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Ceremony On Coronado Marks End Of Navy's Combat Camera

Ted Banks, a Navy retiree who handles equipment for Combat Camera in San Diego, opens the row of cabinets housing Navy Combat Camera's store of cameras, Feb. 20, 2018.
Steve Walsh
Ted Banks, a Navy retiree who handles equipment for Combat Camera in San Diego, opens the row of cabinets housing Navy Combat Camera's store of cameras, Feb. 20, 2018.

The Navy will no longer have Combat Camera.

With their motto “We will shoot you,” Pacific Fleet Combat Camera had its roots in World War II. The unit covered combat mission through the War on Terror. Its cameramen and videographers dived with Navy divers, flew with surveillance planes and embedded with Navy Seals and special forces.

Friday at Naval Base North Island there was a disestablishment ceremony, marking the end of the Navy's last Combat Camera unit. The Navy had held a similar ceremony on the East Coast, three hours earlier, to mark the end its other unit, Expeditionary Combat Camera.

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The units were victims of a recent reorganization after the Navy decided to cut both of its remaining Combat Camera units. The Navy’s Vice Chief of Information said the reason was part cost, part changes in technology and partly a basic rethinking of the Navy's priorities involving high-quality combat documentation.

“The Combat Camera folks are just exquisitely talented. Exquisitely trained," Rear Adm. Robert Durand, vice chief of Navy Information. "If I had my way I’d have 10 times more of them, but when you face hard decisions, you have to figure out how to do more with fewer people.”

The Navy still has not determined how it will complete some of the high-intensity missions carried about by its combat photographers. The last commander of combat camera, Doug Houser, fought to keep the unit. Friday that fight was over.

“These people put their lives in a lot of danger on a regular basis to get that imagery," said Cmdr. Doug Houser, Pacific Fleet Combat Camera. "To show the American public and to document. And they do it well. They do it better than anybody. And that’s what we’re giving up, quite frankly.”

Pacific Fleet Combat Camera was formally created in 1951, during the Korean War. After 9/11 the mission changed and they were trained to operate closely with special forces, likeNavy SEALs in Afghanistan and Iraq.

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Rick Naystatt is now retired from the Navy. He took over Combat Camera right around 9/11.

“You have to be trained to that level in order to be accepted as one of the (combat units) and not be a burden to them when you deploy in the field," he said. "They’ve got a job to do. They don’t need to be babysitting a package like a photographer.”

In 2007, a combat cameraman was killed in Iraq. The other services have kept some form of Combat Camera. By this year the budget for Navy combat camera had shrunk to $2.5 million. Naystatt and some of the other veterans of the unit said they held out hope that at some point the Navy would realize the value of Combat Camera and bring back their unit back.

Ceremony On Coronado Marks End Of Navy's Combat Camera