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Other side of the lens: Marine leaves lasting impact

BUCKLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- I had never met him. I had never seen him. I didn't even know his name before that day.

But then I stood on the flightline staring at a black coffin draped in the Stars and Stripes. It didn't matter whether or not I knew this Marine, because I could feel his impact.

Members of the base and local community showed up for this dignified transfer in force. A full formation of Marines divided the hearse from the series of cars that lined the aircraft hangar doors, with an honor guard ready to receive their fallen brother after he arrived by plane. More than 20 K-9 handlers and their dogs filled the flightline in respect of one of their own because the plane was not only carrying an American warrior, but also the remains of his military working dog partner.

So there I was, in full service dress, behind the camera's lens, capturing the final journey of this Marine for his family. I had never been in this position before, and it was a little eerie. As a photojournalist, I always try to get excited about putting out the best possible product; but as I stood next to the hearse, still close enough to hear the quiet crying of his family, excitement seemed out of place.

The six-man honor guard raised their white-gloved hands in a silent salute to the K-9 handler before the door to the black hearse closed. The Marine's wife stared at the vehicle through dark sunglasses, the tear streaks still on her cheek. His brother stood stoically beside her in his place.

This Marine, who was unknown to me until then, had spoken to me. Not through words, but through actions. He made the greatest sacrifice for his country any service member can make. He made it even though he had a family. He made it even though he had a future.

All the days throughout my career I complained about it being too hot or there being a lot of work seemed insignificant. Frankly, I was embarrassed. I lost track of the big picture in those moments, and it was sad it took a hero to remind me of that.

The corporal's sacrifice reminded me of the important things. No matter what branch of service we are in, we are all in this fight together. We stand united against America's enemies and together in the aid of our allies.

His sacrifice also showed me how fragile life is for those who take the oath to serve our country. We sometimes see ourselves as invincible, but one day it could be me in that casket and my wife wearing black. Because I will deploy again; it's what I swore to when I joined the military.

As I watched the hearse pull away bathed by the lights of fire trucks and police vehicles, every available service member and civilian on the installation lined the road awaiting the corporal's final pass. I saw hundreds of base members, lined shoulder to shoulder, place their hands over their hearts or raise their arms and render a final salute.

And it hit me. This Marine not only impacted me, he had impacted all of us.
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