MSgt. Chvatal Retirement Ceremony

I had the unique opportunity to photograph my first Air Force retirement ceremony on Friday. It's always fun to try something new and there were plenty of chances to make some nice images. MSgt. Susan Chvatal is from the 6th Medical Group here at MacDill AFB. Members of the Group were the participants in the Flag Day ceremony that you may remember from this earlier blog post. A few individuals have decided to have me cover their retirement ceremonies after seeing the Flag Day slideshow.

I did not know MSgt Chvatal before this assignment, but through the course of the ceremony it became apparent that she is an excellent soldier and leader that will be missed by many. Susan held the special duty of a First Sergeant ("first shirt") and was responsible for the morale and welfare of the enlisted members of her squadron. Congratulations on more than 20 years of service!

The Base Honor Guard sets the flags to start the ceremony. I used two lighting setups to cover this event. This camera had an 85mm 1.8 shot wide open at ISO 1600 to capture the ambient light in the room. I wanted to use this setup for at least some of the images to reduce the number of flashes going off during the ceremony.

Susan's brothers pin an award to her lapel.

Fittingly, members of the 6th Medical Group shake X-rays to add a personal touch during bouts of applause. It seems that Susan has found her way to the emergency room as a customer before and at least a few of these may or may not have been of her femur. (It's tough to glean accurate info from inside jokes while juggling two cameras).

Susan receives a very impressive shadow box that details the various accomplishments of her career. The open triangle at the top is for the flag that will be presented later in the ceremony. This shot shows the second lighting scheme being used. An on-camera flash provides light and triggers a second flash in the back of the room. This resulted in nice even lighting that allowed me to to use a low ISO and fast shutter speed for the best quality prints.

Members of the Honor Guard fold a flag that was flown at the Statue of Liberty on the Fourth of July in honor of Susan's grandmother.
A reader calls out each fold and describes what it stands for during an official flag folding ceremony. It's an impressive display and I wanted to capture it with a meaningful image. I decided to slow my shutter speed down to approx. 1/10 second to blur the motion of the flag while preserving the details of the uniform, etc. I like that both stars and stripes are visible in the folding flag and another flag is seen in the background.

The Honor Guard presents the flag to Susan.

As the Honor Guard steps away, the moment hits MSgt. Chvatal.

Susan addresses all those in attendance.

The final additions to Susan's uniform, including the U.S. Meritorious Service Medal.

That's all for now. Kammie and Ryan's wedding was on Saturday so look for those pics soon!

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