Why I chose not to recaption this photo

August 30th, 2008 by | Print
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Alex Lee looks through an F-16 Fighting Falcon simulator head-up display during a simulated mission Aug. 22 at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska.  Alex was born with congenital heart defects and Down syndrome and was selected by the Make-A-Wish Foundation for the Pilot for a Day program.  The purpose of the program is to ease the pain of children who lost a normal childhood due to illnesses or disabilities.  (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Jonathan Snyder)

Alex Lee looks through an F-16 Fighting Falcon simu­la­tor head-up display during a simu­lated mission Aug. 22 at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska. Alex was born with con­gen­i­tal heart defects and Down syn­drome and was selected by the Make-A-Wish Foun­da­tion for the Pilot for a Day pro­gram. The pur­pose of the pro­gram is to ease the pain of children who lost a normal child­hood due to ill­nesses or disa­bilities. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Jona­than Snyder)

I check the U.S. Air Force website daily for any photos I can “recaption” on the parody website. The one seen here instantly caught my eye, titled “Eielson Airmen turn child into pilot for a day.” A recaptioned title practically writes itself: “Youngest commissioned pilot joins Cyberspace Command…”

…But I also know the Air Force & all of her sister services do amazing things all over the world for kids in need. MSgt Michael Maltz, for example, lost his life on a mission to rescue two injured children in Afghanistan. In 2003 I conducted an interview with an Air Force doctor whose team absolutely refused to give up on an Iraqi girl with burns over nearly her entire body. I know for a fact Airmen in Iraq routinely visited orphanages in 2003 just to give those kids the love & attention they so rightfully deserve.

And I just can’t bring myself to recaption a photo like this one. It tugs at my heartstrings.

Who knows why. Maybe it’s because I saw too many children in pain during my Iraq tour — from a young boy mangled by an improvised explosive, to a baby killed in a car bombing. Or maybe it’s because I volunteered for the Muscular Dystrophy summer camps in the 1970s & 1980s. I don’t know.

“But Rob, what about this recaptioned photo?” You ask a very good question. I stand on two points: (1) it focuses on the Airman, not the child in the designer hoodie; and (2) it involves donated school supplies. In other words, it’s one of many {ahem} banal feel-good PR photos out there.

But take heart. There is a line I won’t cross for recaptioned photos…

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