Last week the AP contacted me to photograph the 467th Medical Detachment Unit deployment to Afghanistan. This was the unit that lost 3 soldiers in the Nov. 5 shooting rampage at Fort Hood.

My work day for this assignment, start to finish, was about 11 hours. Of those 11 only 30 minutes was actual shooting time, the rest of the assignment involved driving, waiting, more waiting and editing. But after it was all said and done, I would have rather been at Fort Hood then in my bed that night.

On Thursday, Dec. 12, I had to be in Fort Hood at 8:30 p.m. The drive from Austin to Killeen takes about an hour and half. Because I was concerned about rush hour traffic I gave myself over two hours to drive to Killeen. Promptly at 8:30 p.m. the assigned PAO escorts met the media at the South gate. We caravanned to the deployment site on the North side of Fort Hood. That took 40 minutes. Upon arrival we were told that the plane had been delayed four hours and that the soldiers were now resting.

There would be an interview session for media at 10 p.m. with two members of the 467th available for questions. The media was also given the option of waiting until 2:30 a.m. when the unit would deploy. I called my contact at the AP and shared the latest circumstances.

Between the 4 media outlets that showed up for the assignment, only a Waco TV news crew and I chose to stay for the 2:30 a.m. deployment.

As time neared for the interview sessions they set us up by some tanks, serving as backdrops. The questions began and I quietly did my job in the cold of the night, the same night weather forecasters were reporting that many parts of Texas were expected to freeze.

From there it was back to the holding area for a few more hours until the actual deployment. I read a book to pass the time.

Just before 2:30 a.m. we hopped into our cars to drive the short distance to the chapel where the unit would be arriving. Wanting to stay warm we waited in our cars. About half an hour later we spotted the unit marching down the street.

The 34 soldiers marched to the chapel where they sat and waited for further instructions. Fifteen minutes later they were back on their feet and in a bus that would take them to the airport, on their way to Afghanistan.

I had recently purchased a car converter so while driving to where AP staff writer Angela Brown was staying in Killeen, I was able to ingest my memory card onto my laptop. Angela had alerted the desk clerk of my early morning arrival. The clerk was helpful and even fed me breakfast. At around 4 a.m. I started editing and transmitting.

Within the first 30 minutes of the drive back home, exhaustion hit me. I pulled off the highway and into a parking lot for a quick 15 minutes nap. I officially made it into my warm cozy bed at about 7 a.m. with the thought of how much I love my job.

—by Thao Nguyen. Nguyen is a freelance photographer, based in Austin.



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