Wounded Not Worthless
My name is Paula Sato. In 1998 I enlisted into the US Naval Reserves. A stay at home mom with 3 young children I became a “Weekend Warrior.” During that year there were no “real” military conflicts. I enjoyed the experience and was very proud to have an opportunity to serve this GREAT Nation. The longest I was gone from my family was 2 weeks out of the year for annual training. I had a blast! When I was brand new to the unit back in 1998, I was sent off to start my training as a “combat Photographer.” I didn’t even know how to turn on a camera. The program that I enlisted into no longer exists. It was called the AIA program I think it stood for something like Accelerated, integration, accession. I called it the “On the job training program.” I knew nothing about the military or photography when I joined. I scored high enough on the ASVAB test to get to pick what job I wanted in the navy. So I picked photographer. It sounded pretty cool and I had done some modeling when I was younger so I thought I would make a good photographer. I had been in front of a camera and thought it would be helpful for the people I took pictures of. As it happened the only open position for photography was as a combat photographer. Back then there were only two divisions in the naval photography community, a regular PH photographer and a “combat” photographer. I had just seen GI Jane in the movie theater and thought it would be fun! How naive I was. My unit had to teach me everything including how to wear the uniform. There were a few of the crusty sailors that wanted nothing to do with me, but I soon won them over. I was like a duck to water. I loved everything they taught me. Within my first 6 months of being with them, now mind you that is only 6 weekends, I was sent off to an annual training event for the active side called “Kernel Blitz.” I was so excited but still didn’t know how to operate a camera. I thought I was just going along to assist. The event was held at Camp Pendleton and was a joint operation training. I was assigned to a female Chief. I don’t think that she understood the program that I had entered under! She put a camera in my hands set it up and said “Get in, get the shot and get out!” So I did. I LOVED it! There were explosions everywhere. Air and amphibious assaults. Good guys, bad guys it was organized chaos and I thrived! I got yelled at by officers but just said that I was following orders. That seemed to work and I survived my first real day at “work.” When I got back to the unit office the chief pulled me aside and told me that I did really well. I was glowing. When they got my photos back they could not believe that I had gotten those type of shots! From that point on I was accepted as one of them. When that training was over, I was upset. I wanted more. Only one weekend a month and 2 weeks a year just wasn’t going to cut it, I wanted more! When I got home I enrolled in a photography class at the local college. I wanted to excel on my weekends and impress my shipmates with my appreciation of them and their time. I was ready and willing to do whatever was asked of me. I had been trained with the best and had been exposed to many types of situations; air and amphibious assaults, invasions, extractions and survival. On the Marine Corps range I ranked as an expert shooter. My unit trained a lot with the Marines. I love my part time life in the military. I volunteered for everything I could and became a valuable asset to the combat photography team. I had done very well and was noticed by many of the “Upper echelon”. PH3 Paula Sato was requested for many events both reservists’ and active duty. As time went on so did the training. Because I was a stay at home mom with a husband that had a very flexible schedule I was able to get extra training. Whenever our active duty ‘brothers’ needed help on different events, I volunteered. I got to “travel the world” and participate in events I never thought possible. I have been on helicopters, airplanes, various ships, LCAC’s (the best ride in the Navy), tanks and Humvees to name a few. I went to Hawaii many times, most of the states, the Cayman Islands and Curacao. I was the first Military Photographer allowed on the top of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. I was published in many of the military magazines. I worked hard and it was noticed. I received many letters of commendations’ and accomplishments from high ranking officers. As most of you know, 9-11 was the beginning of a new era. WE WERE AT WAR! When I was asked to go to Kuwait, I didn’t hesitate. I said “Absolutely, when do we leave?” I left for Kuwait in April of 2005. My orders were only for 30 days. I was to “Get in, get the shot and get out!” Those were words I was no stranger to! Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) was in full swing and had actually just turned into Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF). My orders were to deploy with a unit and cover the transition of the overall mission with the “home coming” unit in Kuwait. While I was in Kuwait I was to document the recovery and restoration of Kuwait. I was to tour the country and photograph the horrors and atrocities from the first Gulf War, Desert Storm. The sights that I saw and the stories I heard were as if Desert Storm had just taken place. I could still smell and see the death and destruction that had occurred in 1990. The memories have haunted me for years. I now feel that I am finally able to tell the story for the ghosts that were there beside me when I took these photos. I have created an artistic method to transform these photos into visions of Peace and Truth. I call this Fluidography and have found great spiritual relief by working through these memories. A special thank you to my Art teacher John Scahill (USMC) who strongly encouraged me to open these photos up and explore.