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|| News Item: Posted 2009-12-28

Decade Collection: Jack Gruber
'True, I did make a pretty decent picture, but the harsh reality is I am just lucky to be around talking about it today.'

By Jack Gruber, USA TODAY

Photo by Jack Gruber / USA TODAY

Photo by Jack Gruber / USA TODAY

An armed Oruzgan District militia member carrying a RPG and others with heavy weapons flood into the bunker area near the Oruzgan District Chief compound in Afghanistan.
There is one image from the past ten years that brings a smile to my face while also reminding me of just how stupid and naïve I can be at times and just how lucky I am to be here today.

In 2004, while on a week-long mission with a US Special Forces team in Afghanistan, I found myself looking down a hillside with armed men appearing from doors and buildings running up a hill directly towards me.

What I didn’t realize at the time was the Special Forces team members had all very quickly moved to defensive positions. Me, I just stood on a hill making pictures of guys with weapons heading my way.

In the few seconds before things began to register, I still had the camera up to my face and continued making pictures.

Standing very vulnerable and very much in the open, I forgot the simple fact that this was war.

Very naive and very irresponsible.

True, I did make a pretty decent picture, but the harsh reality is I am just lucky to be around talking about it today.

As that young man carrying an RPG on his shoulder followed by other gunmen climbed closer to me, realization finally took hold of just how bad the situation was. I remember perfectly the moment I realized just how badly I had screwed up.

I was in trouble. Serious trouble.

I don’t know if it was luck or just self-preservation but I dropped the camera from my face and confronted this stone faced man with the RPG now just yards away from me. I have no idea why but I looked directly into the man’s eyes and I opened up with one of the cheesiest smiles of all time. All teeth

Believe it or not, the guy looking back at me broke out into a most memorable smile as well and he pushed right by me. Continuing up the hill along with the others following his lead leaving me untouched and unharmed.

That simple photograph of a man running up a hill with an RPG in Afghanistan reminds me everyday of second chances and the importance of my choices and the consequences that follow those choices.

(Jack Gruber is a staff photographer for USA TODAY. You can see his member page here: and his personal website here:

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