Army photographer captures her own death in mortar explosion

U.S Army combat camera photographer Spc. Hilda Clayton took this photo July 2, 2013 that was released by the U.S. Army, that shows an Afghan soldier engulfed in flame as a mortar tube explodes during an Afghan National Army live-fire training exercise in Laghman Province, Afghanistan. The accident killed Clayton and four Afghan National Army soldiers. (Spc. Hilda Clayton/U.S. Army via AP)

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — The U.S. Army has published the final photo of a combat photographer who captured on camera the blast that killed her in an accidental mortar explosion in Afghanistan nearly four years ago. The Army’s professional journal says the image illustrates how women are increasingly exposed to dangerous situations in the military.

The photograph of Spc. Hilda Clayton was published Monday in Military Review.

“Clayton’s death symbolizes how female soldiers are increasingly exposed to hazardous situations in training and in combat on par with their male counterparts,” Military Review wrote.

Spc. Hilda Clayton (Army photo)
Spc. Hilda Clayton (Army photo)

Clayton snapped the picture during a live-fire training exercise on July 2, 2013 in the Laghman Province, Afghanistan. The blast also killed four Afghan National Army soldiers. One of them was a photojournalist Clayton had partnered with to train.

Military Review noted that the explosion happened during a critical moment in the war, when it was important for U.S. and Afghan forces to work in partnership to stabilize the country.

“Not only did Clayton help document activities aimed at shaping and strengthening the partnership but she also shared in the risk by participating in the effort,” the journal added.

Clayton, who was from Augusta, Georgia, was a member of the Fort Meade, Maryland-based 55th Signal Company, which is known as Combat Camera. She was 22.

Gordon Van Vleet, a spokesman for the Network Enterprise Command, which is the higher headquarters for the 55th Combat Camera Company she served under, said Clayton’s final photo was published with her family’s permission. Van Vleet said the family is declining to comment.

Combat Camera honored Clayton by naming an annual award for the best combat photography after her, Military Review wrote. Combat Camera soldiers are trained to take photos and video in any environment and accompany soldiers to document combat operations.

A mortar tube accidentally explodes 2 July 2013 during an Afghan National Army (ANA) live-fire training exercise in Laghman Province, Afghanistan. The accident killed U.S. Army Spc. Hilda I. Clayton and four ANA soldiers. (This photo taken by one of the Afghan soldiers at the moment of the explosion.)
A mortar tube accidentally explodes 2 July 2013 during an Afghan National Army (ANA) live-fire training exercise in Laghman Province, Afghanistan. The accident killed U.S. Army Spc. Hilda I. Clayton and four ANA soldiers. (This photo taken by one of the Afghan soldiers at the moment of the explosion.)