RICHMOND, Va. –
Maj. Gen. John Rafferty, the Army Chief of Public Affairs, announced the Virginia National Guard’s Staff Sgt. Jeff Clements as the Military Photographer of the Year during the 2022 Department of the Army Maj. Gen. Keith L. Ware award announcements April 14, 2023. Clements beat out other photographers from active duty and reserve components for the award.
Previously, the National Guard Bureau announced Clements as their Military Photographer of the Year during the 2022 Maj. Gen. Keith L. Ware National Guard Media Contest award announcements March 27, 2023. As the National Guard and Army Military Photographer of the Year, Clements will now represent the Army at the Department of Defense-level media competition.
Clements, currently assigned as a public affairs noncommissioned officer for Fort Barfoot, spent most of 2022 as the public affairs NCO for the Lynchburg-based 1st Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, known as Task Force Red Dragon, mobilized as a security force for Combined Joint Task Force - Horn of Africa. The task force, made up of Virginia and Kentucky Army National Guard Soldiers, departed for Africa in November 2021, and returned to Virginia in late 2022.
Maj. Gen. Timothy P. Williams, the Adjutant General of Virginia, recognized Clements’ accomplishment and presented him with a special challenge coin April 5, 2023, in Blackstone, Virginia.
“We wanted to recognize what you’ve done,” said Williams during the coin presentation. “What else do you say other than, great job! Well done.”
Clements, a former infantry Soldier, captured thousands of images during the task force’s deployment, covering everything from routine operations to multi-national training exercises, helping to tell the story of the unit’s mission.
“The level of talent that the Guard has in its public affairs community is pretty amazing,” said Clements. “I personally know and have had the privilege to work with many extremely gifted public affairs specialists from across the country. For me, this is a huge honor and I am very proud that my work was selected from among so many extraordinary photographers."
Shooting in the Horn of Africa provided plenty of challenges, but one thing stands out in Clements’ mind above the others.
“The heat!” Said Clements. “It gets pretty hot in Virginia, but Africa, especially Djibouti, is a whole different level. The terrain that you have to move over is extremely difficult, very rocky in some regions and heavy, dense vegetation in others, like Kenya. It made it difficult for Soldiers to maneuver, but they did. I just tried to keep up."
Clements definitely kept up, staying side-by-side with the task force’s Soldiers every step of the way, enduring tough tasks and harsh conditions to get the job done.
“Looking back on it, my favorite shoot was probably the hardest. Red Dragon participated in Operation WAKRI, the largest annual French-led training exercise in Djibouti,” said Clements. “It was a lot of riding in trucks over extremely harsh terrain, climbing mountains and chasing the ‘enemy’. I really got to bond with the Kentucky National Guard platoon that I was assigned to. As hard and challenging as it was, I'm glad I was able to be part of it."
Clements’ Task Force Red Dragon leadership took note of his hard work as well.
"Staff Sgt. Clements has a keen sense of knowing how to capture the intensity of the task force's operations, but also the human side of our Soldiers," said Col. James Tierney, who commanded Task Force Red Dragon. "He quickly earned the Soldiers trust by embedding for the entirety of a training event or operation rather than just jumping in to catch a few photos and the be gone. He's an outstanding NCO who had a tremendous impact."
“Staff Sgt. Clements provided outstanding support to the Task Force throughout our deployment to the Horn of Africa,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Duane D. Wolfe, the command sergeant major for Task Force Red Dragon, now the command sergeant major for the Staunton-based 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team. “He truly loves to tell the Soldiers' story and his energy and enthusiasm for his work enabled the Task Force to better tell our story and showcase the outstanding work of the Red Dragon team in the Horn of Africa.”
Clements has been shooting as a hobby and professionally for quite some time. He cites looking at history books in his youth as the thing that sparked his interest in photography, which grew as he received his first camera.
“I was gifted a used Canon AE1 film SLR when I was about 18 or 19, took a photography class, and was hooked,” explained Clements. “I really liked working in the dark room. Yeah, it was a long time ago, before digital cameras."
Clements originally enlisted in the Virginia National Guard as an infantryman in February 2010. After eight years, Clements decided a change of pace was needed, and he turned to his love of photography and the Guard to help guide his next move.
“I went to the Defense Information School to re-classify to public affairs in June of 2018,” said Clements. “I knew that if I was going to stay in the military I needed to do something else, job-wise. Public affairs gives you the ability to touch every part of the Guard, from artillery to aviation, cyber to infantry. I get to interact with Soldiers and help tell their story. It is an extremely rewarding career field."
In addition to his newspaper and Guard duties, Clements also performs as a musician, and he’s worked photography into that part of his life as well.
“I worked as a concert photographer from 2012-2014 photographing country and rock hall of famers Willie Nelson and ZZ Top, among numerous other artists,” said Clements. “As a musician myself, I love to photograph concerts. Working as a concert photographer helped me learn to work at a face pace, under time restraints and with challenging lighting situations and moving subjects. I'm one of the staff photographers for MerleFest, a large North Carolina music festival, and I love being able to interact with the artists and be part of such an amazing celebration of music."
Virginia National Guard Soldiers assigned to Task Force Red Dragon returned to Virginia in late September 2022 after serving on federal active duty since November 2021. More than 1,000 Virginia and Kentucky National Guard troops under the command of the Lynchburg-based 1st Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team conducted security operations throughout the Horn of Africa and provided the East Africa Response Force in support of the U.S. government for crisis response throughout East Africa. Read more about Task Force Red Dragon at https://ngpa.us/24644.
See Staff Sgt. Clements’ Task Force Red Dragon photo highlights on Flickr at https://ngpa.us/24642.