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Soldier carries gun and camera in hot spots
SGT. FRANK HUDEC/CANADIAN FORCES COMBAT CAMERA
Sailors run on the flight deck of HMCS Winnipeg in the Gulf of Oman in August.
BY SARAH ELIZABETH BROWN
Standing on HMCS Winnipeg’s flight deck at dusk, watching sailors run laps as their frigate steams through the
Arabian Sea, Sgt. Frank Hudec sees pictures. As a Canadian Forces Combat Camera photographer, he carries
a camera along with his flak vest and gun. “You could be out there just looking around — ‘Oh yeah, photographically
there’s nothing happening here. The sun’s set and there’s these guys running around,’” said Hudec, 44, who was born
and raised in Thunder Bay. “But if you take a time exposure, the camera can see things that your eye doesn’t. “I always
take a tripod with me — I tend to take a lot of pictures at twilight,” said Hudec. “It’s just gorgeous in the Gulf right at
twilight, just after sunset when you have a moonrise, nice calm seas and the ship’s zooming along.”
Working in a group of three — public affairs officer, videographer and photographer — Hudec spent August
on the Winnipeg as it patrolled the Persian Gulf. The Combat Camera crew slept and worked out of a sonar instrument
room and recorded everyday life — refueling, naval boardings, pickup hockey games on deck. Trying not to get
lost in the labyrinth below decks and enduring rough seas were side benefits. Whenever and wherever Canadian soldiers,
sailors or pilots go on overseas missions, Hudec and his co-workers go too — cameras, laptops, batteries and satellite
phones in tow along with their military gear. Of approximately 225 photographers in the Canadian military, a dozen
serve with Combat Camera. When civilian journalists aren’t around, Combat Camera footage and photos make
the country’s newscasts and newspapers, showing folks back home what their military is up to.
This year, Hudec spent a month in Kabul, Afghanistan, another in the Persian
Gulf and six weeks with the military’s
Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) in Pakistan after a massive earthquake devastated the region. In February,
he heads to Kandahar, Afghanistan. Combat Camera shutterbugs aren’t home much, Hudec said in a telephone interview
from his Ottawa residence. “For me, to get a good picture of our troops at work, you want to not only show the soldier,
you want to show the environment, the people,” said Hudec, who originally figured the locals in Afghanistan would be
camera-shy. “Especially in Afghanistan and Pakistan, people just love having their picture taken — it’s an honour,” he said.
“It’s like, ‘Cool — makes my job really easy.’”
• Continued on page A9
THE CHRONICLE-JOURNAL________ Sunday, January 8, 2006_____SUNDAY
Camera ready for shooting
ALL PHOTOS BY SGT. FRANK HUDEC/CANADIAN FORCES COMBAT CAMERA
Canadian soldiers with the International Security Assistance Forces travel in an armoured convoy
through a busy street in Kabul.
Sgt. Frank Hudec on the job.
Canadian Forces photographer Cpl. Kevin Paul pulls smiles from a pair of boys in Pakistan.
Even if he doesn’t speak the same language, Hudec’s digital Nikon D2X helps him connect when he shows
someone the photo he just took of them.“And man, you see the smiles — that brings them out.” He’s never
taken pictures in a firefight, but photographing the military has inherent dangers, from landslides in Pakistan’s
mountains to landmines in Afghanistan. “One of the most dangerous things is driving around,” Hudec said.
“In Kabul, I think there’s two, three million people and no traffic lights. “All the time there’s dangers, but you
never think about them. You don’t want to think about them, otherwise you’ll never go out.” While his job is
to take pictures, he’s still a soldier. Before anyone goes overseas, training and immunizations must be current.
He stays fit by biking to work, summer and winter, and spends an hour in the Department of National Defence
gym to start his workday.
Afghan children look on while Canadian soldiers patrol a village near Kabul.
A member of HMCS Winnipeg's naval boarding party descends
the frigate's rope ladder to an inflatable boat in the Gulf of Oman.
There are some things photos can’t capture. They can show sailors clambering between ships, often without ladders, while searching vessels
in the Persian Gulf. What a picture can’t show is how tough that is to do while ocean swells bat the boats about. “Sometimes you’re hanging
on for dear life there,” said Hudec. “Wow, it’s an adrenaline rush, big time.” They also can’t show how much body armour, webbing full of
ammunition, two litres of water, a helmet and a rifle all weigh during the 40 C temperatures of a midday patrol in Kabul. “And with us, plus
our camera gear,” said Hudec. “You’ve got to be very physically fit to handle all that, and at the end of it, you’ve got to try and take these
In Pakistan in November, DART initially didn’t have helicopters. In the
Himalayan foothills, that meant six or seven hours of mountain hiking
each day. Photographing DART was different for Hudec since the Canadian military personnel didn’t have to carry guns or wear flak vests.
And it was a chance for the sergeant to see the level of care DART provides, something he calls “impressive.” In one medical mission, DART
personnel treated a little boy whose broken arm had been splinted with colouring books for a month. The Canadians also came across a
seven-months-pregnant woman with a broken pelvis, which she’d endured for a month since the earthquake. Villagers carried the woman, on a
bed, up several hundred metres of mountainside goat track to the helicopter landing site. “We thought we’d beat them,” said Hudec. “No way.
They were way ahead of us. We were huffing and puffing.” The Pakistani villagers’ resilience — and sheer physical fitness — is unreal, he said.
“Some of the patrols we were on, these people have nothing and yet they invite you in or they bring you out tea. When you see stuff like that, it’s
very, very touching.” Attending Friday prayers in the local mosque with Canadian officers born in Pakistan and being present when the first baby
was born in the DART medical camp are among his collection of Combat Camera memories.
Before he and his co-workers could begin recording DART’s Pakistan mission, they set up from nothing. Assigned a bit of earth, they built a structure to keep out the weather, found an electrical line and set up power bars and a work area. “It’s very primitive,” Hudec said. “It’s not like sitting in an office. Yet we’ve got all this high-tech equipment.” Soldiering happens outside, and despite top-of-the-line equipment that’s serviced regularly, gear fails. Hudec tapes plastic wrap over his laptop keyboard and tries not to change lenses when a helicopter blows by overhead, raising ever-present dust. “They spend so much money flying us halfway around the world on these missions, we’ve got backup laptops, backup cameras, backup video — everything.”
Hudec’s passion for photography started several decades ago. “I like making things, I like creating things,” he said, calling
photography a chance to create something unique and a way to remember his experiences. As a 13-year-old, Hudec and his best friend spent Saturday afternoons photographing
planes landing at the Thunder Bay airport. The camera-toting buddies set up a darkroom, printed their own black-and-white
photos and were yearbook photographers in high school.
Hudec joined the Lake Superior Scottish Regiment at age 16 as a reservist, working part-time during the year and full-time in summers. Two years into a university business administration program, the outdoorsman decided it wasn’t for him and traded text books for combat boots in the 3rd Battalion, Royal Canadian Regiment.
Similar to what he’s doing now, he took his camera on exercise and captured images of infantry life. Hudec told himself then that when he was in his 40s, he didn’t want to be doing grunt work. “It’s kind of funny, because everything I go out on, like Afghanistan and Pakistan . . . you’re still doing the same grunt work, but I guess it’s different. It’s not being a soldier, you’re just photographing it.”
He’s had two base photo unit postings — the first in 1991 — taking soldiers’ passport photos, group pictures and shots of the brass. During six years in the “big factory” that is the DND headquarters’ photo unit in Ottawa, his overseas stints began between assignments shooting official portraits. He accompanied Canadian veterans to Holland for the 50th anniversary of that country’s liberation, and in 1996 joined the military crew recovering the remains of six Canadian airmen and their C47 Dakota transport plane, which disappeared in northern Burma during a monsoon in June 1945. Since 1997, he’s worked part-time for a stock photo agency in Toronto called FirstLight, shooting non-military pictures. Several years ago he got the Combat Camera posting he’d been asking for since he started the photo trade.
His first assignment took him to Israel’s Golan Heights, Egypt’s Sinai desert and then north to Germany to fly with NATO early warning aircraft. He’s since shot photos from Haiti to Baffin Island in Canada’s Arctic.