© Philip Cheung
Today's post is work that falls into the "... or about the greater Middle East" part of the GMEP tag-line. While all the work we've featured until now is about the region, very little of it was created by someone who doesn't live here or have family roots here. That wasn't so much by design as it was a result of our top priority being to promote photographers of the region. The collateral damage of that has been our ability to paint a more layered image of the region - afterall, a lot is being said (shown) by photographers working in the region who aren't necessarily from the region. Adding context to the work and the photographers is important, and the context will be more complete by not omitting content concerning the region based on genealogy.

The recent work of Philip Cheung, who is based in Beirut, is a smart, unique approach to photographing the U.S. army in Afghanistan – and it adds greater context to the work being shown on GMEP. One work informs another.

With army embeds being as common as G10's for photographers, the war in Afghanistan has been shot to death and there is very little that is new or different coming out of the country. Having spent time beyond the wire in Khandahar, and Helmand province during embed vacations (Cheung was actually on holiday both times he made the trip), it was in the relative safety and calm (I stress the word relative) of Kandahar Airfield that Cheung shot his most memorable work.

The series, called Soldiers' Angels – which is what the other soldiers call the Mortuary Affairs Specialists – is an intimate look at the people who are charged with sending their deceased (over 1000 of them) fellow soldiers home to waiting family and loved ones.

Cheung's statement explains:

Those who serve and die on the battlefield in Southern Afghanistan are tended to by a small group of dedicated soldiers who have been trained to provide dignity and respect to their fallen comrades.

Their responsibilities include the retrieval, identification, preparation, preservation and transportation of the dead back to the United States. In other words, they are the ones tasked with the entire post-death process; from cleaning corpses and remains to documenting personal belongings- down to the serial number of a crumpled dollar bill - and meticulously wrapping transfer cases with the American flag before sending them back home to their loved ones.

These specialized soldiers take great pride in what they do. But their daily routine is a constant reminder of the tragedy of war and dying young. The feeling of family that takes hold in the Army makes it that much more solemn an experience. To them, those who die in combat are brothers. And so, theirs is a daunting task executed with a deep sense of honor.

This is a profile of a close-knit unit of those men who live and work in a secluded area of Kandahar Airfield in Southern Afghanistan.
Officially, they are known as The Mortuary Affairs Specialists. But to many of their fellow servicemen, they are Soldiers’ Angels.

© Philip Cheung
© Philip Cheung

1 comment:

  1. incredible work about incredible people by an incredible photographer and man.