JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska - The 4th Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division, unveiled an interactive gallery of photographs, Oct. 31, 2012, in its famed fireside room at the brigade's headquarters building at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson.
The new gallery features 26 individual black and white images with corresponding stories of Spartan paratroopers who deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom from November 2011 to October 2012.
Michael Joseph Allen, the project's creator, said it is the only gallery of its kind. He said it is unique because it sheds light on the human side of the Army, and helps convey what it means to be a soldier.
"This project was designed to personalize the Army," said Allen. "You can look into the face of a soldier and hear them talk to you."
Each of the large black and white photos feature an electronic voice recording of the paratrooper in the photo depicting what it is like to be a soldier, and particularly what it is like to be deployed.
The gallery represents paratroopers from the private first class level all the way through to the highest rank of colonel.
The project started when the brigade's commander, Col. Morris T. Goins, was looking for a way to chronicle the brigade's history and the paratroopers who fill its ranks. He wanted to do something a little bit different and because Allen had extensive experience as an international photojournalist while working for the United Nations, he asked Allen for his help and the project was born.
Allen was based alongside the Spartan Brigade at Forward Operating Base Salerno, serving as the chief of mission staff, field program officer, and deputy development adviser for the U.S. Agency for International Development.
Allen traveled throughout the brigade's area of operations in order to successfully represent and recognize all of the brigade's battalions.
Allen said the project is important because the brigade's new Soldiers can relate to and learn from their peers and be better prepared for their missions in the future.
"There is a human side to the Army," Allen said. "When you listen to the recordings there is a common thread throughout all of them, a sense of duty, and a sense of commitment."
Master Sgt. Gary Mullins with the 4-25's Headquarters and Headquarters Company echoed Allen when he said the gallery provides a great way for everybody to share and learn from each other.
"The command group did a great job with this, and it shows they really care about the soldiers," Mullins said. "It has everybody's perspective - from a private, a company commander, a sergeant major and a battalion commander."
He stood in front of one of the pictures and told a story about Sgt. 1st Class Christopher A. Duffy, a platoon sergeant with the brigade's 501st Infantry Battalion.
"Here is Sgt. 1st Class Duffy," Mullins said. "He's all business, he's an 11B [infantryman], he's a go-getter, he's a guy that's out there making it so we can sleep easy at night."
Passionate about his fellow soldiers, Mullins continued, "They are always on the job, and if they are not on the job, they are training for the job. When you stand in front of the pictures, it's kind of imposing because it looks like they are piercing right through your soul."
There is a complimentary online gallery which features all 26 portraits and their stories. The virtual gallery is complete with spotlights, a skylight, and a slate floor. All of the images are lined up, and you can go right up to the images, push the button, and listen to the stories.
The gallery's web address is http://gallery.exhibbit.com/Pages/MJAllen/exhibbit.html