Military

Photographer’s Paradise: The Life of a Combat Camera Soldier in Europe

May 25, 2021Hannah Ray Lambert
austrian high angle sniper course Patrik Orcutt camera

An Italian special forces sniper team communicates the location of their target at the High Angle Sniper Course, in the Hochfilzen training area, Austria, Sept. 31, 2020. US Army photo by Sgt. Patrik Orcutt.

Silver mist floated through alpine peaks on a late-September day in Austria as soldiers loaded gear onto Haflingers and led the small horses up the mountainside. Combat photographer Sgt. Patrik Orcutt let his lens linger as the animals crossed streams of snowy runoff. While the rest of the group zigzagged up the final switchbacks, he ran ahead, staking out his position before the exhausted soldiers emerged atop the mountain, snowcapped peaks and green hills sprawling in the backdrop as far as the camera viewfinder could see.


With 2,000 feet of brutal elevation gain now behind him, Orcutt filled his aching lungs. Before long, rifle reports echoed through the hills. Snipers from Italy, Belgium, Germany, and other countries fired on long-range targets at the International Specialty Training Center High Angle Sniper Course at the Hochfilzen training area. The snipers would make the grueling trek up to the range several times during their two-week course, learning to aim and calculate trajectory in mountainous terrain and awkward positions. Orcutt shadowed them each time, dashing between firing positions up and down the range with his camera for hours on end to capture the idyllic scenes.


austria sunset sniper course combat camera
International Specialty Training Center sniper course instructors watch their students from a distance at the High Angle Sniper Course, in the Hochfilzen training area, Austria, Sept. 30, 2020. US Army photo by Sgt. Patrik Orcutt.

Orcutt is a public affairs content creator for Special Operations Command Europe (SOCEUR) based in Stuttgart, Germany. While every military gig has plenty of action-packed material for combat camera soldiers to revel in, he said working for SOCEUR is especially thrilling. 


“The content is much more exciting,” he said. “It’s jumping out of airplanes and working with Green Berets and SEALS and all those guys.”


Special warfare operators from the United States exit a C-130J gunship assigned to the 352nd Special Operations Wing during a military free fall as part of Trojan Footprint 21 off the coast of Mangalia, Romania, May 13, 2021. US Army photo by Sgt. Patrik Orcutt.

For the past two and a half years, he’s been stationed in Germany, most recently operating out of Stuttgart. Orcutt hops all over the continent for assignments though and spoke to Coffee or Die Magazine from Romania, where he was shooting photos of Trojan Footprint 21, a yearly event bringing special forces from more than a dozen countries to the Balkans to demonstrate readiness and lethality as well as improve interoperability with allies.


He said photographing special operations forces has unique challenges. Good photography needs to capture humanity — feeling and emotions. Eyes are important elements in photos of people, but many of Orcutt’s subjects have to conceal their identities for security reasons.


NATO maritime sniper course rifles patrik orcutt combat camera
Italian special forces prepare to zero their rifles at the NATO Maritime Interdiction Operational Training Centre Sniper Course, Souda Bay, Greece, April 19, 2021. US Army photo by Sgt. Patrik Orcutt.

“When you’re photographing people who can’t have their faces shown, it becomes incredibly difficult to create relatable images,” he said.


Orcutt has gotten creative with silhouettes, close-ups of hands, or arrangements that mask just enough of a person’s face to still hide their identity.


NATO maritime sniper course land patrik orcutt
Students and instructors of the NATO Maritime Interdiction Operational Training Centre Sniper Course prep their gear on the flight line in Souda Bay, Greece, April 21, 2021. US Army photo by Sgt. Patrik Orcutt.

“I got this fantastic image of this one sniper looking down through his scope and you can just see his eyeball,” he told Coffee or Die. “And that’s all you need. Sells the whole photo, but you know, I didn’t burn the guy either by showing his face.”


A Green Beret takes aim in a sniper hide during Saber Junction 19, a multinational training exercise at Hohenfels, Germany. US Army photo by Sgt. Patrik Orcutt.

Orcutt just released photos from the NATO-led Maritime Interdiction Operational Training Centre Sniper Course in Souda Bay, Greece. Special Forces from the United States and five other NATO countries participated in the intense course, shooting from land, helicopters, and naval vessels at a variety of targets.


A Special Forces sniper rides in a Greek Navy Bell UH-1 Iroquois (Huey) helicopter during the NATO-led Maritime Interdiction Operational Training Centre Sniper Course in Souda Bay, Greece, April 21, 2021. US Army photo by Sgt. Patrik Orcutt.

Outside of Orcutt’s SOCEUR duties, Europe is a photographer’s paradise. He can hop in his car and drive to a different country every weekend if he wants, resulting in stunning travel photos that he shares on his Instagram page.


NATO maritime sniper course sight patrik orcutt camera
Netherlands Marine snipers take aim at targets downrange during the NATO Maritime Interdiction Operational Training Centre Sniper Course, in Souda Bay, Greece, April 19, 2021. US Army photo by Sgt. Patrik Orcutt.

His current tour will end in December, so Orcutt has to decide soon if he’ll stay in Europe — watching Navy SEALS jump out of planes in Romania, documenting close air support training in Estonia, or watching the sunset from a mountainous shooting range in Austria.


“I just love my job right now so much,” he said. “Why would I switch?”


Read Next: Marine Sergeant Wins International Photography Competition With Stunning Photos



Hannah Ray Lambert
Hannah Ray Lambert

Hannah Ray Lambert is a former staff writer for Coffee or Die who previously covered everything from murder trials to high school trap shooting teams. She spent several months getting tear gassed during the 2020-2021 civil unrest in Portland, Oregon. When she’s not working, Hannah enjoys hiking, reading, and talking about authors and books on her podcast Between Lewis and Lovecraft.

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