After Combat, a Photographer and a Marine Find Common Ground

By Finbarr O’Reilly—The New York Times—August 22, 2017—

My camera shutter whirred as a rocket-propelled grenade wobbled toward Sgt. Thomas James Brennan, leader of Third Platoon, Fourth Squad, Alpha Company, First Battalion, Eighth Marines. Then came the explosion, followed by a ringing silence. Gunfire and shouting soon resumed, breaking a momentary spell. The noise, dust and confusion of battle made it difficult to know what had just happened.

I had woken up next to Sergeant Brennan that morning, Nov. 1, 2010, the metal rails of our camp cots only inches apart. We had slept under open sky at a tiny combat outpost deep inside Taliban territory in southern Afghanistan’s Helmand Province. I had been there about a week as an embedded photojournalist attached to his unit. He didn’t want me around at first, but I had earned a degree of trust. I went out with his squad on daily patrols (and shared a generous stash of Marlboros). Gradually a friendship grew through the shared experience of combat, military rations and late-night conversations.