Army photographer captures final moment before death in startling image

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ANNAPOLIS, Md. – The image is astonishing and heartbreaking—the final moments of a U.S. Army soldier captured through her own lens.

The Army recently released the 2013 photo taken by Spc. Hilda Clayton. The 22-year-old combat photographer died during a live-fire training exercise in July 2013.

The image captures the final moment as a mortar tube exploded during the exercise. An Afghan military photographer and three Afghan National Army soldiers were also killed in the July 2, 2013, accident in Afghanistan’s Laghman Province.

Clayton was attached to the 4th Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, based at Forward Operating Base Gamberi in eastern Afghanistan.

The Military Review published the image in its current issue. In a note that accompanied the story, the military journal said there was “much discussion” about the decision to publish the photograph and others taken by the photographer Clayton was training.

Editors decided to use the images because the issue was focused on “promoting the concepts of gender equality and these photographs illustrate the dangers our military men and women face both in training and in combat.”

Clayton was the first combat documentation and production specialist to be killed in Afghanistan, according to the Army.

The Army honored Clayton by adding her name to the Defense Information School (DINFOS) Hall of Heroes at Fort Meade. An annual best combat camera competition was also named in her honor. The Spc. Hilda I. Clayton Best Combat Camera (COMCAM) Competition tests the physical skills and technical prowess of combat camera personnel.