Some say “baby writer,” I say I don’t wear diapers.
Many of my fans often say, “I wish I had your life,” and my usual response is, “until you find out how many people have tried to take the life out of me.”
As they look at me in silence, I begin to explain, it’s not always glitz and glamour.
I grew up in a family where an “I love you” was rare and I endured racism from the day of my birth. I didn’t really understand it until my brother Israel’s arm was dislocated as he defended our surname while we walked home from elementary school that day.
I married young and shortly after my second daughter was born I was divorced from my young, predominately Irish wife, again, in part to racism. That same day, to ensure medical insurance and so I could contribute to the support of my children, I enlisted in the army.
After my basic training at Ft. Knox, my new ex-wife and I decided to secretly remarry. It was a perfect plan with military orders to Germany, we’d finally leave racism behind. There were just a few things we had to accomplish for the plan to succeed.
First, she’d have to obtain the marriage license before I returned home while I completed my military advanced initial training. She did. Second, she’d arrange for a justice of the peace to marry us and I would reach out to a friend to be a witness for the marriage license. We did. Third, after we re-married, up on arrival to my new duty station in Germany, I’d have to extend my tour so her and the kids could join me there.
I completed my training in Ft. Knox, went home and the next day, while I don’t remember the JP’s name, he showed up on time along with my good friend Richard Clark as our witness. The ceremony lasted maybe two-minutes. There was no time for vows much less a honeymoon, it was a done deal, married again!
The following day I was off to Germany where once I arrived at my unit, I showed proof of marriage and had my tour changed from two years unaccompanied to three years accompanied.
All was going as planned. Then like the scratch on a chalkboard, STOP! Her parents saw the marriage license public notice in the local weekly paper, and there we were, divorced again — thanks in part again to racism. Her and the children, now with State Dept. issued “military dependent passports” never made it to Germany and the army said, “too bad, can’t change your tour back, you’re stuck private.”
After 18 months stationed in the 3rd Battalion, 8th Infantry Division unit assigned to the headquarters company, the enlisted soldiers took the brunt of a battle between our first sergeant of color and the Caucasian battalion motor sergeant — you guessed it, plain as black and white, racism at its finest, and the troops suffered.
Eventually I got lucky and was assigned to the army’s V Corps headquarters in Frankfurt. There I’d become the personal photographer to the new corps commander, Lt. Gen. George A. Jouwlan and the following year he earned his fourth star and moved to Panama as the new Commander in Chief, United States Southern Command. I went from Germany to Desert Storm, but the deployment was shortened after Gen. Joulwan did a “by-name” request that I be reassigned directly to him at his command in Central America. I left Saudi Arabia straight to Germany, and two days later I arrived in Panama City, Panama.
The next 26 months, at USSOUTHCOM, I’d focus on our primary missions including Operation Support Justice, aka the Latin American Drug War during the Pablo Escobar era plus monitoring the Shining Path guerrillas. I’d meet ambassadors and other VIP’s to include the president, George H.W. Bush and his wife Barbara; Carol Hallett, the U.S. Customs commissioner at the time; Judge Robert Bonner, the administrator of the DEA; Colin Powell, our Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff; the new Drug Czar, former Florida Gov. Bob Martinez and many other dignitaries.
At USSOUTHCOM on a routine basis I’d work with various three-letter federal agencies like the CIA, DEA, NSA, DIA and others in the collection of intelligence with my photography while in the jungles of South and Central America to include contact with assigned members of the U.S. Army’s Delta and Special Forces.
Whether it was collecting intelligence on the Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA), the Shining Path guerrillas, or Pablo Escobar, a visit to the Upper Huallaga River Valley, including DEA operations at the base of Santa Lucia, Peru, often we joked about the monthly danger pay stipend of $150.
After my tour that included some missions with the true patriot and future whistleblower in the horrifying “House of Death” case, DEA Special Agent Sandy Gonzalez, I was assigned to public affairs with the Army and Air Force Hometown News service where I’d run the pictorial branch. During that period as a soldier, I deployed on many missions including to document the genocide in Rwanda for Operation Support Hope, then onto the invasion of Haiti in Operation Uphold Democracy.
After almost nine years in the army, I left active-duty as a staff sergeant and was immediately hired back into my old job, but now as a U.S. Air Force civilian. There I still deployed on real-world missions around the globe including a cover-story, co-illustrated with the late, Pulitzer prize winner Eddie Adams, for Parade magazine, circulation 32 million printed copies.
Eventually I moved to the Air Force News Agency side of the building where in the newly created position I became the agency’s first Chief of the Multimedia Branch. There I’d ensure the daily radio and television programs plus photos for the Air Force website were maintained. Somewhere during that period I’d do model portfolios on my off time, earned my four-year degree, and eventually opened up a website that led to four photography “how-to” book contracts on photographing women. With that success, plus my photography workshop tour to promote my books, I left government service including 17 years of eligibility toward a guaranteed government retirement, a decision I sometimes question.
With the new fame of photographing women combined with growing up in a family that never expressed love, throw in PTSD, yeah, I made some poor decisions. While I can’t take back my mistakes, I share them in hopes through my musings that other people don’t make my mistakes too. I also hope to show others some root causes of the darkness that life hands us at times so people can also understand why we do the things we do, right or wrong.
As photography turns more into a serious hobby, I heal through my writings so that not all is lost. If I help one person through my stories, then I’ve succeeded to help others avert the pains of life. My upcoming book, Lens Diaries — A Memoir, is based on true-life experiences and I share them with the utmost accuracy of memories stored in my old mind, though for various reasons, some character names are changed.
Perhaps after some of my fans have read that upcoming book, they probably won’t say, “I wish I had your life,” and instead say, “unbelievable,” but believe it — it did happen! Hopefully someday Hollywood will say, “When he was a baby writer he never wore diapers.”