Interview with the Warrior Vacations Photographer

Pam Bell is a local, professional family photographer generously donating her time and talent to the Warrior Vacation project.

Interview with the Warrior Vacations Photographer

Interview with the Warrior Vacations Photographer

Pam Bell is a local, professional family portrait photographer generously donating her time and talent to the Warrior Vacation project. Warrior Vacations provides service men and women a free family vacation to help reunite these military families when their loved one returns from a deployment in Afghanistan or Iraq.

As a Navy wife, Mrs. Bell wants these military families to have sentimental family keepsakes that they will cherish forever, so she donates FREE professional family portraits by Pam Bell Photography.

Pam Bell reminded me in this interview who really is being generous… that is our service men and women who choose to serve our country , risking the ultimate sacrifice to protect our personal freedoms.

How did you get involved with Warrior Vacations?

I learned about Warrior Vacations earlier this year when I read an article in the Amelia Islander magazine. My first thought was what a wonderful program and my second was I’d love to take family photos of those visiting our island through this program. So, I picked up the phone and called the contact number for the program, which belonged to Robert Peters, who I kind of knew since I had previously taught his children at St. Michael’s Academy. I told him my idea and offered my services, and he gave me the information I needed to contact the families scheduled to vacation here.

How has being a Navy wife influenced your involvement with Warrior Vacations?

It has been the number one motivation for my involvement. My husband was in the Navy twenty-one years and I was married to him all but one of those years. He was out to sea most of his last 12 years in the Navy, prior to his retirement and our move to Amelia Island. I realize the importance of family photographs and how hard they can be to come by for a military family. To begin with, a photo session is very hard to plan around a service man/woman’s schedule, due to unexpected calls of duty and deployments. Another obstacle is money. Military families in the lower grades, of which we were the first eight years of our marriage, can barely make ends meet much less pay a photographer for nice family photos. Even when my husband became an officer with better pay, it was still difficult to find a reasonable fee for quality photography with our four children. That was further compounded by the “no time” factor. I remember the last family photo we had made, prior to my husband’s retirement in 1993, was in 1989. We were living in Virginia Beach at the time, having just moved from there from Hawaii. He had just finished up two back to back cruises (two six month cruises). Between those two cruises, we had about two months of time with him, but that was only part time since the new ship he had just joined was performing work ups at sea to get ready for the next deployment. After that second cruise, the ship he was on received news that it would be taking part in Desert Shield, the precursor to Desert Storm. We had not had a family portrait done since my youngest son was born and he was three at the time. With the news of the ship leaving, I had one day to call the portrait studio down the street, make an appointment and get us in before my husband had to leave the next day. Time was short and a recent family photograph was very important to me and to him. He wanted me to send those family photos to him while he was away, so he would be able to enjoy them.

Family Portrait

Family Portrait

How many families have you photographed for Warrior vacations? (Or other worthy causes)

As of this writing, I have had the privilege of meeting and photographing eight of the Warrior Vacation families that have visited the island. I have two upcoming sessions during the summer. I don’t like to talk about what I do so much, but to answer your question I don’t know how many other families I have photographed for worthy causes. I know I have given photography sessions to charities as silent auction items. I also take photographs, periodically, for First Baptist Church, Fernandina, where my family and I attend. I help sponsor the American Cancer Society fundraiser through Amelia Island Plantation by giving a photo session to the winner of that contest for the cover of the Amelia Islander Magazine. Please let me say this–I am grateful for every opportunity I am given to use my abilities. I believe they are God given and I do everything I do through Him. I am not at all boasting on my ability as a photographer or what I do. There are many better photographers out there than I. I just try to walk through the doors the Lord opens and rely on Him to give me the ability and the strength and the stamina to continue to do what I do to honor Him.

About how much time do you spend with the families? (Start to finish)

Probably around six hours per family. I first contact them through email. If they would like for me to photograph their family, they will send me a return email or call me. We will talk or write back and forth to find a day that works for them and for my schedule while they are here on vacation. Once they arrive, they contact me and let me know where they are staying (in which donor’s condo, villa or hotel room). We will arrange for me to go to where they are, or I will have them meet me at one of my favorite beach locations for sessions. I spend about forty-five minutes with them. Depending upon the size of the family, the time may be a little more. Once I take the photos, I do my normal photographer thing – download them to my computer, cull and edit and put on a CD, labeled with one of their photos. I then type up an information letter to give them with the CD. I mail it to them or take it to them if they are still on the island.

What do they receive in their photo package?

They receive the CD of images with a letter of permission to print through any lab for their personal use. I tell them from the beginning there are no strings attached to this session. I also tell them, that if they need help with prints, etc…, I will be glad to help them but they are under no obligation to come back to me. I don’t expect them to; that is not why I do this. None, so far, have returned for any follow up work.

Do you have a fondest memory of a vacationing family?

I have so many great memories of these sessions – that is a hard question. I suppose the most memorable was the Pruden family. After his family’s session, I told him and his wife that I have taken family photographs of families that have sacrificed much for us in time and emotionally and otherwise, but his is the first sacrifice that was so visible. He lost a leg about five years ago while defending freedom for us overseas and wears prosthesis. He is involved with the wounded warrior project and gave me a wounded warrior pin at the end of the session. And, I thanked him, as I do each of them, for what he has done for us.

Family Keepsakes

Family Keepsakes

You donate your time etc… what do YOU get out of this in return? What makes it “all worth it”?

Just the benefit of knowing I have been able to do just a little something special for those who have sacrificed and continue to sacrifice so very much for us… just a way of saying thank you to them. As I verbally thank these military men and women for their sacrifice, surprisingly, most in turn, thank me for my husband and family’s sacrifices. Wow! That totally catches me off guard. Our sacrifices seem like a lifetime ago and I just don’t expect someone to say thank you, today, for what we did then. What makes it worth it? I know these families have something in these photographs they will treasure for a lifetime. I still treasure the portrait we had taken in 1989, and remember the circumstances behind it like it was yesterday. Thankfully, my husband returned from that deployment. Some don’t return from theirs. That part has not changed. When you wave good-bye to them on the pier or runway or base – you never know if or when they are going to return. I do this for them.

Anything you would like to add?

I have shared with Robert how great this program is and how I wish something like this would have been in place when my husband was in the service. Family vacations, if any, were always spent visiting family, since they could put us up and feed us. And, with so little leave time, there was not a lot of family time for vacations as such. The people and businesses who donate the housing here are giving so much to these families who are so deserving. I would like to thank those people for their part in this and giving me a chance to meet these heroes of today.

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