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Photographer Documented Defense Secretaries for Decades

By Army Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone C. Marshall Jr.
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Dec. 30, 2011 – Many Americans only catch glimpses of defense secretaries and other senior Defense Department officials on television or in photographs. One man has dedicated decades to ensuring those photographs are of the highest quality, true to what they capture and are taken from anywhere in the world.

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Robert D. Ward, official photographer to the secretary of defense, retired Dec. 30, 2011, after more than four decades of service. DOD photo by Glenn Fawcett

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Robert D. Ward, a photographer for the Office of the Secretary of Defense, documented the activities of defense secretaries and other senior defense leaders since 1974, capturing images of the hustle of their daily schedules and travels.

A former Army officer during the Vietnam War, Ward retired today from his position, in which he served 12 defense secretaries since 1974, including Donald Rumsfeld twice.

“I first came to the Pentagon in 1968 as a second lieutenant in the Army,” Ward said. “I worked at the Army Photographic Agency. I was particularly assigned to a branch called DASPO -- which was the Department of the Army Special Photo Office.”

Ward revealed his path to his current position, which began with his departure from active military service.

“After my period of time in the military, four years, I left as a captain, not totally voluntarily. I had sort of thought of staying in the service, but at that point in time they were offering [reductions in force] to everyone, it seems like, whether you wanted them or not.

“So I left the service and began looking for a civilian position in photography,” Ward continued. “First, I looked in Chicago at the newspapers and wire services [but] they didn’t seem to be hiring at the time.”

Ward said he returned to Washington, D.C., and worked with the Army Materiel Command for two years before finding an opening at the Pentagon.

“I … found an ad saying that they were looking for photographers for the Office of the Secretary of Defense,” he said. “And that sounded like a really good job. I applied for it and got the position.”

Ward noted the long list of defense secretaries he has worked for, starting with Secretary James Schlesinger.

“He was here a short time … [then] he was replaced by the young Secretary [Donald H.] Rumsfeld,” Ward noted. “He was the youngest secretary to serve … I think he was 43.”

“Schlesinger was followed by Harold Brown, then Caspar Weinberger, Frank Carlucci, Dick Cheney, Les Aspen, William Perry, William Cohen, Donald Rumsfeld came back again, Robert Gates followed him and Leon Panetta, our current secretary,” Ward said.

Ward cited Frank Carlucci as the only defense secretary he didn’t work for in that period since he was with the Veterans Affairs Department during Carlucci’s stint. He noted he did work for him in his capacity as deputy defense secretary.

The photographer said he has gained a wealth of experiences serving on the defense secretary and deputy’s staff and taking “thousands and thousands” of photos while visiting 87 countries.

“Just going through the collection to try to pick out some … I must have gone through 3,000 prints that I have,” Ward said. “It’s very difficult to narrow it down to something that would be of particular interest because they’re all of particular interest.”

Ward pointed to former Defense Secretary Rumsfeld as the easiest to photograph and former secretary Robert M. Gates as the toughest.

“Robert Gates was a very serious man. He took the job seriously, but he was wonderful at doing it. He will certainly go down in history as one of the finest secretaries of defense,” Ward Said.

“He was a little difficult to photograph because he rarely gestured, and he didn’t smile a lot,” Ward added. “When he did smile, it fairly lit up the room -- he had a wonderful smile, but he just didn’t show it very often.”

Ward shared one of the rare times he didn’t have a camera when he needed it most -- the terrorist attack on the Pentagon on 9/11.

“Unfortunately, while 9/11 probably presented the most historic opportunities for photos, I wasn’t able to take any because when the attacks occurred we were in an office on the second floor of the Pentagon,” he said. “Our photo equipment was located on the first floor of the Pentagon in a secure room.”

Ward was one of the determined Pentagon workers who returned to work the following day.

“I came to work the next day and got access to my equipment,” he said. “That was the day that President Bush came over and met with Secretary Rumsfeld and his staff then went outside to tour the area of devastation.”

With a four decade-plus career, Ward said he has had the opportunity to photograph some very well-known people ranging from singer Jewel and Margaret Thatcher to Bob Hope and the last World War I veteran.

“Some of the photos I’ve taken are sort of last-chance photos,” he said. “You have someone like Gen. Omar Bradley, the last five-star general, I was able to photograph him a couple of times.”

After 43 years, Ward looks forward to moving on to other interests.

“I’m really looking forward to retirement,” he said. “I’ve loved this job tremendously, but I do have other things I’d like to do.”

Ward cited his hobby as a birder, building model airplanes, riding his bicycle and scuba diving as post-retirement interests, but noted he will always love photography.

“If I took your picture today, this would be the last time that you would be this particular age, looking this particular way in your life and that’s one of the wonderful things about photography,” he explained. “It preserves those moments for future generations to see and I think that’s important.”

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Photo Essay: Photographer Documented Defense Secretaries for Decades

Click photo for screen-resolution imageDefense Department photographer Robert D. Ward, center, takes photos of Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta, right, as he meets with the Defense Policy Board at the Pentagon, Nov.29, 2011. DOD photo by Glenn Fawcett  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageDefense Department photographer Robert D. Ward shoots photos of attendees before the start of a Defense Policy Board meeting with Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta at the Pentagon, Nov.29, 2011. DOD photo by Glenn Fawcett  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageRobert D. Ward, right, shakes hands with Terry Mitchell, audiovisual division chief for the Office of the Secretary of Defense, during Ward's retirement celebration at the Pentagon, Dec. 28, 2011. Ward served as an official photographer to defense secretaries and deputy secretaries since 1974. DOD photo by Glenn Fawcett  
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