From scaling craggy Tora Bora looking for Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan to pulling injured civilians from rubble in quake-wracked Haiti, Jeremy T. Lock has been all over the world and captured it on film.
And now the Air Force master sergeant recently captured the Military Photographer of the Year award for the seventh time — an unprecedented feat that makes him the best at what he does. But he will tell you otherwise.
“One of the beautiful things about this job is that you can never be the best,” says Sgt. Lock, 42, who first won the award in 2003. “With every story that you do, it’s a new beginning, it’s a new rush of adrenaline, so I love trying to attain that never-ending goal, that you’re never going to be best. But damn it, I’m trying.”
The senior photo editor at Airman magazine, Sgt. Lock has come a long way since he enlisted 21 years ago.His journey started when his college “politely asked” him to leave. He started working in construction, but found it wasn’t his thing.
“I was looking for something more in my life to do. Dad was prior military, so I looked at joining the military,” says Sgt. Lock, the son of a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel and a nurse practitioner.He had planned to become an X-ray technician, but that pursuit did not go as planned.
“I was a snotty-nosed kid who wanted to do four years and get out,” he says. “Get my four years and come out with a nice trade and work in the civilian workforce.”
His first military job was “imagery processor,” and he found himself in a darkroom developing, processing and printing photographs taken from satellites and spy planes.
“Here I’m stuck in a darkroom all day, and these guys are out traveling the world taking photos,” says Sgt. Lock, who calls Dayton, Ohio, home. “So I just picked up a camera and started self-teaching myself had some really great mentors along the way and just fell in love with it.”
Today, he has traveled to every continent except Antarctica. He has deployed twice to Africa, and was among the first responders when an earthquake devastated Haiti in 2010 and a tsunami hit Japan in 2011.
He has deployed twice to both Iraq and Afghanistan, including the initial invasions, as a “combat camera” — whose main job is take pictures but also fight, if necessary. He carried a rifle and a camera, ready to shoot bullets or pictures at a moment’s notice.
At a traffic control stop in Ramadi, Iraq, during his second tour of duty in 2006, a sniper shot a comrade in the back. Sgt. Lock picked up the wounded soldier’s weapon and provided security during the medical evacuation. Then, he took over as driver as his patrol counterattacked.
On a night raid during that tour, he hunkered down in a building with a Marine and some Iraqis to administer first aid to the wounded in the midst of a firefight with jihadists.
At another Ramadi traffic stop, a vehicle commander told Sgt. Lock he could get out and photograph a group of Iraqi police officers. A minute later, a car bomb blew them up. Enemy fire followed immediately, and he documented U.S. and Iraqi forces repelling the attack.
“That’s what my job is — to not only to be a storyteller but to be an asset to the team that we’re out there with,” says Sgt. Lock, who received a Bronze Star for his service during those three incidents.
“You always have to have your wits about you, and do it in a safe manner but in a true manner,” the photographer says. “You just kind of learn how to be able to look with both eyes, even while you’re behind the camera.”
A divorced father of two teenage boys, Sgt. Lock feels a deep sense of duty to tell the stories of American service members deployed overseas.
“Those guys are working over there with not a lot of ‘thank yous,’ and to be able to show what those brave men and women are doing is the satisfaction that I get,” he says. “It shows the American people that these guys are working over there so you can sit there and walk your dog around your white picket fence and raise your 2.5 kids, play Nintendo, and all that.
“It’s war. It’s not easy. It’s tough. And these guys can literally walk around the corner and be gone. And just showing that, showing what happens in a firefight, showing that these soldiers are in harm’s way to protect their freedoms is a huge responsibility and that’s my whole sole purpose.”