When communications sections chief Staff Sgt. Sean Huolihan was deployed to Afghanistan, he had no idea that his additional duty as the unit historian would land him a gallery showing of his photography work at the National Guard Museum in Washington, D.C.
"It's an honor - I can't believe it," Huolihan said. "It's like a dream come true, not only have my work displayed but to represent Bravo 121, especially in the nations' capital."
Deployed with Battery B, 1st Battalion, 121st Field Artillery to Afghanistan in 2013 for 10 months, Huolihan took more than 10,000 pictures.
He selected 17 of those photos be displayed at the museum.
The opportunity came from a Google alert set up by Anne Armstrong, deputy director of the National Guard Educational Foundation. Huolihan had just updated his photography website and the alert keyed in on descriptions from his website. Armstrong was immediately taken by the photos and e-mailed Huolihan using his contact information.
"The goal of the National Guard Educational Foundation is to reach out to the citizenry of the United States as well as the National Guard, and educate people about the National Guard and what we do," Armstrong said. "What drew me to Sean's photography is that the role of the National Guard in this country changed on Sept 11. We went from a strategic force to an operational force, and what Sean has done is to take the concept of the Citizen Soldier - taking his citizen's job as a photographer and his Soldier job in the National Guard - and combined them.
"He's gone overseas, [and] used his photography to bring his overseas mission back to the United States and to the citizens of this country," she continued, "so they can see what their National Guardsmen, and what their neighbors, are doing in these multiple deployments since Sept. 11."
Even taking thousands of photos, Huolihan was not able to shoot everything - much of their mission was classified.
"The whole 'no cameras allowed' rule, you know," Huolihan explained.
Still, many of the images he did capture are breathtaking - sprawling landscapes made profound by the intensity of color, High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) launchers belching fire and rockets with remarkable clarity.
"Sergeant Huolihan's photos are part art, part photojournalism," said John Goheen, the National Guard Association of the United States Communications Director. "They are an excellent addition to the telling of the Guard story in Afghanistan. We're proud of him and grateful to have the chance to share his work with visitors to the National Guard Memorial."
Huolihan - a resident of Shorewood, Wisconsin - devoted much of his free time on the deployment studying the business side of photography, learning new techniques and refining his photo processing skills. An electrical transformer inspector by trade, he now runs his own photography business. He usually has a camera on him at all times.
"People think that photography is just clicking a button, but for me that's only the beginning," he explained."Shooting in raw format" - an unprocessed digital image that usually has a broader dynamic range or color range than a jpeg file - "requires a great deal of post-processing to get a lot of the outcome I desire. It feels great when you're looking at the screen and the editing is done, and you know that you're delivering an absolutely awesome photo."
And now the general public has a chance to see what he's talking about.