Army Combat Photographer Captures Last Moments Before Her Death

Hilda Clayton

By: Winny Moro
Canadian – Sudanese ANAJ Writer

Two extraordinary photos of combat photographer Spec. Hilda Clayton’s last seconds before her accidental death were released and published by the U.S. Army in their May-June issue of Military Review.
Clayton, along with an Afghan military photographer she was training and three Afghan National Army soldiers were killed in July 2013 when a mortar tube accidentally exploded right in front of them, injuring eleven other people. Astonishingly, right before the device detonated, Clayton and one of her trainees captured two last photos which display the fiery blast, engulfed in smoke and debris as it turned deadly.

It is suggested that at the instant of the explosion, due to the pressure differential of 14.7 Lbs of an atmosphere increase to at least that of a 100 times, the air pressure had almost instantly compressed all of her vital cavities to a combined mass of fluids and tissues. In other words she had been already dead while pictured standing up.

Twenty-two year old Hilda Clayton had been deployed overseas for less than a year when she died and was the first combat documentation and production specialist to be killed in Afghanistan. She was assigned as a visual information specialist to the Army’s 55th Signal Co., known as Combat Camera and was documenting a live-fire exercise in Laghman Province, Afghanistan at the time of her death.
Clayton was attached to the 4th Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, where her mission was to document the training of Afghan forces. As a combat photographer, she was exposed to many dangers but also played a large role in participating in the Army’s efforts to create a visual record of U.S. military operations and having an eye on the ground to give commanders far from the battlefield a view of the action.
“Clayton’s death symbolizes how female soldiers are increasingly exposed to hazardous situations in training and in combat on par with their male counterparts” the Army’s journal wrote. “Spc. Clayton embodied the Cavalry spirit. She was always willing to take on any mission and she pursued every opportunity to tell our story with her images.”
To honor her memory, Combat Camera has renamed its annual photo competition “SPC Hilda I. Clayton Best Combat Camera (COMCAM).” Clayton’s name is also now etched into the Hall of Heroes at her alma mater, the Defense Information School.

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