Having a loved one go off to war or return from war can be very emotional for families. Many are so overwhelmed that taking pictures of these cherished milestones can be forgotten or just put to the side.
A former military spouse has created a foundation of photographers to help military families capture these unforgettable images. Operation: Love ReUnited offers free photography sessions to deploying and deployed families. Each family gets two free sessions in which photographers agree to send photo albums to deployed servicemembers at no cost.
"This movement is touching millions of lives nationwide and around the world," said Tonee Lawrence, founder of Operation: Love ReUnited, whose husband served with the Air Force in Operation Iraqi Freedom. "The Operation helps those long months go by a little faster. It's designed to capture moments that you will long remember and always treasure.
"The soldiers will have a little keepsake with them while at their duty stations," she continued. "It's art. It's love. It's all made possible by artists wanting to give something back to those who make the United States what it is."
And Lawrence is not the only military family member involved in the program.
"As a military wife, I understand how hard it is to be away from your spouse for a long time," said Stefanie Burt, a photographer with the program. "Photos play a very important role. I love to capture real-life moments and emotions. When my husband was deployed to Iraq, he constantly asked for new photos. I think my photos will make the deployment a little bit easier for the families."
Lawrence agreed. "We have three children," she said. "When my husband returned from his deployment, I wasn't able to capture the long-awaiting faces of my little boys when they saw their father for the first time in months. I started thinking about what I could do to make it so families had images of this very special time in their life."
Operation: Love ReUnited helps families find participating photographers in their area through its Web site database at http://www.oplove.org. Families simply type in their ZIP code, contact the photographer and make an appointment for photos.
Jose de Jesus Rocha, whose son, Jose Rocha, returned home from Afghanistan after serving 12 months with the U.S. Army there, was grateful for the photographs.
"The photos were emotional," Rocha said. "The way the [photographer] captured our emotions, expression. The photos were beautiful, fantastic."
The Operation: Love ReUnited Web site is set up only to help deploying or deployed families locate a photographer for two free sessions, Lawrence said, and the families are not obligated to purchase anything. More than 600 photography businesses are registered with the site, some with multiple photographers working on their behalf, she added.