When Cpl. Jason Bogar was killed in action July 13 in Afghanistan, he left behind a family in Seattle — and a wide-ranging record of his tours of duty. Bogar took numerous photos and videos of his work and of the families he met in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Bogar, who was 25, had already served one tour in Iraq when he was first deployed to Afghanistan. On Sunday, July 13, about 200 Taliban fighters breached a remote NATO compound in Kunar Province, Afghanistan. Nine U.S. soldiers were killed in the attack, the deadliest assault on U.S. forces in Afghanistan in three years.
That day, Bogar's family was notified that he'd been killed in action. Soon after, they flipped through photos he'd sent home from his three tours of Iraq and Afghanistan.
Most of the images aren't of Bogar. They're portraits of Afghan children, many of them with eyes rimmed black with kohl that stare right into yours. In others, women peer suspiciously through jewel-colored headscarves. A baby clutches a fistful of his mother's pleated burqa in his dimpled fist.
"This is the razor wire that they would put around the encampment, and then two women in their burqas, almost like blue ghosts," Bogar's father, Michael Bogar, says of one picture.
"As he talked to my ex-wife, he said that he felt like sometimes he would see the women there and think it seemed like they were in bondage."
The elder Bogar, an interdenominational minister, says that his son was always artistic but that he was also unfocused and got into trouble as a teenager.
Jason Bogar enlisted when he was 17. He went to basic training right before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. He discovered photography during his first tour in Baghdad in 2003. After he got home, he volunteered twice to go to Afghanistan.
"There's an e-mail here, it's the second-to-the-last one he sent, from June 1, 2008," Michael Bogar says.
Reading from it, he quotes his son: " 'I really feel this is what I'm supposed to be doing. Some of the guys call me an idealist. But I do respect and want to help the little good that's left amongst this culture.' "
Stephanie Bell was a sort of stepmom to Jason Bogar — she was his dad's partner for five years. She says Bogar expanded from still photography to videography, even wearing a helmet-cam on his patrols. He showed them videos of what war really looked like.
"One thing that sticks in my mind was his joy of showing his work. And kind of just the joy in being able to create something beautiful and also say something at the same time and explain his work and have it seen."
Bell says that as serious as Bogar was about the military and his art, he could still act like a rambunctious kid.
"He would jump up behind me and scare me," she says, "and I would get upset when he would do that. And then, you know, you can't stay mad at him for very long. He would have me in laughter in a few seconds."
Before Bogar's last deployment, his father had been reading about what was happening in Afghanistan and how the Taliban were regaining strength in Pakistan. They talked about it in the backyard right before he left.
"And I gave him a big hug and said, 'Jason, I don't want you to go,' and started weeping. And he kind of looked at me a little bit frightened ... and he said, 'You OK?' And I said, 'No, I'm not OK.'
"I said, 'I'm really, really, really sad.' And he smiled and he said, 'Well, I guess that's a good thing,' and gave me this beautiful smile, like, 'That means you love me, doesn't it, Dad?' And it's like, yeah. Yeah."
Michael Bogar says Jason had started to enroll in art school. He wanted to travel the world, capturing stories of the cultures he encountered through film.
Ann Dornfeld reports from member station KUOW in Seattle.