Interview: U.S. Marine Gunnery Sergeant Carlos “OJ” Orjuela

© Louie Palu; U.S. Marine Gysgt. Carlos “OJ” Orjuela, age 31, Garmsir District, Helmand Province, Afghanistan, from Project: Home Front (2008)

Last week, photographer Louie Palu's presented his story behind his image above, taken in Afghanistan in 2008 and featured in our WAR/PHOTOGRAPHY exhibit. Today we bring you an interview with the man in the photo, United States Marine Gunnery Sergeant Carlos “OJ” Orjuela.

ASP: What kind of emotions did you experience the first time you saw Louie's photograph?

Carlos Orjuela: I was ecstatic. I knew that Louie was a professional photographer, but I was floored that the picture came out so well with that much detail given the conditions in the field we were operating in.  

ASP: How do you feel when you look at this photo now?

Carlos Orjuela: Famous and honored that I could be part of this work.

ASP: How did the photo come about?

Carlos Orjuela: We had just traveled several hours from our combat outpost to a forward operating base on a road known for being mined. Louie spent many hours getting to know everyone in our unit over several weeks. Louie asked if I would mind if he took some pictures after the patrol, that it was important for history. It was right at the end of our mission in the area we had operated in for several months, it was 120 degrees and a sandstorm was about to hit the base. Louie lived amongst us 24/7 and it was very natural to have him around and taking photographs.

ASP: What kinds of things were you thinking about during the photoshoot?

Carlos Orjuela: That I should probably button up my chin strap.

ASP: What kind of reactions have you received from other people (family, friends, strangers) who have seen or recognized you in the photo?

Carlos Orjuela: I am very well known for playing pranks on people therefore no one I knew believed it was really me when they saw the photo. I would have to do an online search with my name to show my friends and colleagues Louie's pictures to prove it was really me. As of late, I have had many friends and co-workers calling me telling me that they saw my picture all over the Los Angeles area while the show is on at the Annenberg Space.

WAR/PHOTOGRAPHY: Images of Armed Conflict and Its Aftermath will show at the Annenberg Space for Photography through June 2, 2013. Learn more about Louie Palu on his official website.

Louie Palu: Behind The Photograph

© Louie Palu; U.S. Marine Gysgt. Carlos “OJ” Orjuela, age 31, Garmsir District, Helmand Province, Afghanistan, from Project: Home Front (2008)

By Louie Palu

Louie Palu, Kandahar, Afghanistan in 2010

In the summer of 2008, I spent several months covering frontline fighting around the volatile districts west of the city of Kandahar in Afghanistan. By August I was preparing to move from an area under Canadian Army command in Kandahar to one in neighbouring Helmand Province where the United States Marines had been fighting. When I arrived at the Marine’s headquarters the public affairs officer asked me what I wanted to do. I asked her to send me to the combat outpost located in the worst area with the most austere conditions. I was told to meet a Marine at a tent on the flight path at Kandahar Airfield around midnight and they would take me on a C-130 military aircraft, then a helicopter followed by a heavily armed convoy (a journey totaling several days) and finally arriving in Garmsir District at Forward Operating Base (FOB) Apache North. As expected from my 2+ years covering the war, it was 120 degrees Farenheit everyday, 4-6 patrols per day, no running water or toilet and sand fleas biting me all night.

At 31, U.S. Marine Gunnery Sergeant Carlos Orjuela was one of the oldest Marine’s in the unit at the FOB. Most of the Marines in the unit were just 21-years-old. The conditions were so rough there that for me what said the most about this place was the faces of these young men. Everyday I spent several hours talking to each Marine and getting to know them, sometimes it took several days to build a connection. When we returned to the FOB at the end of each patrol I took a Marine into an empty bunker where there was natural light and took some portraits of them for about 5-10 minutes. Carlos was the very first Marine I photographed for this body of work.

WAR/PHOTOGRAPHY: Images of Armed Conflict and Its Aftermath will show at the Annenberg Space for Photography through June 2, 2013. Learn more about Louie Palu on his official website.