“I Shot 29 Bullets and 212 Images”

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Army photo / Sgt. Michael J. MacLeod

MacLeod in a self-portrait he took while helping to secure a helicopter landing zone during an air assault mission June 4 in Ghazni Province.

Battleland has been impressed by the photographic chops of Army Sergeant Mike MacLeod since his images began showing up in the Pentagon’s daily photo file several months ago. We’ve posted many of them on this site. It’s gotten to the point that when we see a good picture from Afghanistan, we know it’s “a MacLeod.” So we asked him to write about his work:

GHAZNI PROVINCE, Afghanistan – When people learn that I am an Army photojournalist, the first question they often ask is, how do I know when to shoot with my camera and when to shoot with my rifle?

It’s a good question, and not one with an intuitive answer for those who have never been shot at by machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades.

Army photo / Sgt. Michael J. MacLeod

I am what the Army calls a print journalist, a “forty-six quebec” in occupational lingo. Officially, I write articles and take pictures to educate and inform soldiers and their families so as to maximize their combat readiness for my commander.

Day-to-day, however, I serve soldiers. I strive to make them and their families proud of their skills, proud of their sacrifices, and proud to wear the uniform. All good things should flow from there.

Army photo / Sgt. Michael J. MacLeod

Here in Afghanistan’s Ghazni Province where my unit, the 82nd Airborne Division’s 1st Brigade Combat Team, is deployed, there are plenty of opportunities to do this. Our mission is to help Afghan soldiers and policemen eradicate the insurgent presence along Afghanistan’s most important and dangerous road, Highway 1, which connects the two major cities of Kandahar and Kabul.

Since March, I have covered our paratroopers and their Afghan partners conducting air assault missions, foot patrols, artillery and mortar “fire” missions, resupply missions, meetings with village elders, making reparations for damaged infrastructure, clearing roads of mines, launching surveillance drones, training Afghan forces, and directly engaging the enemy.

Army photo / Sgt. Michael A. MacLeod

In the last 50 days I’ve been in 14 firefights. I have also photographed the memorial ceremonies of eight of our fallen soldiers so that their families might see the dignity with which the Army treats its war dead and the impact of the loss on a soldier’s mates.

Being in a firefight is like swimming through the essence of chaos. It can be exhilarating and it can be terrifying. It is often both.

Army photo / Sgt. Michael J. MacLeod

A soldier doesn’t just rely on his training, he exists by it. It is often his only tool to abide the fear.

As a photographer, what do I do when incoming rounds start snapping the air? I have one golden rule: if I can see who is firing, I fire back with my M4 carbine. I serve soldiers, and foremost, they must live. If I cannot see the enemy, I use my camera.

During my last major engagement, I shot 29 bullets and 212 images.

army photo / sgt. michael j. macleod

I would like to fire more bullets because I am human and I see what the Taliban has done to this beautiful country. Buses of civilians blown apart by homemade explosives, young girls chastized with acid to the face, beheadings, political assassinations, wholesale intimidation of a society, the enslavement of an entire generation to ignorance by school closings – all have occurred here since we arrived in Ghazni.

A deployed soldier’s first lesson is that some people just need to die.

I resist, though, because combat is my best opportunity to document what our paratroopers do. You can’t kill the enemies of freedom by hiding behind a wall.

You must expose yourself to their gunfire and RPGs to first find them among the grape huts, kalat walls and orchards, then take aim, then pull the trigger.

It can take what seems like a very long time with so much metal racing past your head. It only takes one fragment to destroy the lives of the family you left in America.

This is what soldiers do. This is what they risk. Bravery is not easy to show in pictures, but that is my target when I drop my weapon and lift my camera.

KenScar 1 Like

As another U.S. Army photojournalist - I have come to the grudging conclusion that nobody can hold a candle to this guy. I've never paid much attention to other journalists in the Army - just concentrating on my own stuff - but even in my apathy I started noticing Sgt. MacLeod's name on photograph after photograph that caught my eye in military publications and websites. This man is simply on another level from the rest of us in his job field. I wish I had 1% of his talent and work ethic. He is a true asett to the U.S. military and a true artist whose work transcends the traditional confines of military photojournalism. He deserves to be recognized as one of the greats - so good on ya', TIME.

Dean Moore
Dean Moore

Sgt. Mac Leod, My dad was a photographer for 50 years, you have a gift, I can see it. I agree your pictures are amazing. I look for your pictures almost every day, as you are serving with my son, I got a few glimpses of him from your camera so far, thank you.

p.s. hang around with "D" Co a little bit more...


Our Guys over there face awful Perils Booby traps snipers, too many come home Damaged Disabled  and are then denied any $ Health benefits. Since Vietnam USA Zionist Govt. controlled Media will never show you-us whole Villages of 120 people wiped out by Artillery JDAM bombs, they are classed as 'Insurgents' a  Stupid CIA Term for someone trying to get rid of an unwelcome Western Superpower Invader. Lets be honest and say it's all to protect the Oil Pipeline in the North amp; to flog Billions of Arms ...the Guys with the boots on the ground? unfortunately they are just worthless Pawns to AIPAC Jews Media Oil Billionaires running Washington-US.

 See that Urinating on Taliban Video? look carefully Snipers Killed a Dad and his Boys, they were wearing Sandals were not Armed and had a wheelbarrow by them. I would not call that Sniper- a 'Soldier'. Show us the photos of the 30,000 Civilians amp; Families Bombed to Death Photographer!... of course he can't they are all removed-Censored!  

Alex Kratzke
Alex Kratzke

Why do you have your nods down during the day? 14 tics in 50 days? IN GHAZNI? Odd...thought that was the norm for up north in Wardak, but Ghazni?


@Alex Kratzke Alex, the photo was shot at late dusk, but the photo editor at Time did not realize this and brightened the image to look like broad daylight.

Alex Kratzke
Alex Kratzke

 A good story for the public, but most that serve/served, especially Infantrymen who served in that area can see past the bull.

Ben Watson
Ben Watson 1 Like

Mac's a prolific worker and a great asset to the 82d (not that anyone's saying otherwise). About the nods, they're probably down to present as low a silhouette as possible. Now at that time of morning, he could stow them in his pack; but we weren't there. Good on him for staying safe! (The next C.J. Chivers.)

BiggerFriday Beverly
BiggerFriday Beverly

Thank you so much for all that you do for us here in America.  And also thank you for the detailed information.  It is very hard to understand what you see every single day. It is a totally different world over there. Thank you for giving a piece of what you see.

Speki 1 Like

Wonderfuly written article. I was elated to see Sgt. Macleod get the recognition he is so deserving of ... he is a true hero in every sense of the word in my book. You see ... I am Jeanette Pickard ... the proud Grandmother of Sgt David J Pickard... who's photograph is above firing his M4 carbine by the MRAP.  I would personally like to thank Sgt. Macleod  for diligently fighting along with the troops that day.  How do I know this ?  My Grandson told me !   Thank you again Sgt. Macleod ... and if you ever get to Jersey ... we'd love to show you the REAL Jersey Shore !

John J. Rolfe
John J. Rolfe 1 Like

Macleod, I served with you during Iraq 09-10. You were attached as a photographer when one of my buddies was hit by a sniper. After my ETS I've picked up my photography hobby again. I admire your work but most of all your courage to not only shoot others shooting, but shoot while being shot at. Airborne! and keep up the DAMN good work.

Latisha R. Ballance
Latisha R. Ballance 1 Like

Very well written and the pictures were awe inspiring.  I felt a sense of pride and excitement rise up in me as I read this article and viewed the pictures.  I commend the service members who contribute to the fight in whatever capacity they serve.  All are vital and play a role in telling the story...our story!!! Kudos to a job well done!