Photojournalist Dean A. Hoffmeyer of the Richmond Times-Dispatch and reporter Jeremy Redmon survived an explosion in a military chow-hall tent at Forward Operating Base Marez, in the northern Iraq city of Mosul, on Tuesday, December 21st. The Pentagon said the blast killed 22 people, including 13 U.S. troops, five civilian contractors and four Iraqis. As many as 70 others were wounded. Initial reports said the explosion was the result of a rocket attack, but military officials now believe the blast was caused by a suicide bomber wearing an Iraiqi military uniform who infiltrated the mess hall.
The two Times-Dispatch journalists are accompanying the Richmond-based 276th Engineer Battalion of the Virginia National Guard and they had been embedded with the unit for only a few days when the attack came. Six soldiers from the 276th were among the blast’s casualties; two were killed and four are being treated for injuries.
Reports in the Times-Dispatch said Hoffmeyer and Redmon, who were not inured, were just sitting down for dinner with the troops when the blast occurred. Hoffmeyer’s photographs show the immediate aftermath of the bomb, scenes of troops carrying wounded soldiers off the floor, and soldiers using tabletops as stretchers to evacuate the seriously injured. Sunlight streams through the smoky scene from large holes ripped in the tent’s roof by the force of the explosion. His pictures also show about a dozen soldiers in the background working with the wounded and the breadth of the destruction caused by the bomb.
Hoffmeyer’s exclusive photographs, distributed by the Associated Press, carried the front pages of nearly every American newspaper on the day after the attack, as well as illustrating many news reports across the Internet.
In addition to their exclusive news value, many military families were anxious to see Hoffmeyer's photographs. A story in the Rapid City Journal tells how a South Dakota family learned their soldier son, Wayne Shepardson, was alive and uninjured following the attack when they saw Hoffmeyer’s images online. In the pictures they could see that Shepardson was assisting his wounded comrades.
Trisha Ralston in Hinesville, GA, also saw Hoffmeyer’s photographs online and recognized her fiancé as one of the soldiers in the bomb-damaged tent. She wrote an eMail to the editor ofNews Photographermagazine: "I’m writing regarding the photographs that photojournalist Dean A. Hoffmeyer of theRichmond Times-Dispatchreleased after the blast in Mosul. I saw the photograph of two soldiers helping a wounded solider. My fiancé is the solider on the right. I saw this picture and knew that he was okay. I had not heard from him, and this was my reassurance after seeing the picture."
Ralston, who is a third-grade teacher at Button Gwinnett Elementary School, wrote, "This is my fiancé’s second tour in Iraq. Since he’s been over there he also was hit with a car bomb and suffered minor injuries. First he was there with the 3ID 3/7 Infantry from Ft. Stewart, GA, and now he’s with the BCO 1/5 Infantry out of Ft. Lewis, WA. As you can imagine, this is a challenging time knowing that the person you love is over there serving his country and risking his life everyday."
"Because I am a teacher, and we knew he was going to be deployed back (to Iraq), I didn’t want to start all over and to be alone in a new place. So before he left, he was at Ft. Lewis and I was still in Georgia (at Ft. Stewart). We were not able to get married. This is just another set-back that added to our lists of disappointments. So we will have to wait until he gets mid-tour leave or comes back after his tour. It’s so hard having our two-year-old son who carries a picture of his Daddy and I around. He points to the picture saying, 'Mommy' and 'Daddy,' but his Daddy is gone. I saw the picture (by Hoffmeyer) but I couldn’t show him this one. This is something a 2-year-old would not understand."
Ralston ended her note, "I want to tell Mr. Hoffmeyer thank you for reassuring me and the rest of his family that my fiancé was okay. His name is Sgt. Wendel Jack."
Hoffmeyer has been a staff photojournalist at the Times-Dispatch since 1996, the same year he joined NPPA. Redmon, who normally covers the City Hall government beat for the newspaper, has been with theTimes-Dispatchfor five years. Previously he worked forThe Washington TimesandThe Journalnewspapers in the Washington, DC, area. Hoffmeyer’s photographs and Redmon’s stories, along with audio and video reports, are online here.
Photograph courtesy of the Richmond Times-Dispatch.