Staff Sergeant Matthew L. Slade is not a professional photographer. If he wanted to take a photo two months ago, he’d have used his cell phone. Despite no prior formal photography training, Slade now looks every bit the professional as he walks up and down San Onofre Beach with a tripod and camera in hand, crouching in the sand and on the rocks looking to capture the moment.
Slade is a wounded warrior and student of Wounded Warrior Battalion West’s photography class, fStop.
“fStop is a group of men and women who are learning to become amateur photographers at Wounded Warrior Battalion,” said Slade. “It teaches a different way to cope with our injuries.”
Slade recently had the opportunity to practice the skills he learned in fStop during Operation Amped. Operation Amped is an annual weekend surfing event open to Wounded Warriors and their families. Operation Amped’s mission is to share the surfing community and the healing potential of surfing with seriously ill, injured, or disabled U.S. military veterans and their families.
“I just wanted to take photos originally, because I thought that was cool,” said Slade. “But I’ve really become interested in it and it’s become a really important hobby for me.”
Slade, a former Marine recruiter, has found more than just a hobby in fStop.
“It’s a lot of great people doing fun stuff,” said Slade. “It’s like a family. It offers a group that knows you and gets you and we take photos together.”
Master Sergeant Hugo L. Gonzalez is another student of fStop.
“I was taking photos for a long time, but I never actually knew the ins and outs of a camera, how to operate it,” said Gonzalez. “I think it’s another way to help out, for those of us who enjoy taking photos, getting out there and shooting. I find it’s therapeutic, a different way to cope with whatever is going on. Photography works for me.”
Photography isn’t the only hobby that works for Gonzalez. On the beach, Gonzalez is a surfer.
“I’ve been surfing for about two months now,” said Gonzalez. “I started with the Jimmy Miller Foundation, they come to the battalion every two weeks, taking us out to Del Mar Beach and teaching us to paddle and stand.”
Where fStop gives him a chance to enjoy photography, Operation Amped gave Gonzalez an opportunity to explore surfing with a weekend on the beach and lessons from volunteer instructors.
“Just being around the ocean is very therapeutic,” said Gonzales. “As a kid I grew up around the ocean and now being near it just makes me feel a lot better.”
Gonzalez, a motor transport operator, has found many opportunities to stay active while healing from his injury.
“I wish I could clone myself because there is so much offered at the battalion,” said Gonzales. “I try to take part in everything, but I also don’t want to take it away from the Marines. I try to make sure all the junior Marines get a chance to participate and if there’s anything left, I volunteer for it.”
Once Slade was done shooting for the day, Gonzalez suggested he come back the next day and learn to surf.