Navy Dissolves Combat Camera Units That Have Documented Sailors for Decades

A simulated casualty is evacuated during Fleet Combat Camera Pacific’s Winter Quick Shot 2013 exercise in Azusa, Calif. Quick Shot is a semi-annual exercise that improves combat camera service members’ abilities to operate in tactical environments. U.S. Navy photo/Jesse Awalt)
A simulated casualty is evacuated during Fleet Combat Camera Pacific’s Winter Quick Shot 2013 exercise in Azusa, Calif. Quick Shot is a semi-annual exercise that improves combat camera service members’ abilities to operate in tactical environments. U.S. Navy photo/Jesse Awalt)

NORFOLK -- A small crowd gathered at Naval Station Norfolk on Friday for a ceremony to mark the end of the Navy Expeditionary Combat Camera unit. The Navy announced late last year that it would disband the Norfolk-based command, as well as a similar one in San Diego, by Oct. 1 to save money.

Navy combat photographers and cameramen have documented every major U.S. conflict since World War I, as well as training exercises and other missions -- not just for public consumption but also to document the work of its sailors. It was a tight-knit group with specialized training that allowed them to embed across military units -- including Navy SEALs -- as well as dive on underwater wreckage and shoot aerial missions.

Sailors who served in Combat Camera commands have been reassigned across the fleet. Those working as mass communications specialists, who need specialized training for the kind of assignments combat camera used to do, will receive it as needed, Capt. Gregory Hicks, the service's chief of naval information, said.

Petty Officer Second Class Sean Furey shot the command's final assignment, a mission in July to document wreckage of the USS San Diego, which sank off the coast of New York in 1918. The Navy still has not determined if its sinking was the result of a German mine or submarine-launched torpedo.

"It is a weird experience going down knowing that there's still people in this ship and we're here so many years later, still, as sailors going down and checking it out," he said.

With the U.S. still engaged in conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan and against the Islamic State, some at Friday's event wondered about the long-term effects of dissolving Combat Camera.

Skip Nocciolo retired as a chief petty officer in 1998 after spending two tours with Combat Camera and later went to work for CNN. Much of the archival footage that documents the U.S. military in action during previous conflicts exists because of the work of Navy combat camera operators, he said.

"Twenty years from now," he asked, "will there still be plenty of archival footage that can be drawn upon for documentarians and filmmakers to utilize to tell the story of the military?"

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This article is written by Courtney Mabeus from The Virginian-Pilot and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

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