For the first time ever, Israel Defense Forces soldiers participated recently in a combat photography competition at Fort Meade.
The IDF military photographers competed in obstacle courses, marches and target practice during the seventh annual Spc. Hilda I. Clayton Best COMCAM (Combat Camera) Competition.
The competition was named in honor of a U.S. Army combat photographer killed during a training exercise in Afghanistan in July of 2013. A native of Augusta, Ga., Clayton, 22, was assigned to the 55th Signal Company (Combat Camera) 21st Signal Brigade at Fort Meade.
This year marked the first time that foreign military personnel participated in the competition.
Among the Israeli soldiers who joined the four American teams in the competition was 1st Lt. Netanel Ben-Ami, a combat photographer and commander of the IDF’s spokesperson’s unit. Ben-Ami’s two-man team did not place in the competition, but his fellow IDF soldiers Sgt. Nir Bitan and Staff Sgt. Yoav Pinus were on a team that tied for third place.
“[The competition] is an amazing opportunity and very interesting, and when you see other units overseas, it’s very exciting,” said Ben-Ami, who serves as commander of the military photographers in the IDF Northern Command. “We actually did exchange a lot on professional aspects — how to operate the cameras and how to edit and how to act in the field, and even how to train.”
The five-day contest at Fort Meade and Quantico, Va., included physical training, a written exam and the creation of an audio-visual package on a particular topic that required photography and videography skills. There was also an obstacle course and a simulated urban combat mission, as well as a 12-mile march carrying a 35-pound rucksack.
Ben-Ami said the COMCAM program in the IDF is about five years old. He said the Israeli army plans to expand the program from 30 to 100 members in the near future.
As a COMCAM soldier, Ben-Ami, a native of the northern Israeli town of Afula, said, “We are really proud of what we’re doing and we feel very good about it, because you hear stories about the Israeli army and how people think it’s doing bad things. But out there with the camera, you have the option to prove that we are acting correctly and we are doing the best we can to keep everyone safe and everyone respected.”
Among those who participated on the winning team of the competition was Staff Sgt. Edward French IV. A Chicago native who is a drill sergeant at the Defense Information School at Fort Meade, French said he enjoyed developing a sense of camaraderie with his Israeli counterparts.
“We’d love to come do COMCAM out in Israel,” he said. “A partnership was created instantly.”
A former Baltimore resident, Deborah Walike is a freelance writer living in upstate New York