The final moments before a young combat photographer died were captured on film – through the lens of her own camera.
In 2013, Spc. Hilda I. Clayton was serving with the U.S. Army in Afghanistan, photographing the military’s training efforts with the Afghan National Army in Operation Enduring Freedom.
During a live-fire training exercise on July 2, 2013, a mortar tube accidentally exploded, killing Clayton and four Afghan soldiers.
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Nearly four years after Clayton’s death, the military, along with Clayton’s husband, released the final image that she captured on her camera, depicting the force and power of the explosion that claimed five lives.
The 22-year-old was training an Afghan soldier in combat photography, who was also killed when the explosion occurred. His final image was also released.
The photos were first published in the May-June issue of the Military Review, a professional journal published by the U.S. Army.
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The journal’s managing editor, William Darley, told Global News that Clayton’s story punctuated their latest issue’s theme of implementing gender equality as a policy in the military.
“She was out in the front line, doing her job as a journalist and recording the training that was going on with the Afghan military, and a couple of these photos were taken at the cost of her life,” said Darley.
Clayton was a member of the 55th Signal Company (Combat Camera), the only active-duty photojournalism unit in the U.S. Army.
According to the journal, she was the first visual-information specialist to be killed in Afghanistan. Following her death, 55th Signal Company named an award after Clayton where teams compete in a tactical and technical combat-photography competition. This year marks the fifth anniversary of the Spc. Hilda I. Clayton Best Combat Camera Competition.