Photographers Give Back to Military Families
“When my husband, Craig, left for the Middle East with the Air Force, I was heartbroken that no one was there to take farewell photos of our family,” Tonee Lawrence said. This begs the question: Where is the good in goodbye when a husband, wife or child is being deployed?
Lawrence, a military wife and photographer, channeled her pain into something positive — launching the nonprofit organization Operation: Love Reunited (OpLove), based in Acworth. The nonprofit works to ease the sorrow of separation through cherished photographs of loved ones.
OpLove photographers want to give back to those who want nothing more than to come home. The mission is simple: to make sure military families capture all the good they can in professional photographs to take with them as they leave for deployment. They also snap priceless images of long-awaited homecomings. There is no cost for the sessions or prints.
Since 2006, OpLove has served those who serve. The organization represents a national network of professional photographers. These photographers are on assignment wherever needed: at airports, parks, or even in labor and delivery rooms.
“I will never forget photographing a birth that was being streamed overseas to a father in the field,” Lawrence said.
Beautiful keepsake albums are made and shipped to the soldiers overseas.
“It is the little stuff,” Army Capt. Joshua Solove said. “We have what we need out in the field, but it sure does get lonely. OpLove gives you something you can’t duplicate. They capture priceless memories of home for us that bring us comfort. I had a two and a half-year-old son and a seven-day-old newborn when I left in June of 2009. I didn’t get to come back home until June of 2010. The thumbnails and CDs that hold the photos from our sessions will be the first thing to go in a bug out back, if an emergency were ever to strike.”
Unfortunately, the reality of war means some soldiers don’t come home.
“One of our most memorable shoots was in Fort Bliss, Texas, in April, 2009,” Lawrence said. “Over 500 soldiers were deployed with an Army brigade. There were 14 of us photographers covering the event. Over 8,000 prints were made and sent overseas. Tragically, one of the clients from this event, Sgt. Joshua Soto, was killed in an IED blast a few months later. Sgt. Soto left behind his beautiful wife, Thelma, and his 8-month old son, Jayden. I delivered a beautiful canvas of the family portrait to Thelma for the funeral services. As a result, OpLove now has a memorial fund in his honor to cover the costs of professional display prints, canvases and photos for funeral services of those killed in action.”
All OpLove donations help with printing images, and funding scholarships, the Sgt. Soto memorial and overall operations. OpLove, supporting photographers and sponsors have given back more than $2 million in services, print products and shipping costs, while helping thousands of military families stay positive through their loved ones’ deployments.
For more information, or to celebrate Veterans Day by donating to OpLove, visit www.oplove.org.
– Susan Schulz is a wife, mom, writer and mentor who lives and plays along the Etowah River in Canton.