COMBAT CAMERA : BREAKDOWN
When I enlisted in the military ten years ago, I had no guidance or mentors involved in the process. Although I do not regret my path, I do wish I would have known all of my options. I didn't know there were camera careers until I had been in for almost five years. I receive messages weekly about my career path and how to join a combat camera unit. I'll share below my journey to COMCAM and resources to help the next generation make more informed decisions.
*This information is not official or endorsed by the military. This is strictly my experience and the most current information, to the best of my knowledge.
2008: I was in my final year of high school with lousy grades, a criminal record and in the midst of an economic recession. I had no money, no scholarships and a distaste for traditional learning. College wasn't an option for me. I moved out of my parents house during my senior year and was living with a friend downtown Minneapolis. I wanted to go on epic adventures. Without much thought, I wandered into a recruiting center and met with an Air Force recruiter. Free food, free travel and a paycheck, sold. No further research, I enlisted.
Myself, Aerok and San Lee. Singapore, 2010.
The recruiter didn't lie, within a year I was living in South Korea. What the recruiter wasn't clear about was career opportunities. My first military job (AFSC/MOS/Rate) was material management, or supply. Which for many, is a decent job. For me, it was the furthest from what I wanted. Ultimately, I was just grateful to have a job and to be overseas but counting aircraft screws wasn't my dream. My 9-5 working in the warehouse was less-than inspiring so I looked to outside opportunities to pursue my own goals. I started a weekend apprenticeship at Tattoo Korea, ran by an American-Korean named Aerok. He brought me to Singapore with his crew for an international tattoo convention. This would be the start to my creative career.
Air Force (4CTCS) combat cameramen at Maple Flag Exercise. Canada, 2014.
While in Singapore, I swore to myself I would leave the warehouse and pursue a creative career. I separated from Active Duty after my four-year contract and joined the Air Force Reserve (Palace Front program). I still had a warehouse job but now only part-time. I was taking iPhone pictures from the supply yard at Maple Flag (Air Force exercise) when a team of Airmen walked off an aircraft strapped with huge cameras. I was inspired and intimidated. Up to that point, I didn't know the military had photographers. I tracked down their officer, a built, bald captain, Capt. Smith (now a friend). I told him I want to do what they do. He was very informative, humble and laid it out.
Special Operations Airmen from Kadina Air Base. Japan, 2016.
I returned to Minneapolis and requested to transfer to the public affairs office. Without much resistance, I made the career switch and got a slot for DINFOS (Defense Information School) at Fort Meade, Maryland. I was enrolled in the Basic Photojournalist Course, the class was six-months long and there I learned the basics to photography and storytelling. While in this course the term COMCAM was introduced again, but unfortunately at this time, only available to Active Duty Airmen. I graduated and went back to my unit as a trained photographer. I started to TDY (temporary duty) as public affairs and enjoyed the job but I wanted to take it further.
Air Force Reserve mission video production. Phoenix, 2017.
In 2017, the Air Force Reserve relaunched their COMCAM program, standing the 4th Combat Camera Squadron up at Charleston Air Force Base, as a partner to the active duty component. When I learned of this activation I quickly applied for a slot. Things moved slow, but eventually they found space and I transferred units and job titles. Three years later, I was now a COMCAM.
COMCAM assignment in East Africa. Undisclosed location, 2019.
Soon after joining I was traveling with a talented team working on productions, covering exercises and getting ready to deploy to Africa. I share my story to both educate and inspire. Wether thinking about joining the military or retraining, there is a lot to consider. In my experience COMCAM provides the best equipment, training and opportunities for the military photographer/videographer. If you love imagery and are looking for action, adventure and lifelong friendships, you may want to explore further.
Air Force Opportunities
The Air Force currently has two combat camera squadrons, one Active Duty and the other Reserve. The two squadrons share the same building at Charleston Air Force Base, South Carolina. The two units work, train and deploy together, holding the same qualifications. To be eligible to join COMCAM you must hold the AFSC of Public Affairs. The Air Force is currently merging photo (3N05X) and video (3N02X) into one AFSC, 3N06X. In the Air Force, COMCAM is a special duty assignment.
The squadrons recruit and fill slots differently, a recruiter will best assist you with eligibility and requirements.
My knowledge on Army combat camera opportunities is rather limited but I have spent time training at the 55th Signal Company. I believe there is an Active and Reserve component, similar to the Air Force. In the Army COMCAM has its own MOS, 25V (combat documentation production specialist).
Contact your nearest Army recruiter to learn more about eligibility and requirements.
The Marines and Navy no longer have COMCAM units.
As of 2020, the Marine Corps has COMMSTRAT (Communication and Strategic Operations) and the Navy offers the Rate as a MC (Mass Communications Specialist). There are still camera opportunities but no longer official COMCAM units or missions. This is constantly changing, for the most up-to-date information speak with a recruiter.
Officer or Enlisted
When I joined I didn't know the difference between enlisting or commissioning. Search enlisted vs. officer for broad information on the topic and what's right for you. COMCAM has both officer and enlisted slots but the work differs. Typically, not always, officers are in management and not often operating cameras.
I've provided some Instagram links below to current and prior COMCAM friends with inspiring portfolios.
To get broad service-specific requirements and information about camera career fields, check the links below.
I hope to help others the way Capt. Smith helped me that day in Canada. The decision to apply for combat camera may be the difference between life or death. It is important to count the costs and move forward informed and with excitement.
-SSgt. Corban Lundborg
The Corner is Corban's monthly newsletter containing storytelling, inspiration and accountability. Kick back and read about lessons learned through ten years of military service, entrepreneurship and world travel.
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