Photographers' Blog

A different kind of field trip

Stavropol, Russia

By Eduard Korniyenko

Students at the General Yermolov Cadet School take all the same classes as their contemporaries would in any other Russian middle school. But there is a difference – pupils here are also given a military education.  

The state-run school is based in the southern Russian city of Stavropol, some 150 miles from the Olympic resort of Sochi. It is named in honour of Alexei Yermolov, the famous Russian imperial general, and the institution itself is as military-influenced as its name.

A highlight for lots of these youngsters are the trips they go on for field training. During the outings, they spend time at a base, undergo physical drills and practice using weapons.

Many of the instructors have seen active service and their students – who often come from military backgrounds – appreciate the sense of discipline these teachers bring to their courses.

It might sound tough, but it is seen as a treat. Students with bad grades aren’t allowed to go, and those who attend enjoy the opportunity to spend a night away from home with their friends.

Kids in camo

By Pichi Chuang

The Albert kindergarten and day care center in the central Taiwan city of Taichung is as joyful and vibrant as any other, with its colorful plastic slides and trampolines, but what makes it different is the children. From five to nine years old wearing camouflage uniforms they practice crawling and handstands on foam cushions in the front yard, copying the training of army special forces frogmen.

Principal Fong Yun said “I think most Taiwanese children lack confidence compared with kids from other countries.” Inspired by U.S. physical therapist Glenn Doman’s theories, 15 years ago she created a series of exercises that combine military drills and gymnastics, believing that they would help children develop physical and mental strength.

“All our children have had a hard time practicing the exercises. When they encounter obstacles in the course of their life, such as college entrance exams, job hunting, or even marriage, the experience they gain here by practicing very hard and finding a way to do it perfectly is very helpful,” said Fong, adding that the exercises help develop digestive systems and the brain’s language center as well as courage and strength.

A front row seat to aviation history

The Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Virginia

By Jason Reed

Any news photographer that has been in the business for a decent length of time may say to you that he or she has “seen it all and done it all” or that “there is nothing new that hasn’t been shot already.” Until this week, you could also paint me with that same brush.

But for a moment in time on May 14, 2013, I was a wide-eyed kid again, thankful that my job as a photographer afforded me access to witness a world-first. The U.S. Navy made aviation history by catapulting an unmanned jet off an aircraft carrier for the first time, testing a long-range, stealthy, bat-winged plane that represents a jump forward in drone technology.

Gathering at sunrise in Norfolk, a handful of press ranging from military industry reporters to network TV crews received a safety briefing that detailed, among other things, how to exit our crashed helicopter in the event of a water landing (a little unnerving) to wearing double ear protection, helmets and goggles at all times during our 45 minute flight out onto the deck of the U.S.S. George H. W. Bush, a nuclear-powered Nimitz-class supercarrier in the Atlantic Ocean. Upon first sight, that 103,600 ton ship was just a small dot on the horizon, the full reality of its might only realized when we touched down on the deck over three football fields in length.

Front line female Marines

Ternate, Philippines

By Romeo Ranoco

Long before U.S. President Barack Obama allowed female soldiers to be deployed for combat duties, the Philippines has been doing exactly that for several years, in particular among those in the Marines.

I was excited to photograph some of the women during a military exercise at a Marine base south of the capital Manila. This was not the first time that I had taken pictures of female soldiers during training exercises, but I volunteered again because this time I would be documenting new recruits.

I arrived at the base in the afternoon and was immediately briefed by the training officers, discussing my interest and the pictures that I would like to take. I wanted to take pictures of female soldiers trying out to join the “few and proud” Marines, showing their capabilities and comparing their skills, stamina and endurance with male soldiers.

Welcome to China’s communist bunker bar

By David Gray

China never, ever fails to amaze. What better way to preserve a former Communist Party military leader’s cave headquarters, then to make it into a bar? Not just any bar, but a ‘Military Bar’, decorated with furniture made from old ordnance. What better way to use old artillery shells and land mines than to turn them into bar stools? Brilliant. It does make you ponder the question – now why didn’t I think of that?

SLIDESHOW: COMMUNIST BUNKER BAR

Deep in the mountains west of Beijing, and extremely difficult to find, lies a cave where the former Communist military Marshal Lin Biao made his headquarters during certain military ‘disagreements’ with Russia in 1968. However, from this cave it is alleged he was also plotting the assassination of Chairman Mao Zedong. He died in 1971 when his plane mysteriously crashed in Mongolia, and shortly thereafter, he was officially condemned as a traitor by the Communist Party.

This intriguing history is the reason for the entrance of the cave being shaped in the form of an airplane (definitely a strange site at the foot of a mountain). A very realistic cockpit greets visitors just inside the door.

The secret handshake

By Larry Downing

To watch a “challenge coin” being passed from one person to another is to witness the equivalent of “the secret handshake.” Starting and ending as quickly as a bullet, the ritual is performed out in plain sight and almost always in the presence of others.

Most “civilians” remain clueless as to what they witnessed even though it happened right in front of them – seeing nothing more than a stone-faced soldier or Marine at attention quietly facing a commanding officer, politician, or at best a nation’s President, before reaching out firmly to shake hands.

And just like that the longstanding military tradition of giving away a “challenge coin” is over in the blink of an eye. A small, shiny medallion riding inside the palm of one hand and seamlessly ending up in the other; similar to the practice of slipping the folded $20 dollar bill to the maitre d’ on date night.

The cavalry is moving out with a big bang

By Stefan Wermuth

When I got this assignment I was not sure what I could expect.

It was an early 6am start at the Barracks in St John’s Wood, home to The King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery. I was looking forward to the breakfast as mentioned in the press release. First thing we were told was not to expect any breakfast because the kitchen was moved already.

It could become only better … and it did…

The unit has been stationed at St John’s Wood since their formation by King George VI in 1947 and they will take up residence in a new purpose built equestrian training facility and accommodation centre in Woolwich Garrison outside central London.

The picture access was fantastic. In fact I could shoot whatever I wanted. No press pen, gates, grumpy security guards or any other restrictions which usually make the daily life of a London photographer pretty hard.

The struggles of a gay military family

The United States became the 23rd of 26 NATO countries to allow military service by openly gay people last week. An estimated 66,000 lesbians, gay men and bisexuals are serving in the U.S. military, according to a recent study by UCLA’s Williams Institute. Many are still afraid to come out. I visited a gay military family to hear the story they are now able to tell.

By Lucy Nicholson

A week ago, Luz Bautista, 30, and her fiancée Alejandra Schwartz, 24, both Navy petty officers, were celebrating the end of the U.S. ban on openly gay service members.

This week, they’re being forced to live apart.

Bautista headed to Illinois Monday, away from Schwartz and their daughter Destiny, 6, for a three year posting that could be extended.

Surf therapy

Matthew Doyle grew up by the beach in Santa Monica, California, and with his slim physique and tattooed forearms, looks as if he’s been surfing his whole life.

But it took three tours of duty half a world away, many sleepless nights, and meeting a woman named Carly before the 26-year-old U.S. Army veteran braved the waves on a surfboard.

On a recent Saturday, I met Doyle and a group of 11 other young military veterans trying to overcome the horrors of war at Manhattan Beach, just south of Los Angeles, where occupational therapist Carly Rogers led them in a surf therapy class.

Crawling for honor

The problem with covering military events in Taiwan is that they are conducted in a controlled environment where almost everything is staged for the media. However, sometimes I would like to see the true grit of army life and the side that is rarely seen in public. Being conscripted to the military myself in Singapore, I have witnessed how tough training can be in the army.

My quest to illustrate this in Taiwan was fulfilled when I negotiated exclusive access to cover the final stage of a nine-week intensive Amphibious Training Program for Taiwan Marine Corps titled “Road to Heaven”.

Taiwan Marines’ “Road to Heaven” test from Nicky Loh on Vimeo.

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