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Fort Drum soldiers receive free family portraits for the holidays

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FORT DRUM — More than 130 Fort Drum soldiers and their families will have an opportunity to get professional portraits taken for free in time for the holidays, as part of a nationwide morale-boosting program for service members.

The photo shoots, done Monday and today, were made possible through the Portraits of Love program, put on by the Photoimaging Manufacturers and Distributors Association. Participants receive a link to their photos online, along with a coupon for two free prints.

Rachel Millios, program manager for the post’s United Service Organizations branch, said 132 slots filled up for the program in about an hour. She said slots for the program were saved for soldiers in the 1st and 2nd brigade combat teams, which will send about half of their soldiers to Afghanistan early next year.

In one of three stations set up in the post’s USO branch, A. John Bentham, a professional photographer for more than 20 years in the New York City area, led Spc. Philip C. Noza through a variety of poses with his wife, Charo P., and daughters Penelope, 6, and Patricia, 4.

“Mom, Dad ... give us a smile here,” Mr. Bentham said. Having the daughters move to the side, he snapped a few photos of Spc. and Mrs. Noza together.

“What do you think ... do Mommy and Daddy look good?” Mr. Bentham said, showing the camera’s display to Penelope and Patricia and receiving a nod of approval.

The Noza family also would go through stations set up by Patrick J. Gerrity, another photographer with decades of experience in the New York City region, and Sgt. Christian M. Grabowski of the 3rd General Support Aviation Battalion, 10th Aviation Regiment, 10th Combat Aviation Brigade.

Spc. Noza, an infantryman with the 2nd Battalion, 22nd Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, said he and his family had not had a professional portrait done since Patricia’s birth.

“We didn’t expect anything like this,” Spc. Noza said. “They made us comfortable. They didn’t rush it.”

Though he is not expected to deploy next year, Spc. Noza said he and his family will not be able to return home to the Philippines for the holidays, so they will remain in Evans Mills. Spc. Noza said he planned to send the portraits back home.

Mr. Bentham and Mr. Gerrity previously worked with the program at Naval Construction Battalion Center, Gulfport, Miss. The pair said they wanted the photos to give soldiers something that reminds them of their families’ personalities while they are deployed.

“We want to bring a smile to their face, and not just a church photo,” Mr. Gerrity said.

Sgt. Grabowski, who has served in four deployments in his 12 years in uniform, said photos are always something asked for by soldiers. “That keeps a soldier going every day,” he said.

Since he had experience taking portraits for family members and modeling portfolios, Sgt. Grabowski volunteered to help with Portraits of Love after seeing the high demand. When he retires in February, Sgt. Grabowski said, he will open a photography studio in the Buffalo area.


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