My Tour: TSgt. Manuel J. Martinez in Afghanistan

One man’s view of a conflict zone.

In January 2010, Tech Sergeant Manuel J. Martinez, a combat photographer with the U.S. Air Force, deployed to Afghanistan as part of an Air Force Central Command Combat Camera Team, composed of himself, a videographer, and a writer. Their mission was fairly straightforward: To capture the stories of U.S. Airmen at war. But that’s not to say it was simple. For the duration of their tour, TSgt. Martinez and his team followed those stories wherever they took them. They began in Kabul, where a program to train Afghan pilots was underway, and where USAF Pararescuemen – the Air Force’s elite (and often mustachioed) airborne operatives, also known as “PJs” – stood ready to jump into battle at a moment’s notice. The Combat Camera Team eventually moved to Zabul Province, in southeastern Afghanistan, to document Airmen and U.S. Army Soldiers working together on community development projects in remote villages caught in the middle of the conflict. And when they weren’t covering the war on the ground, they covered it from the sky, reporting on a wide range of aerial operations aboard various aircraft. Together, TSgt. Martinez’s photographs showcase the myriad roles the men and women of the U.S. Air Force play on the modern battlefield. Even for Martinez, a veteran Airman who spent a previous deployment embedded with infantry units in Iraq, it was an eye-opening experience. This is his story.