove photographers. Of the several who have volunteered in the Chattahoochee Valley over the years, many have Family ties to the military.
In fact, it was a military spouse who first conceived of the idea for OpLove.
"It was started by Tonee Lawrence," said Angela Wilkes, secretary of the organization's board of directors.
"Her husband was returning home from a deployment, and she didn't get any photos of her boys reuniting with their father. At the time, there were no organizations that offered this type of service for military Families. Tonee saw the need and, as a photographer, realized a way for us to fulfill it."
Wilkes, one of the first photographers to sign up after the organization was founded in 2006, is among nearly a thousand participating photographers across the U.S.
For more information on the program, visit www.oplove.org.