by Kali L. Gradishar
U.S. AFCENT Public Affairs
U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Asha McMakin, a combat photographer assigned to the 1st Combat Camera Squadron, looks over at another vehicle while documenting teams gearing up for key leader engagement mission at Ramadi, Iraq on Aug. 2, 2010. SrA McMakin is attached to an Army Civil Affairs team while deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Andy M. Kin / Released)
8/17/2010 - CAMP RAMADI, Iraq -- An Air Force combat camerawoman deployed with U.S. Army Civil Affairs is taking advantage of the opportunity to deploy to a joint environment leaving a lasting impression on the diverse group of people she comes across.
Senior Airman Asha McMakin, deployed from the 1st Combat Camera Squadron, Charleston Air Force Base, S.C., set a number of markers for herself, not only as the first technical-school Airman to deploy from a combat camera squadron, but also representing the Air Force image to Army and Navy service members not accustomed to working with the service.
"When she first got here, (the civil affairs medic) went to pick her up. He remembered her dragging these huge bags off the landing zone, and she just looked so tiny and so frail," said Army Capt. Natasha Campbell, deployed from the 96th Civil Affairs Battalion, Fort Bragg, N.C.
As most of the team has had very little Air Force interaction, and the first judgment of Airman McMakin came from stereotypes of her outward appearance.
The senior airman noticed perceptions toward her when explaining she was Air Force, noting the shock and attitude change until people realized she was, in fact, just as capable and a part of the team, she said.
"When she first came - she's a girl, she's young and she's Air Force - all of those coupled together equaled 'there's somebody we're going to have to drag along,'" admitted Captain Campbell. "But she absolutely was not that at all. She's actually shown us a different side of an armed forces element we rarely get to work with. Based off of her, we now have a different opinion of the Air Force. I specifically have a different opinion that everybody's not always what we think they are.
"We told her the types of pictures we wanted and the type of products we had to produce, and she has been a gem," the captain added.
Airman McMakin takes photos for the civil affairs, or CA, team as they travel Anbar Province meeting with local officials and building rapport in the community. She also photographs assessments for humanitarian projects to restore services like water, sewage and electricity, plus schools, clinics and facilities needing repair to provide better living conditions in Iraq.
"Photos show if an area is bad enough for them to help," said Airman McMakin, an Alexandria, Va., native. "Working with the civil affairs team... you see parts of Iraq most people don't get to see. We go into the towns, we meet families that need assistance, and we get to put a face to Iraq."
The lone combat camerawoman is also taking the opportunity to show sister services what she can bring to the table. It didn't take long for her acclimate to the intensity presented by Army and Navy service members she started working with four months ago.
The CA team sergeant "had the task of training her and incorporating her into the team. We explained to her what her role was and she fell right into it," said Captain Campbell.
As Navy and Army service members pull security and the Army CA team meets with members of the community, Airman McMakin bounds about getting snapshots of the mission, showing her view of the world through the camera lens.
"With this job it's difficult to get creative, which is something I really like to do. The job I have here is more cut and dry. Different angles are the way I let my personality come through with my photos," she said.
Of the many perks of her job, meeting people and joking around are the best part, according to the outgoing Airman. Beyond remembering the diverse individuals she's met, other fond memories she'll carry post-deployment include the many workouts with Captain Campbell - a social and physical crutch for her.
"Definitely the captain has helped out with strength training. I really feel a difference in my physical fitness," said the Airman, who stacks on her body armor, communications kit, ammo, M-4 and M-9, and camera equipment prior to a mission. "Back at the 1st Combat Camera Squadron we train a lot, (but still) the first mission was difficult... I'm not the biggest person in the world, so carrying all that gear gets heavy," she said.
The workouts to improve Airman McMakin's strength and ability to endure strenuous missions also benefit the captain in having another female on the team.
Adding another female was relieving, Captain Campbell said. And it makes the deployment much "better and a lot more relaxed when there's somebody you can talk to, hang out with and mentor at the same time."
The senior airman sees herself as coming a long way from who she was when she first arrived, but claims she still carries the same quirks as prior to her deployment.
"I've been called a 'girly girl' all my life, that's what I am. I love to wear dresses, high heels and make up," she said. "I don't completely throw that all away when I'm out here, but the 'girly girl' has to step aside and let the 'ComCam girl' out from time to time.
"The regular non-military Asha would be like, 'Oh my God. Dirt. Gross,'" she said. "You have to put some things away to get the job done. But when I go back home, I'll be back to the same old me. This experience has not changed me one bit - I still don't like to get dirty."
Regardless of her "girly" quirks, the CA team believes Airman McMakin greatly benefits the mission in the Anbar Province and has set a high standard for any combat camera successors.
"We love Asha. I must say, I really think everyone on the team feels the same way. She's got a great personality, very outgoing. Also, she listens and she's willing to do anything... even beyond what's required of her," said Captain Campbell. "She definitely leaves a lasting impression, and really is the face of the Air Force, especially for this team.
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