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Army Lifestyle Suits Photography Student Garrick Morgenweck & His Family

Icy Dawn

An image from Garrick Morgenweck’s series Dustoff. An HH-60 MEDEVAC Blackhawk with C 3-10 GSAB sits ready to respond as the sun rises during a Lake Effect Storm Warning. Photo and caption by Garrick Morgenweck.

Some might view devoting years of one’s life to military service as a sacrifice. But Garrick Morgenweck considers his lengthy Army career a boon for him and his family. Along with providing financial stability for his wife and three daughters, the military has given him the means to pursue personal dreams—such as studying photography—that likely wouldn’t have been possible otherwise.

“The Army has been a stable career platform for my family,” said Morgenweck, who enlisted in 1989 and has been a paramedic on Army rescue helicopters off and on ever since. “The downside is you have to be away from your family for long periods. Fortunately, my wife is very independent and the Army is good about giving families techniques to cope with the separations. Knowing my family is taken care of makes it easier for me to focus on my job.”

Currently, Morgenweck is a platoon sergeant and critical care flight paramedic based in Watertown, New York. In the past, he served in three combat tours, two in Iraq, one in Afghanistan. According to Morgenweck, staying cool during dangerous, stressful missions requires a certain type of personality.

“I’ve said for a long time that if you want to do this type of job, you should be able to get into it,” he stated. “Not everyone is geared for it. You have to focus on what’s in front of you and tune out what’s going on around you to maintain your calm.”

Going Down

An image from Garrick Morgenweck’s series Dustoff—Going Down. Photo by Garrick Morgenweck.

Although the Army has put him in perilous situations, it’s also given him the chance to live in or visit many interesting places—and capture them in photos. While residing in Fairbanks, Alaska, for example, he shot the Yukon Quest, an international sled dog race that passed right by his backyard. He took thousands of photos of people, places and events in Cambodia, Vietnam and other parts of Southeast Asia while stationed there for a year. That adventure also let him check off several items on his bucket list, including going to Buddhist temples and seeing an exhibition called Requiem: By the Photographers Who Died in Vietnam and Indochina, in Ho Chi Minh City. The traveling display features more than 150 images taken by photojournalists from both sides of the Vietnam and Indochina wars. 

In addition, the Army inspired an ongoing project Morgenweck is especially passionate about: Documenting the lives of soldiers like him who fly into battlefields to evacuate the wounded. He titled the series of powerful photos Dustoff, a backronym and call sign for U.S. Army air ambulance units that stands for Dedicated Unhesitating Service to Our Fighting Forces. 

“There’s been media coverage and a documentary about what Dustoff is, and what we do to rescue the wounded, but nothing that really looks at the people in it,” Morgenweck explained.  “I like to say we live other people’s tragedies. Having done this as long as I have, I thought it was important to get into the lives of the men and women of Dustoff, and look at how doing what they do affects them and their families.“

Thanksgiving in Afghanistan

An image from Garrick Morgenweck’s series Dustoff—Thanksgiving in Afghanistan. Photo by Garrick Morgenweck.

Whether they depict an intense water training exercise, the dramatic beauty of a Blackhawk helicopter bathed in golden dawn light as it prepares to take off from a snow-covered field, or a candid moment of camaraderie during a Thanksgiving meal in Afghanistan, Morgenweck’s photos offer a compelling, intimate look at the individuals who risk their lives to save others. So far, he’s photographed three of some 20 Dustoff units but hopes to get access to more. 

“My goal is for the project to get even more intimate as it grows,” said Morgenweck, who eventually wants to publish the photos in a book or show them in an exhibition. “I want to spend more time getting into the lives of these people outside of work. The photos on my website are constantly changing as the project coalesces into a more unified theme.”

Morgenweck will graduate with a B.F.A. in photography from Academy of Art University’s online program this year. He plans to earn his M.F.A. through the program as well. Even though he can’t connect face-to-face with other veterans through the Academy’s Veterans Club, he still considers it a valuable resource. 

“I wanted to submit a photo for Spring Show one year, but it was too expensive to pay for insurance and shipping,” he remarked. “I got in touch with some club members in San Francisco who offered to get it printed and framed there instead. It’s nice knowing you can reach out to the club for help or to find out what’s going on in San Francisco.”