Friday, August 28, 2015

Go-To-War Camera Bag, "Hey Don't Shoot" Becomes a Reality

The possibility of a war breaking out between North and South Korea is a sobering reality of life not only for us soldiers, but for the people of Korea as well. Most of the time, however, it is a distant possibility that rarely disturbs the daily routine. Such was NOT the case on August 20th 2015 when North Korea and South Korea exchanged fire across the DMZ, raising tensions and the possibility of reigniting a conflict which began in 1950 and has never officially ended.

Turner Hunt and I are both assigned to a combat arms unit, a Multiple Launch Rocket System Battalion, stationed just 13 kilometers from the Korean DMZ, relatively close to where the two sides exchanged fire. Our jobs as soldiers is to be ready to "Fight Tonight" should the need arise, it's what soldiers do and while we do not WANT to go to war, we will not hesitate if we get the call to roll out.

I cannot get into specific details about military movements, times, places and locations of my unit but let's just say that our job is to execute counterfire and other missions that might call for the immense destructive power of our mobile artillery rocket system. For the purpose of this blog post, those specific details are unnecessary.

Turner has his family here, which raises the stakes for him much more than for me. I only have myself and my "things". My "things" include the entirety of my camera collection. I certainly do not consider myself to be materialistic, but my camera collection brings me a good deal of pleasure and satisfaction. If we get the call to go-to-war we have to quickly pack our gear, get our weapons and get to our vehicles. Obviously, we can't take everything we own with us but we will probably have a little time to pack and take a few personal belongings. If war was to break out there's a good chance I might never see the inside of my barracks room and the contents within ever again. 

I came face to face with that reality last week...

The gear that we are required to load into our vehicles (in addition to the basic items assigned to the vehicle like a tire jack, tire chains for winter etc) include a ruck sack which includes a sleeping bag, wet weather jacket and pants, poncho and poncho liner, extra T-shirts, underwear, socks etc. We also bring a duffel bag (or two) and an assault pack which is basically a small back pack which all hold other army issued gear that we don't have an immediate need for but might need at some point such as winter boots, entrenching tool etc,.

I don't know what personal items other soldiers might bring along with them if we were to go to war, perhaps family photos, an X Box, cash, items of sentimental value etc,. As for myself, I would bring my personal computer and external hard drives, which house all of my photography from the past 3 years and selected cameras and lenses that are too valuable to leave behind. So, not knowing how much time I had to play with, here's what I packed...

First, I put my Leica M3, Leica M6, Sony A7II, Sony A99 (probably my most valuable cameras) along with one of my A77's and my two A6000's in a hard case. It's a sturdy case that has foam padding inside. I had originally used it to house my Sony MEX-VG10 video camera and the foam padding was molded to that. In the first camera bag I put my Mamiya 7, Hasselblad 503CW, Sony NEX-VG10 video camera and my Sony Zeiss 24-70mm lens. The third bag had been previously packed in anticipation of going to the field for a regularly scheduled training exercise that was already underwar, thus, it had only been packed with what I needed the day before and was not repacked, which explains some of the empty compartments. It had a Sony A77 with Tokina 11-18mm lens, Minolta Hi-Matic 7s 35mm film camera, Minolta 70-210mm "beer can" lens and a Minolta 20mm wide angle lens. Those are my only photography specific bags, everything I wanted to bring along would just go into one of two backpacks without any type of integrated padding. What I did was wrap the other lenses and cameras I wanted to take in T-shirts so that it might provide some padding and cushion. I put some of my vintage film cameras like my Konica IIIa, Rolleiflex SL35M, Mamiya 645 1000s and a few lenses like a Minolta 100mm macro lens and Konica Minolta 17-35mm lens. And finally, I put my Sony 70-200mm f/4 and Zeiss Loxia 50mm f/2 lens into a small shoulder bag that I often use. All of that fit into the bags seen in the photos.

In the series of photos below you will see how I packed my cameras and lenses. The first few photos show a hastily packed set of camera bags which I through together in a rush during the first hours of the stand off when we were unsure if we would get the call to toll to our initial battle positions. This is followed by a second set of photos which was taken on the second day when I had a little more time to organize my gear.

Who is to say what would have happened if a war broke out between North and South Korea? Maybe those "commies" would stop short of invading the South and my personal belongings inside of my barracks room would be safe. But with the amount of money I have invested in my camera gear, I wasn't taking any chances. It's not like I would have time to go down to the post office and ship my things back home, when war comes, it usually comes unannounced.

Thankfully, the two sides negotiated an end to the military confrontation and things have returned to normal. My unit completed it's regularly scheduled training and we have all returned to base. Other than my everyday camera bag, I didn't have to load my stuff into the HUMVEE and we didn't go to war. But this experience has led me to always think of how I will prepare, what things I will take with me and how quickly I'll have to pack my beloved cameras and lenses in case the worst happens.

The name "Hey Don't Shoot" originated when my friends back home inquired about the dangers of being stationed in Korea near the demilitarized zone. I jested and said that if I ever came face to face with armed soldiers from the North Korean Army, I'd tell them "Hey, Don't Shoot", for the plain and simple fact that I would have no choice but to shoot back. Little did I know that the name would take on not only a double-meaning but it might also become a reality.

5 months to go and I'll be out of the army and back on American soil. Turner will be back in October, that lucky bastard. Thanks for supporting our site, blog and YouTube channel

Above and below you see the hard case in which I hastily packed my Sony A99, A7II, two A6000's, Leica M3, Leica M6 and a couple of lenses mounted on a few of the cameras. Also pictured is my laptop (far right), two black camera bags and an assault pack.

Above you see my hastily packed hard case containing a Sony A7II (top left) Leica M3, Sony A6000 (top center), Sony A77 (top right), another Sony A6000 (bottom left), Leica M6 and Sony A99 (bottom center).

Above: Hasselblad 503CW (top) Sony Zeiss 24-70mm lens (center left), Mamiya 7 (center right) and Sony NEX-VG10 (bottom)

Above: Minolta 70-210 and Minolta 20mm lens (top), Minolta Hi-Matic 7S, Sony A77 (center)

Above: Konica IIIa. Below: Rolleiflex SL35M both wrapped in T-Shirts.

Above: Sony 70-200mm and Zeiss Loxia 50mm. Below: Minolta 100mm and 17-35mm lens wrapped in T-shirts.

Below is day 2 of the crisis. I had time to repack my camera bags, as you can see they are packed a lot better and much more organized.

Above: Mamiya 7, Mamiya 645 1000S and Hassleblad 503CW (top), Rolleiflex SL35M, Leica M6 and Leica M3 (bottom).

And below you see how I normally have my camera collection displayed in my barracks room.

So, what didn't I bring? Well, I left some of the less valuable and easier to replace items such as a Olypmus OM10 35mm film camera, Agfa Isolette and Optima Parat 35mm cameras, Canon ML and some of my cheap Minolta lenses like the 50mm f/1.7. 

I don't want to leave any of it behind, but alas, there isn't room for everything.

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