As It Happens

U.S. combat photographer captures stunning last image of the blast that killed her

The U.S. army has released two photographs of a deadly 2013 Afghanistan explosion —both taken by soldiers who died in the blast.
This is the last moment captured by U.S. army combat photographer Hilda I. Clayton after a mortar tube accidentally exploded, killing her and four Afghan soldiers during a training exercise on July 2, 2013. (Hilda Clayton/U.S. Army via Reuters)
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U.S. Army Specialist Hilda I. Clayton performed her duty with her last breath.

The 22-year-old combat photographer was documenting a live-fire training exercise on July 2, 2013, in Laghman province, east of Kabul, Afghanistan, when a mortar tube exploded, killing her and four Afghan army soldiers.

In her final moments, she kept snapping pictures. Now, she is being honoured by the U.S. army magazine Military Review, which has published her last photograph showing the moments before her death.

Clayton was a 'remarkable soldier,' her supervisor, Maj. Steven Miller, told As It Happens. (U.S. Army via Reuters)

"She was a remarkable soldier, one who always wanted to do great things and managed to do that," Maj. Steven Miller, Clayton's supervisor at the time of her death, told As It Happens host Carol Off.

The magazine has also published an image of the blast taken by one of the Afghan soldiers who died. That photographer's name has not been released by the Afghan army.

The picture was taken at the moment of detonation by one of the Afghan soldiers, whose name has not been released. The 2013 photo was released for the May-June issue of the U.S. army magazine Military Review. (U.S. Army via Reuters)

Miller, who works for Military Review, said the editorial review team had a long discussion about the ethics of publishing the images, but ultimately decided it was an appropriate way to honour Clayton in the magazine's edition on gender integration and women in combat.

"There's no shortage of images of things exploding or blowing up. This one is different than those because there's a deeper story to it," Miller said.

"The Military Review frequently publishes articles about gender integration and the role of women in combat. Since this photo was taken it is important to note that … the U.S. army has women who have completed ranger school, and women serving in infantry, armour and artillery units, combat armed units, as officers and enlisted soldiers. So Specialist Clayton is just part of the history of women serving very dangerous roles."

The publication of the photograph, and the entire magazine spread, was approved by Clayton's family, Miller said, adding that he believes Clayton would have approved.

"I think that she would appreciate it and would be pleased that she was able to demonstrate a remarkable moment in time, and more than that, a remarkable moment in history."

With files from Reuters

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