The US Navy disestablished its two combat camera units in two separate ceremonies in Norfolk, Virginia and San Diego, California, on September 21.
After 67 years of service, both Expeditionary Combat Camera (ECC) and Fleet Combat Camera Pacific (FCCP) officially disestablish Oct. 1, 2018 as part of an overall cost savings measure.
The commemorative events honored the legacy of Navy combat camera as well as the past and present contributions of Sailors who served as part of combat camera units.
Since 1951, combat camera sailors have recorded historical events from the land, air and sea, providing images and video spanning from the Korean War to operation Enduring Freedom. The ceremonies commemorated their accomplishments and duties of documenting US military operations around the world.
“As a nation, we’ve reveled in the stories revealed through the use of combat camera imagery. To those who lived it … your legacy will live on, so take comfort in knowing that you were part of something much bigger than yourselves,” said FCCP’s final Commanding Officer Cmdr. Doug Houser during the San Diego ceremony.
“All of those who have served at combat camera have conveyed everything they’ve had to give, creative vision, a drive to excel, and a willingness to sacrifice. Many have done the best work of their careers here, and that imagery has made a legacy that will live on, and inspire us to carry on,” said ECC’s final Officer in Charge Lt. Michael Larson during the Norfolk ceremony.
Navy combat photography began its roots during World War I when the Navy organized its first photographic division to capture aerial reconnaissance photographs. During World War II, the Navy added Combat Photographic Units and sent them to the Pacific and European theaters of war to document major campaigns including Normandy and Iwo Jima. After the onset of the Korean War, the Navy established the Pacific Fleet Combat Camera unit, and subsequently established the Atlantic Fleet Motion Picture Unit, which would become Atlantic Fleet Combat Camera Group in 1966, and eventually Expeditionary Combat Camera in 2010.
“There was an expectation for every Sailor who was assigned to combat camera to do their absolute best,” said retired Senior Chief Petty Officer Daniel Smith, who served at FCCP for more than 30 years in both active duty and civil service roles. “We owe that to ourselves and to the legacy of those who’ve come before us, and we had an excellent legacy. We were devoted not only to our craft, but a deep belief in each other; that is what made combat camera great!”
Through the decades, as technology and training evolved, combat camera Sailors were able to fully embed with both conventional and special operations forces. Sailors deployed in small teams and documented missions in the maritime environment and on the ground throughout the geographic combatant commands around the globe.
“So while we move on from a fine legacy, let’s not forget that we all have a continuing duty to those still in the fight, to teach and mentor from our seabag of experiences and knowledge. And if we do that, Navy combat camera will forever remain relevant,” said retired Chief Photographer’s Mate Johnny Bivera, who served two tours as a combat cameraman.
Nearly 200 former combat camera personnel attended the ceremonies serving as a visual reminder of the strong bond and association shared between the men and women who served as part of the units. During the bicoastal ceremonies, the combat camera veterans in attendance were asked to stand and be recognized. As the veterans stood, the end of Expeditionary Combat Camera and Fleet Combat Camera Pacific were officially marked when the final combat camera active duty Sailors were dismissed from formation and directed to join the ranks of their fellow veterans.
Rear Adm. Robert Durand, the Navy’s vice chief of information, emphasized the importance of the mission over the past 67 years, and offered a strong piece of advice on the way ahead for the community.
“As America’s primary forward-deployed force, our Navy is continually at Phase 0 of combat operations, where images have the power to assure our allies and deter potential adversaries,” said Durand. “If we are to answer the CNO’s call to perform at or near our theoretical limits, the competence, character, and can-do spirit of combat camera must live on in every Navy photographer.”
Capt. Gregory Hicks, Navy’s acting chief of information, emphasized the pride that all combat camera members past and present should have for their contributions to the Navy and history.
“Visual storytelling, the type that this organization pioneered for our military, is a critical instrument in our communications toolkit that we will need for years to come to help us feed that demand signal.”
He concluded with a final request of each of the members of the unit.
“I have one ask to each of you: Never stop teaching. You are all, in some ways, the last of the breed. You’ve learned incredible ways to document and tell our Navy story visually…through dynamic and captivating content,” said Hicks. “Continue to teach and mentor from your experience, I cannot overstate the importance of this task.”