South Charlotte

Afghanistan, in war and pictures

Army Sgt. Jessica Dahlberg, 21, of Southeast Charlotte is serving in Bagram, Afghanistan. But, unlike many soldiers, she does her duty behind the lens of a camera, serving as a photojournalist.

As a member of the N.C. National Guard since age 17, Dahlberg was deployed to Afghanistan in April. She accompanies military units to photograph and write about what they do. She also takes pictures of the Afghan people.

“The children are what make Afghanistan so great,” Dahlberg says.

Waiting back in Charlotte are her proud (and worried) parents, Rose and George Dahlberg, sisters Michelle, 17, and Nicole, 14, and brother William, 10.

“I am real proud of her because she has learned so much,” Rose Dahlberg says. “She sees a world that's bigger than herself. She even purchases things with her own money to give to the children there. She's showing the Afghan people that Americans care.”

The Observer interviewed Dahlberg via e-mail. Her comments have been edited for brevity and clarity. Esther Robards-Forbes

Q. What is a typical day like?

Being a photojournalist, I don't really have a typical day. My weeks consist of going out on missions with different units, and trying to get the photos and stories that I went out there to get. If I am not on a mission, I am calling and e-mailing people to get information on what they have going on that week.

Q. What are your favorite subjects?

I love to photograph the children in Afghanistan. They are happy and caring, and are just like any other kids anywhere else.

Q. What are some of the challenges?

Some are cultural. A lot of the times I cannot photograph the Afghanistan women. They will cover their faces; or, if a male who is in their family is present, I have to ask his permission.

Also, being (in) public affairs, you have to gain the other unit's respect, and that is hard to do in the small amount of time that you are with them.

Q. How do you feel when you are behind your lens, taking pictures?

When I am behind the lens of the camera, I feel great. The Afghanistan people are a great group of people, and I like showing that through my pictures.

Q. What has been your happiest moment in your current mission?

When my first story with photos got put on the Combined Joint Task Force website, www.cjtf82.com. I thought it was the coolest thing to see my name and photos I had taken online for the world to see. I was so excited. I e-mailed my whole family and told them to go look at it.

Q. Describe your scariest moment.

Driving up this mountain in an MRAP (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle). I was sitting in the back looking out the window as we crawled up the hill. I couldn't see the road to (the) left of us, and when I looked down, all I could see was a straight drop. MRAPs were not made for driving up steep mountains.

Q. Have you received any awards?

I received an Army Achievement Medal before the deployment, for my work during an annual training. At that time, I had not gone to the military school for photojournalism. However, when we were at Fort Polk, I was doing the photojournalism job. The award was for my efforts.

Q. Do you work in a team?

Photojournalists usually go out by themselves. I came over to Afghanistan with my unit, that is eight people, but we go out on missions by ourselves.

Q. What do you miss most about Charlotte?

My family. I love them so much, and being here without them has been hard. I also miss being able to drive up to Concord Mills to go to Books-A-Million whenever I get bored.

Q. When are you scheduled to return home? When you do return, do you know when you will be deployed overseas again?

I come home in late January. As far as I know, I have no scheduled deployments coming up when I get home ... but you never know!

Army Sgt. Jessica Dahlberg, 21, of Southeast Charlotte is serving in Bagram, Afghanistan. But, unlike many soldiers, she does her duty behind the lens of a camera, serving as a photojournalist.

As a member of the N.C. National Guard since age 17, Dahlberg was deployed to Afghanistan in April. She accompanies military units to photograph and write about what they do. She also takes pictures of the Afghan people.

“The children are what make Afghanistan so great,” Dahlberg says.

Waiting back in Charlotte are her proud (and worried) parents, Rose and George Dahlberg, sisters Michelle, 17, and Nicole, 14, and brother William, 10.

“I am real proud of her because she has learned so much,” Rose Dahlberg says. “She sees a world that's bigger than herself. She even purchases things with her own money to give to the children there. She's showing the Afghan people that Americans care.”

The Observer interviewed Dahlberg via e-mail. Her comments have been edited for brevity and clarity. Esther Robards-Forbes

Q. What is a typical day like?

Being a photojournalist, I don't really have a typical day. My weeks consist of going out on missions with different units, and trying to get the photos and stories that I went out there to get. If I am not on a mission, I am calling and e-mailing people to get information on what they have going on that week.

Q. What are your favorite subjects?

I love to photograph the children in Afghanistan. They are happy and caring, and are just like any other kids anywhere else.

Q. What are some of the challenges?

Some are cultural. A lot of the times I cannot photograph the Afghanistan women. They will cover their faces; or, if a male who is in their family is present, I have to ask his permission.

Also, being (in) public affairs, you have to gain the other unit's respect, and that is hard to do in the small amount of time that you are with them.

Q. How do you feel when you are behind your lens, taking pictures?

When I am behind the lens of the camera, I feel great. The Afghanistan people are a great group of people, and I like showing that through my pictures.

Q. What has been your happiest moment in your current mission?

When my first story with photos got put on the Combined Joint Task Force website, www.cjtf82.com. I thought it was the coolest thing to see my name and photos I had taken online for the world to see. I was so excited. I e-mailed my whole family and told them to go look at it.

Q. Describe your scariest moment.

Driving up this mountain in an MRAP (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle). I was sitting in the back looking out the window as we crawled up the hill. I couldn't see the road to (the) left of us, and when I looked down, all I could see was a straight drop. MRAPs were not made for driving up steep mountains.

Q. Have you received any awards?

I received an Army Achievement Medal before the deployment, for my work during an annual training. At that time, I had not gone to the military school for photojournalism. However, when we were at Fort Polk, I was doing the photojournalism job. The award was for my efforts.

Q. Do you work in a team?

Photojournalists usually go out by themselves. I came over to Afghanistan with my unit, that is eight people, but we go out on missions by ourselves.

Q. What do you miss most about Charlotte?

My family. I love them so much, and being here without them has been hard. I also miss being able to drive up to Concord Mills to go to Books-A-Million whenever I get bored.

Q. When are you scheduled to return home? When you do return, do you know when you will be deployed overseas again?

I come home in late January. As far as I know, I have no scheduled deployments coming up when I get home ... but you never know!

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