U.S. Army Releases Combat Photographer’s Last Shot — of the Blast That Killed Her

The "haunting" image was captured by Spc. Hilda Clayton of an explosion that claimed her life in Afghanistan.

In May 2017, Army Times reported that the United States Army had released the last image captured by combat photographer Spc. Hilda Clayton, showing an accidental mortar tube explosion during a training exercise that killed her and several Afghan soldiers:

[O]n July 2, 2013, Afghan soldiers were conducting a live-fire training exercise in Qaraghahi in eastern Afghanistan when the accidental blast occurred, according to the Army’s Military Review Journal. Clayton, a visual information specialist attached to 4th Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, deployed to Forward Operating Base Gamberi, was capturing images as part of the Army training mission of certifying the Afghan soldiers on mortar operations.

A gallery of four photographs taken by Clayton in the final moments of her life can be viewed below (click on the following warning to access the gallery):

NBC News reports that the Army is defending its decision to release the images, saying “these photographs illustrate the dangers our military men and women face both in training and in combat.”  The Army’s Military Review journal released a statement:

Clayton’s death symbolizes how female soldiers are increasingly exposed to hazardous situations in training and in combat on par with their male counterparts. 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 decision to publish Spc. Hilda Clayton’s final photograph proved controversial, but also led to an outpouring of responses honoring her sacrifice by individuals previously unfamiliar with her story. Clayton has also been recognized by Combat Camera, calling their annual photography competition the “Specialist Hilda I. Clayton Best Combat Camera competition.”