Public Affairs, Visual Information Soldiers pave path for future Army imagery collecting

Spc. Sharell Madden, a combat cameraman assigned to the 982nd Combat Camera Co. (Airborne), configures the new LED light kit to use during an interview using the new Tactical Digital Media camera equipment as part of a 20 person team from within the visual information community; Public Affairs, Combat Camera and Visual Information Soldiers from Psychological Operations. They teamed up to test, field and evaluate a new project named Tactical Digital Media at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland Oct. 2-13, 2017. | U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Micah VanDyke, 2 IBCT, 4 ID

A team of hand-selected Soldiers from the Army’s visual information community teamed up to test and evaluate a new project named Tactical Digital Media at APG Oct. 2-13.

This team tested camera and audio equipment items to validate the best components that will be part of standardized camera kits scheduled to start heading to Army units January 2018.

Spc. Christopher Bellanfant II, combat cameraman, 55th Signal Company (Combat Camera), shot long exposure photos of a full moon in Have de Grace, Maryland in order to test the capabilities of the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV camera as part of a 20 person team from within the visual information community; Public Affairs, Combat Camera and Visual Information Soldiers from Psychological Operations. They teamed up to test, field and evaluate a new project named Tactical Digital Media at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland, Oct. 2-13, 2017. | U.S. Army photo by Spc. Christopher Bellanfant II, 55th Signal Company (Combat Camera)

The testing was a team comprised of 20 active and reserve Soldiers from Public Affairs, Combat Camera and Psychological Operations units: one from 2nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 4th Inf. Division, Fort Carson, Colorado; two from 3rd Psychological Operations battalion, Fort Bragg, North Carolina; three from 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne), Fort Campbell, Kentucky; three from 55th Signal Company (Combat Camera), Ft. George G. Meade, Maryland; two from 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne), Fort Carson; three from 14th Public Affairs Detachment, Fort Carson and five from 982nd Combat Camera Co. (Airborne), U.S. Army Reserve unit based in East Point, Georgia.

They practiced with the camera gear on base, nearby wildlife areas, the National Mall, Washington D.C., NYC and other major cities.

The primary test involved Soldiers teaming up to create tutorial videos, assisting with a brand-new Army Technical Manual development and providing usability feedback on every component within each kit variation.

“These kits ease the logistical burdens that have plagued the Army’s visual information field for years,” said Kyle Perkins, the product lead for Tactical Digital media (TDM), Project Manager Mission Command.

Previously, Army VI troops didn’t have a one-stop shop for new camera gear; also, centralized funding chargeable to the Army wasn’t available. This forced Soldiers to assume the burden of finding products to buy, price compare, justify to leadership and finally compete with other departments for a limited pot of money within their unit. As a result of this, VI Soldiers would end up working with outdated and broken gear with little to no way to replace or update it, except through a tedious and long process.

“Tactical Digital Media is meant to equip, with a standard issue kit, visual information equipment for combat photographers, public affairs, and special forces PSYOP and public affairs Soldiers,” explained Perkins.

There are two different kits that will be available, the Tactical Media Acquisition Kit and the Digital Video Acquisition Kit. The TMAK was for still photography and the DVAK is tailored to video operations. Both sets boast of a full-frame digital single-lens reflex camera, and a laptop with 4K resolution, latest photo and video editing software and the ability to connect to tactical networks. In addition, the DVAK includes a Canon C100 cinema camera that has the capability to utilize multiple still-frame camera lenses.

This will allow Soldiers to use high-end camera gear, at each assignment, that they are already trained on compared to constantly relearning a variety of old or new equipment dependent upon what the unit has available.

Before the final kit could be pieced together, an initial group of VI Soldiers came together to assist with the process of deciding what major items would be in the final version.

“The first assessment completed in December 2016 was a product prove out. We took different cameras from major companies to do photo and video testing comparisons for a week. We decided on a Canon EOS Mk IV and a GoPro Hero 5,” said Sgt. 1st Class Katrina Craig, Materiel Developer NCO, Army Public Affairs Center, Ft. George G. Meade.

She pointed out, that they wanted to achieve an organic sample of the career field showing a range of experience, skill and imagery expertise area. “What I found during these assessments is that everybody spoke with one voice, even the Soldiers that prefer other brands, on choosing the Mk IV.”

The final version of the kits was decided by a collaboration of Public Affairs, Combat Camera and MISO Soldiers working with APAC.

“I’m super excited to be here and a part of this TDM testing,” said Spc. Sharell Madden, a combat cameraman assigned to the 982nd. “I am extremely pleased with all the equipment that came in it; for me it’s been a great opportunity.”

Final TDM testing at Aberdeen includes using the Transportable Tactical Command Communications (T2C2) which provides satellite capability to small detachments and teams operating in remote locations without network infrastructure.

VI Soldiers used the T2C2 to upload and download media products over the Army’s tactical network.

As the testing concludes, the VI Soldiers will field the kits at their home station.

A few kits will be tested further at the Joint Readiness Training Center, Fort Polk, Louisiana and the National Training Center, Fort Irwin, California.

VI Soldiers, now armed to capture imagery with the latest full-frame Canon DSLR camera and a GoPro Hero 5 action camera, plus dozens of accessories will put the equipment to the test in uncontrolled garrison and tactical locations.

“I’m looking forward to testing it out in a combat simulated environment. I feel like now, we have top tier equipment that we can use to enhance our coverage capabilities,” said Madden.

The true test of the kit, according to Craig, will be when visual information Soldiers like Madden deploy to Combat Training Centers and theaters of operation such as Afghanistan, Africa and Iraq.

By Staff Sgt. Micah VanDyke, 2nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division