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Unveiling Valor: Marines Behind the Lens at San Francisco Fleet Week 2023

09 October 2023

From 2LT John Carter

SAN FRANCISCO — In the heart of San Francisco, an annual maritime showcase known as San Francisco Fleet Week was set to commence. This event, led by the Navy with the faithful support of the Marine Corps and Coast Guard, held a dual purpose — to nurture the enduring trust and connection between the American people and the armed forces, and to spark interest in prospective warriors, gesturing them to join the ranks of the world's finest warfighters.
SAN FRANCISCO — In the heart of San Francisco, an annual maritime showcase known as San Francisco Fleet Week was set to commence. This event, led by the Navy with the faithful support of the Marine Corps and Coast Guard, held a dual purpose — to nurture the enduring trust and connection between the American people and the armed forces, and to spark interest in prospective warriors, gesturing them to join the ranks of the world's finest warfighters.

A formidable task force comprising more than 200 Marines and Sailors, belonging to I Marine Expeditionary Force, were stationed aboard the USS John P. Murtha and proudly took up the mantle of supporting San Francisco Fleet Week. Amongst this sizeable group, just over 60 Marines and Sailors had recently returned from the Federated States of Micronesia, Papua New Guinea and the Republic of Palau, where they served dutifully as part of Task Force Koa Moana 23 for several months. As these dedicated Marines and Sailors transitioned directly from their demanding overseas deployment to contribute their efforts to San Francisco Fleet Week, they carried the wealth of their experiences and the spirit of service with them. The objective of the Task Force during this pivotal event was clear — engagement with the vibrant bay area community, epitomizing good conduct and embodying the ethos of the Marine Corps.

The festivities of Fleet Week spanned a dynamic eight days, brimming with a multitude of community-oriented events. These gatherings offered an invaluable chance for Marines and Sailors to engage directly with the vibrant and diverse bay area populace, forging stronger bonds with the community they were sworn to protect. In an age saturated with information, disseminating content portraying the spirit and essence of Fleet Week held high importance, enlightening stakeholders about the valor and dedication of the Marine Corps and the military as a whole.

Amidst this mission, a group of unsung heroes emerged — the Marines behind the lens. Meet Cpl. Casandra Lamas, Cpl. Trent Henry, Lance Cpl. Hannah Hollerud, and Lance Cpl. Ricardo Ramirez, the photography Marines within the 45xx – Communication Strategy and Operations – military occupational specialty assigned to document San Francisco Fleet Week. In the bustling midst of the event, they diligently captured the essence and fervor of Fleet Week without seeking the spotlight for themselves. Additionally, Henry and Ramirez stood among the 60 Marines and Sailors who had recently returned from the demanding forward deployment —a testament to their selflessness and unwavering dedication.

The Marines behind the lens:

Cpl. Casandra Lamas, a distinguished native hailing from Fresno, California, and a graduate of Sanger High School, cherishes her role as a 4541 – a combat photographer in the Marine Corps. What captivates her most is the opportunity to glimpse into every facet within the Marine Corps as she is the go-to photographer tasked with covering a diverse range of exercises, deployments and events within her command. Just a few months ago, she returned to her home command after an extended deployment in the Republic of Palau. The highlight of her experience lay in the recognition her work received, instilling a sense of accomplishment and heightened morale among fellow Marines. This, in turn, provided Lamas with a profound sense of purpose.

Staff Sgt. Courtney White, the operational chief for the COMMSTRAT team at San Francisco Fleet Week, shared her enthusiastic thoughts about Lamas: “when I saw Cpl. Lamas’ name on the roster for Fleet Week, I was ecstatic. I know how hard-working she is, how much of a ball of energy she is and, of course, how great of a photographer she is.”

Preceding her participation in Fleet Week, Lamas successfully completed Corporal’s Course, a mandatory professional military education program for corporals in the Marine Corps striving to advance to the next rank. Upon graduation from the course, Lamas was bestowed the prestigious title of honor graduate, a notable award recognizing her as the most outstanding Marine in the course out of over 30 Marines.

Lamas has garnered exceptional commendations within her COMMSTRAT shop and across various COMMSTRAT shops on Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton. This acclaim is a direct result of her unwavering commitment to excellence in her work. Recently, she was appointed to the role of platoon sergeant within her shop — a position that grants her the chance to mentor junior Marines and set the standard for excellence given the increase in responsibility. The prospect of guiding and shaping these Marines fills her with enthusiasm, ensuring they are under excellent tutelage.

Cpl. Trent Henry, a native of El Paso, Texas and a proud graduate of Pebble Hills High School, finds immense joy and purpose in his role as a combat photographer in the Marine Corps. The essence of being a combat photographer – capturing the essence of Marine Corps life and the multitude of roles within it – resonates deeply with him. It allows him not only to witness, but to meticulously document and showcase the diverse array of responsibilities shouldered by his fellow Marines.

For Henry, an introvert by nature, this occupation has proven to be a transformative journey. It's a path that nudges him gently out of his comfort zone, a journey toward shedding the cocoon of introversion. The camera in his hands serves as a bridge to the outside world, a medium through which he navigates his way towards newfound confidence and self-expression. In the evolving narrative of his life, being a combat photographer isn't just a job; it's a canvas for personal growth and a step towards breaking free from the confines of his reserved nature.

White had high praise for her Marine, stating, “he really cares about his job and the products he puts out, which is evident because his products are constantly reposted and praised.” Henry's first batch of photographs at Fleet Week even received the remarkable honor of being reposted on the flagship U.S. Marine Corps Facebook page — an exceptional testament to the outstanding caliber of his contributions.

Continuing her commendation, White added, “I love that when I meet people who have worked with him, they only have positive things to say about his work and about who he is as a Marine.”

Above all, what truly ignites Henry’s passion is the profound responsibility he holds—to document history, to encapsulate the valor and sacrifices of the Marine Corps in the digital age that defines our world today. He sees this role as an opportunity and a duty, a chance to unveil the Marine Corps' legacy and share it with a global audience eager to glimpse the extraordinary lives and endeavors of these formidable warriors. In every click of the camera, he believes he etches a part of their story into the annals of history, a story meant to be witnessed and celebrated by all.

Lance Cpl. Hannah Hollerud, a native of Hudson, Wisconsin, and graduate of Hudson High School, sought a challenge on all fronts — physical, mental and spiritual —and precisely found that in the Marine Corps. Though her primary role is a combat photographer, her hunger for growth and learning was palpable from the start of Fleet Week. She wasted no time in expressing her desire to delve into videography, showcasing her desire for versatility and her dedication to expanding her skills beyond her designated trade at various events.

White remarked, “she is constantly striving to perfect her craft... she is not afraid to ask for help, and she really absorbs all of the advice given to her.” These qualities are exemplary for any Marine, particularly within an occupational field like COMMSTRAT, where such eagerness to learn and adapt is highly valued.

One of Hollerud's cherished aspects of her job is the extensive travel opportunities that allow her to support diverse events and exercises just like Fleet Week. Additionally, being a part of the 45xx occupational field entails interviewing fellow Marines within her command, understanding their backgrounds and MOS, and crafting stories that uplift their spirits and contribute to the larger Marine Corps narrative. This engagement with her fellow Marines and the chance to learn about their journeys resonate deeply with her.

White furthered her thoughts on Hollerud, stating, “I don’t think she understands how talented she really is. She’s going to be a double threat as a videographer and photographer in no time.” It's a testament to her potential and the remarkable trajectory of growth she's set to embark upon in her dual roles as a videographer and photographer.

Lance Cpl. Ricardo Ramirez, the last of the four distinguished Marines, found his mark at the School Without Walls Commencement Academy in Rochester, New York. He is the lone 4512 – combat graphics specialist – of the group of Marines. As mentioned before, alongside Henry, Ramirez was a part of the count of 60 Marines who were forward deployed prior to supporting San Francisco Fleet Week. Rising to the occasion, Ramirez demonstrated remarkable adaptability and unyielding aggression — traits synonymous with every exemplary Marine. He assumed the mantle of a photographer, seamlessly crossing the boundaries of his primary role, a testament to his selflessness and unwavering commitment to the Marine Corps mission. Building on this, White further emphasized her gratitude of the Marine by saying, “I appreciate his willingness to be flexible and how receptive he is to coaching.”

Ramirez's journey into the Marine Corps was driven by a profound desire to carve meaning from his life. His aspiration was clear — to rise, to excel, and to carry a sense of purpose each day, all with the intent of bringing pride to his family. In every endeavor, he strives to contribute meaningfully and leave an indelible mark, a testament to his unshakeable determination.

A message dear to his heart, one he yearned to convey to his loved ones, revolves around the clarity he has found in his purpose through his work. His gratitude emanates from the knowledge that his efforts in the Marine Corps have a tangible impact, allowing him to touch lives and serve communities in places like San Francisco and the Oceania region during his deployments. Embracing this newfound purpose, he looks ahead with eager anticipation, ready to embrace future duties within the Marine Corps and continue making a meaningful difference.

As highlighted earlier, the role of these esteemed Marines as combat photographers holds immense significance, particularly in the digital age and information-rich environment we live in. During Fleet Week, the crucial task of orchestrating operational event coverage falls upon White, a mastermind in coordinating this effort. Upon being task organized for specific Fleet Week events, these Marines meticulously execute their roles by employing the training they received at the Defense Information School in Fort George G. Meade, Maryland. Trained as 4541s and a 4512, they bring their expertise to life, ensuring the imagery they capture aligns with the Marine Corps' communication objectives.

Once the event photos have been taken, a crucial phase begins — what they term "processing imagery." This involves utilizing their trained eye and specific skill set to sift through the captured photos. The objective is to select images that meet the criteria of ethical use, effectively communicate the Marine Corps message, and captivate the viewers’ eyes. This process demands dedication and can span multiple hours based on the volume of photos and the effort they invest in perfecting the final products.

Following the meticulous selection process, the Marines draft captions using their honed writing skills, aligning with the guidelines set forth by the Associate Press Stylebook and Department of Defense Visual Information Style Guide. The imagery and captions are then submitted as a “caption sheet” to a releasing authority, which in this case for Fleet Week is White. Once granted, these skilled Marines are given the green light to share their finished products on the Defense Visual Information Distribution Service, effectively reaching a wider audience and advancing the Marine Corps' narrative. Anything published on DVIDS is freely accessible, granting the chance for various social media platforms within the Navy and Marine Corps to utilize and share. Additionally, this open platform creates an opportunity for local media outlets to gather information for their own stories. The effective and accurate communication by these diligent Marines, aligning with the Marine Corps' objectives, has a far-reaching impact, often hidden from plain sight.

The mission of San Francisco Fleet Week is a tribute to the enduring contributions of the men and women of the United States Armed Forces. It serves to deepen cooperation and knowledge of the diverse capabilities the armed forces offer, including civilian-and-military-based humanitarian assistance. However, in this digital age, the true essence of the Marine Corps and its vital role in these events needs dedicated and skilled messengers.

For the knowledge and understanding of the Marine Corps to proliferate effectively, there must be men and women proficient and willing to communicate this information. San Francisco Fleet Week, recognized by the United States Department of Defense as the model for fleet weeks across the nation, stands as a testament to the success of this approach. Yet, none of this would be possible without the invaluable engagement of the local community with the Marines and Sailors, as well as the few Marines tasked with the important role of documenting each moment. The local community becomes an integral part of the event, gaining insight into the Marine Corps, its mission, and the individuals who embody its values. The events, brought to life through the eyes and lenses of the Marines, showcase the profound, intimate moments of these engagements. It's through these captured glimpses that the larger community gains an understanding of the Marine Corps, fostering appreciation and respect for their dedication, sacrifices, and unwavering service.

In essence, the story of San Francisco Fleet Week is not just about a celebration; it's about the harmonious dance between the Marine Corps and the community. It’s a tale where every click of the camera, every heartfelt interview, and every captivating image enriches the collective narrative of honor, duty, and commitment. And as the city embraces the Marines through these visual stories, photos and videos created by Marines just like the four featured, the bonds between the armed forces and the community grow stronger, echoing the ethos of "Semper Fidelis" – Always Faithful.

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