US Army visual information specialist Hilda Clayton took a photograph of Afghan soldiers firing a mortar moments before it exploded and killed her.
The 22-year old army photographer was attached to the 4th Armoured Brigade Combat Team of the 1st Cavalry Division, who were conducting a series of live ammunition exercises under the supervision of US Army trainers back in 2013.
Clayton was standing next to four Afghan soldiers who were inserting a mortar round into the tube. However, during the process, the round was triggered, causing it to explode while still in the tube. The blast killed everyone near it, including for soldiers and Clayton herself.
But just moments before being blown away, Clayton managed to snap several photos of the explosion depicting Afghan soldiers standing next to the mortar and being blown away by the shockwave.
After the incident, US Army confiscated all of the images and kept them secret for years. However, several weeks ago, they were released to the public. They caused some public outcry and criticism, with American media and organizations protesting US Army’s decision to keep them secret. They also expressed their anger towards Afghanistan National Army (ANA), who they hold responsible for Clayton’s death.
An article published in the Army University Press’s Military Review said the accident occurred during a “critical juncture of the war, when it was necessary for the ANA to increasingly assume responsibility for military actions”.
The article said her death symbolized “how female soldiers are increasingly exposed to dangerous situations in training and in combat on par with their male counterparts”.
Specialist Clayton was the first “combat documentation and production specialist” to be killed in Afghanistan. She was honored by her friends and colleagues and rewarded for her efforts to improve ANA’s ties with US Army through documenting their joint exercises and activites.