The U.S. Army has released the harrowing last image captured by a combat photographer during a live-fire training exercise that turned deadly in Afghanistan in 2013.
Spc. Hilda Clayton, a 22-year-old Army visual information specialist from Augusta, Ga., was photographing an Afghan National Army training mission when a mortar tube accidentally exploded, according to The Army Times.
She and four Afghan soldiers died in the blast. The last picture she took shows a soldier being blasted off the ground by the fiery blast.
According to The Army Times, the accident happened as Afghan soldiers were conducting a live-fire training exercise in Qaraghahi in eastern Afghanistan on July 2, 2013.
Clayton, a visual information specialist attached to the 4th Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division based at Forward Operating Base Gamberi, was taking pictures as part of an Army training mission certifying Afghan soldiers on mortar operations.
Her last photo — warning, it is graphic — was published along with a tribute in the May-June edition of the Army’s Military Review journal.
“At the critical juncture of the war, when it was necessary for the ANA (Afghan National Army) to increasingly assume responsibility for military actions, the story was not in the fighting but in the partnership that was necessary between U.S. and Afghan forces to stabilize the Afghan nation,” the journal writes.
“One of the Afghan soldiers killed was a photojournalist that Clayton had partnered with to train in photojournalism. Not only did Clayton help document activities aimed at shaping and strengthening the partnership but she also shared in the risk by participating in the effort.”
The Army also released a photo the Afghan photographer took of the blast.
“Combat Camera soldiers are trained to take still and video imagery in any environment,” the journal writes.
“Their primary mission is to accompany combat soldiers wherever deployed to document the history of combat operations. Clayton’s death symbolizes how female soldiers are increasingly exposed to hazardous situations in training and in combat on par with their male counterparts.”
Clayton’s photos had been featured in print stories and on Department of Defense and Department of the Army websites, the Augusta Chronicle in Georgia reported in 2013.
“Clayton’s photos told the story of the U.S. efforts in Afghanistan, as well as the maturation of the Afghan National Security Forces,” Col. Bill Benson said in a letter to Clayton’s family, friends and colleagues at the time of her death.
“She was always willing to take on any mission and she pursued every opportunity to tell our story with her images.”
Clayton, who was a member of the 55th Signal Company at Fort Meade, Md., was honored in military ceremonies after her death.
She graduated in 2012 from Defense Information School at Fort Meade, where her name has been added to its Hall of Heroes.
In her memory her unit named its annual photo competition — five days of events that test combat photographers on their physical and technical skills — after her.
Clayton’s family and unit approved the release of her last photos, the Army University Press reported.