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Photographers Lend a Hand With Portraits of Military Families

December 22, 2009 at 12:00 AM EDT
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For troops in the field, few things are more important than reminders of their families -- particularly photos. Tom Bearden reports on how some photographers are lending a helping hand.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Finally tonight: some very special holiday greetings, complete with family photos and sent overseas.

“NewsHour” correspondent Tom Bearden has the story.

JOY HAMMAR: It wasn’t this windy at our house.

TOM BEARDEN: Shortly after dawn on a Tuesday morning, temperature in the low 30s.

MAJ. GEORGE HAMMAR, U.S. Army: Keep Logan covered up, though.

TOM BEARDEN: A young family meets with a photographer for a family portrait, not in a nice warm studio, but in the Garden of the Gods Park in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

JOY HAMMAR: Thank you.

TOM BEARDEN: And, as cold as it was, they took off their coats, because they wanted the best picture possible.

JAY DICKMAN, photographer, Portraits of Love: OK, we’re going to get this done quick.

TOM BEARDEN: The photographer is Jay Dickman, one of hundreds of professional photographers who volunteered for a project called Portraits of Love.

JAY DICKMAN: I have covered wars before, but this could do it.

TOM BEARDEN: A veterans support group, Soldiers’ Angels, joined forces with PDMA, a professional photographers organization, to take pictures of military families and send them to loved ones overseas in time for the holidays.

Portraits aren’t what Dickman normally shoots. He’s a Pulitzer Prize-winning National Geographic photographer with an international reputation.

JAY DICKMAN: Riley, you are looking perfect. You are the pro. Lean back against your dad, would you? Oh, that looks good.

My older son’s in the military, Gavin. He’s a chief warrant officer. And he’s been deployed three times to Iraq. So, when they asked me if I could do this, it was, of course. I mean, this is a minor thing I’m doing for these people who are doing, you know, a huge amount for us.

And lean into each other. And don’t look cold, for Pete’s sake. Look in the air.

TOM BEARDEN: Major George Hammar was lucky enough to be able to get in on his family’s picture. He was home on a two-week leave from his duty station in Kalagush in Northeastern Afghanistan.

JAY DICKMAN: Pretend this is fun.

TOM BEARDEN: Hammar put on his best dress uniform for the portrait. His wife, Joy, cradled his three-week-old son, Logan, while he held five-year old Riley. Logan was born while Hammar was in Afghanistan. He had seen him for the first time just four days earlier.

What’s it like to give birth with your husband thousands of miles away?

JOY HAMMAR: That was hard. And one of the hardest things was figuring out what I was going to do with her and everything else for the birth, because I had to figure out how I was going to get myself to the hospital, how I — who was going to take care of her. He was able to call in right as I gave birth, so he got to hear his first cry.

MAJ. GEORGE HAMMAR: I got a play by play from Joy’s mom.


TOM BEARDEN: Dickman has been to war himself. He won his Pulitzer photographing the war in El Salvador.

JAY DICKMAN: Come over this way a little bit.

TOM BEARDEN: His son is currently stationed in Fort Lewis, Washington, and Dickman went there earlier this year to photograph families. His son helped out. Dickman says Gavin made an offhand remark that really brought home how important photographs are to soldiers far from their families.

JAY DICKMAN: When he would go outside of the wire, kind of into harm’s way, that he had a picture of his wife in his breast pocket, and he — she was next the him. She could — he could pull that picture out and have that connection immediately.

MAJ. GEORGE HAMMAR: Yes, I do that, too. I have got pictures of us when we went to Disney World this last year. So, I keep it in a little book that I keep in my cargo pocket close to my heart.

TOM BEARDEN: It must be hard.

MAJ. GEORGE HAMMAR: Oh, yes, it’s real hard. I mean, you’re far away, and there’s not much. And you kind of feel helpless.

TOM BEARDEN: OK, I think you all are done.

JOY HAMMAR: Thank you.

JAY DICKMAN: Oh, well, thank you, all.

TOM BEARDEN: While the Hammar family put their coats back on, the second family of the day came skipping down the path.

JAY DICKMAN: Can you sit right here?

TOM BEARDEN: Mary Beth Dye’s husband, Major Denton Dye, is on his second deployment, and has been gone for six months.

JAY DICKMAN: OK. You guys look right here. Look here, look here, look here. Oh, that looks pretty.

TOM BEARDEN: The Dyes have four children, 6-year-old Morgan, 5-year-old Avery, 3-year-old Kelsey, and 3-month-old Preston.

MAJ. MARY BETH DYE, U.S. Army: He hasn’t been able to see his son yet. He was born in September. And the opportunity arose so that we could be able to send him a picture of his family and know that we’re doing well back here.

JAY DICKMAN: Bring it up a little higher. Point down a little bit. OK, guys, looking right here. Look at me right here.

TOM BEARDEN: Mrs. Dye, herself an Army Reserve major, says the family works hard to cope with the long separations.

MAJ. MARY BETH DYE: Little things. We have made dolls of daddy that they get to hug and sleep with at night. They’re called their daddy dolls. And just you let them do a project to be able to mail to daddy, things like that.

So, we do what we can to help the kids stay in touch with him and have the feelings and know that he misses them, and that they — miss them, and that it’s OK to miss him, but we go on with life.

JAY DICKMAN: That is it. We have got it done. Whew. That’s an exercise.

TOM BEARDEN: Over 400 volunteer photographers in 45 states started taking these portraits in September. The industry group estimates that as many as 4,000 families took part. The pictures will be shipped to overseas stations in time for the holidays, where they will adorn everything from tents to foxholes, Humvees to aircraft, anywhere American service members might find themselves a long way from home.