Guard Public Affairs Journalist Named Army Photographer of the Year

After the smoke clears, the Soldiers are exhausted from their mission, maybe even lying in the dirt to rest. Those are the kind of moments Sergeant (SGT) Harley Jelis waits for, turning his lens on people “when they’ve gotten to the point where they can let their guard down, and be themselves … without any judgment on them or trying to tell a certain story, just having people as they are.”

It’s unstaged moments, like the one below, that have earned SGT Jelis the title of Army Photographer of the Year for 2016.

An award winning photo of Soldiers resting after a mock firefight taken by SGT Harley Jelis.

A member of the New York Army National Guard, SGT Jelis took his award-winning shots while covering training activities for infantry, medic, and aviation Units at the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk in Louisiana last summer. 

As a 46Q Public Affairs Journalist, one of his jobs is to take photographs, but this Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) also offers opportunities to learn and showcase related skills, like writing, editing, graphic design, and media relations, all to document and promote what the Guard does, whether here at home or far away.

It’s his photojournalism work far away from home, during a deployment to Kuwait, that SGT Jelis considers his most fulfilling assignment so far, in being able to tell stories and post pictures of Soldiers that got attention back at home via the Brigade’s Facebook page or other media channels, and being able to read reactions from proud family members.

SGT Jelis started his part-time service in the Guard in 2008, while he was in college studying documentary filmmaking and photojournalism.

“I wanted to give back a little more to the community and have that personal challenge.”

While mulling his options for military service, it was the mission that gave the Guard the decisive advantage.

“The National Guard’s dual mission of both the Federal side, and the chance that you might have to deploy overseas, or work on a Federal mission appealed to me,” he says. “Also the domestic service side, the ability to, after a storm, be able to help out my local town by passing out food or working on local roads, was one of the major draws.”

SGT Harley Jelis

SGT Harley Jelis

His original MOS was 13F Fire Support Specialist, but after bringing his camera along to drill weekends to work on homework, SGT Jelis was asked if he wanted to switch to an MOS that had more in common with his studies.

So he attended the Defense Information School in Fort Meade for Advanced Individual Training for his new 46Q MOS, which requires about 11 weeks of instruction and practice.

And by the end of that time, SGT Jelis says, Soldiers are able to interview people, write a 4-6 page feature story, take the photos to accompany the story, and design a magazine template in which the story is published – all from scratch and within the span of a few days.

But the learning doesn’t end there or even at the Unit level, where a 46Q might focus on one aspect of the job, but has the opportunity to “cross train with other people. So if someone’s very good at video or very good with photography, they can work with the rest of the people in their Unit to help them work on those skills.”

SGT Jelis says this MOS also requires self-directed learning.

“There’s no ceiling with photography, he says. “There’s always something else that you can learn. You need to put in your own personal time to get better as a writer, get better as a photographer, get better at doing video.”

After his deployment to Kuwait, SGT Jelis took advantage of the Guard’s GI Bill to help pay for his master’s degree in integrated marketing communications, which, like his MOS, directly applies to his current job in marketing outreach and admissions at a mental health and addiction treatment clinic in Connecticut. 

He says experience in the Guard of meeting people who have different backgrounds helps him with the admissions side of his civilian job, when he’s talking with families of people from all different walks of life who are helping a loved one seek treatment.

The Guard definitely improved my ability to work with other people,” he says. His assignments can take him to various places or Guard events where, “I need to be able to hop in and speak with anyone, or interview random people I’ve never met before, and have the confidence to do that.”

So, if you want a part-time career that will build your confidence, visit our job board to explore the Guard’s options in fields like administration, logistics support or armor and field artillery. And for personalized advice, contact your local recruiter who can also walk you through all of the Guard’s benefits like tuition assistance, which will help you take your career to the next level.

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