Todd Frantom knows the risk involved with taking a great photograph.
He has spent the past five years of his life chasing the perfect shot as a combat photographer with the U.S. Navy and recently received a Purple Heart after being wounded while on duty.
"I love my job," said Petty Officer 2nd Class Frantom, a 1991 graduate of Lakeside High School. "It's dangerous, but I couldn't imagine myself doing anything else."
After obtaining degrees in commercial photography and fine arts, Frantom worried he had missed the "digital revolution" of photography. He joined the Navy in 2000 in part to travel the world and build his portfolio.
Frantom worked as a photo editor and journalist for the Navy's All Hands Magazine, writing close to 24 feature stories throughout the world, he said, before he was assigned to the Naval Expeditionary Combat Command, Detachment Combat Camera Norfolk in Virginia, which deploys combat photographers to international war zones.
He received the Purple Heart on Feb. 28. While serving as a mass communication specialist, he was wounded Feb. 2 during a joint mission with U.S. Special Forces and an Iraqi SWAT team near Tal Afar, Iraq.
An insurgent threw a fragmentation grenade during a firefight and shrapnel struck Frantom's hand. He said initially he was unaware of the injury.
"Of course, it was dark, but I felt wetness on my hand," he said. "I took my flashlight and shined it on the top of my hand, and there was blood everywhere."
Frantom said a medic treated his wound, and he continued to photograph the scene.
"I'd do anything for the shot," he added. "There was so much drama that I didn't even think about (the injury)."
Receiving a Purple Heart is a distinct military honor, said Mary Ann Colopy, the interpretative programs assistant for the National Purple Heart Hall of Honor.
"This is an honor that is not looked for," she said. "It is based solely on the action that happens to the individual."
The medal, she said, "has been given out to approximately 1.8 million service people over time."
Frantom said he gave the Purple Heart medal to his mother while visiting family in Martinez.
Frantom also has been recommended for the Bronze Star for his services as a combat cameraman and performing other military duties, according to Frantom's narrative that accompanies the recommendation for the Bronze Star.
Frantom said he shot more than 35,000 photographs, 800 of which were released during the past six months he spent in Iraq.
"He's a great photographer," said Combat Camera Norfolk's Mass Communication Specialist Master Chief Mark Reinhard. "He's one of our best."
Reinhard said Combat Camera Norfolk members help commanders make decisions as well as tell the military story in the Middle East through their imagery.
Once he heard the news that Frantom was injured, Reinhard said he worried for his safety.
"I was just glad he was OK," Reinhard said. "I was very concerned when one of my guys got hurt, and I was very proud of him."
Though sleep-deprived and injured, Frantom's sole mission was to send his images back to his chief in Iraq, Reinhard said.
"It says everything about him and what kind of sailor he is," Reinhard said. "We need more like him."
For now, Frantom said he plans to relax at his home in Virginia Beach and intern with the Virginia-Pilot , a newspaper for the Hampton Roads area in Virginia. He said he is close to finishing a master's degree in journalism at Syracuse University.
Frantom said his passion will always remain photography and his lifelong dream is to work for National Geographic Magazine .
Though many doors have opened for Frantom, he says his experiences overseas as a combat photographer have left him a changed man.
"It has definitely changed me to see what I've seen," he said. "The freedoms we have here are unlike anything else.
"I appreciate like you would never believe the simple things that the normal American completely takes for granted, and I mean that with all my heart."
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