Award-Winning Combat Videographer Keys In on People
By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jun. 8, 2007 Air Force Tech. Sgt. Gary W. Burdett’s videography documents the up-close-and-personal actions of America’s fighting forces around the world.
Air Force Tech. Sgt. Gary W. Burdett, a member of 1st Combat Camera Squadron, Charleston Air Force Base, S.C., videotapes an Iraqi citizen being questioned by U.S. and Iraqi soldiers in Baghdad’s Hamiyah district on Aug. 13, 2006. A search of the Iraqi’s house had yielded a quantity of unauthorized weapons. Photo by Air Force Tech. Sgt. Adrian Cadiz
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Burdett, a 16-year military veteran and a member of the 1st Combat Camera Squadron at Charleston Air Force Base, S.C., is the Defense Department’s Military Videographer of the Year for 2007. This is the first time he’s been honored as the department’s best military moving-picture shooter.
Burdett served in Iraq from May through September 2006, documenting U.S. soldiers performing combat patrols and other duty in Baghdad.
Videotaping combat missions in Iraq and elsewhere helps senior Pentagon leaders to stay abreast of far-flung military operations and also can be employed for evidence purposes, Burdett said.
“If we didn’t shoot it, who is to say it happened or didn’t happen? We try to shoot things as truthfully, naked and raw as possible,” Burdett said.
Shooting action in Iraq means “you have to get in there” and learn about the servicemembers’ personalities, the Stuttgart, Ark., native said.
“If you don’t get to know the people, you’re not going to have a story,” the 37-year-old combat videographer explained. “It’s all about the people.”
Burdett shot a video sequence in August that depicts an Iraqi being questioned by U.S. soldiers in Baghdad’s Hamiyah district. The Iraqi was questioned, Burdett said, because a search of the man’s house had produced a quantity of unauthorized weapons.
“He had a lot of weapons. This guy’s house was set up like a gun dealership, so they were asking him a couple questions,” Burdett recalled. The Americans confiscated many of the weapons, Burdett said, but he added that he didn’t know what became of the Iraqi man.
Another example of Burdett’s award-winning work, titled “Delta Sick Call,” depicts U.S. military medics treating Iraqi citizens near Kut, Iraq, in July.
“We had gone to Camp Delta, which was a Polish camp where the Iraqi security forces’ training academy was based,” Burdett recalled.
One of the U.S. servicemembers helping to train the Iraqis was Sgt. 1st Class Patrick Malloy, a U.S. Army medic. Malloy “was teaching the Iraqi army recruits combat lifesaver skills,” Burdett said, adding that the medic also treated local Iraqis living near Camp Delta.
“Probably 90 percent of the people he saw were kids,” Burdett said. “That’s stuff you don’t normally see on the news.”
The videographer attributes the relative scarcity of mainstream-media coverage of such uplifting stories from Iraq to the “boogieman on the news” syndrome that favors coverage of war’s violence and gore.
Burdett relied on his Sony PD-150 video camera to document action in Iraq. The camera weighs less than 5 pounds.
Capturing the appropriate sound to accompany his moving images is an equally important element of his work, the videographer pointed out.
“Sound is huge,” Burdett said. “Sound will carry a piece, because people will look at bad pictures with really good sound, but they won’t watch really good pictures with bad sound.”
Burdett also carried a spare video camera in Iraq, as well as an M-16 rifle. He said he didn’t spend a lot of time dwelling on the danger.
“Because, if you did, there’s no way you could work,” he said.
Burdett recalled varying circumstances when he recorded images and sound during his tour in Iraq. For example, he saw Iraqis reacting with joy at having their electric power restored or when obtaining water service thanks to U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ reconstruction projects.
And U.S. servicemembers on patrol would often be welcomed into Iraqi homes and be offered food or tea, he said.
“Other times, you’d go into a house to check for weapons and all the women would start crying,” Burdett recalled. “And, I’ve learned that when that happens, there’s probably something in that house or the man of the house is involved in some not-nice things.”