Sgt. Ryan Baumann / by Justin Merriman

I've learned a lot as a photojournalist in the last few days. To often we take for granted what we do. I have been very blessed in my career to cover many amazing stories, to be behind the scenes at events, to be in the company of presidents and celebrities, to be on the sidelines of great games, to travel to faraway lands--Cuba, India, Pakistan, the United Arab Emirates, to be a firsthand witness to history--the crash of United Flight 93, the Sago Mine Disaster, elections in Pakistan, but no story or work I've even done has touched me as much as covering the war in Afghanistan. Since I've returned and our stories, videos, and photos have run in the newspaper and online, I've received so many touching emails from soldiers and their families. One soldier's wife emailed to tell us that her two boys spotted their dad, Sgt. Lynch, in a video. She wrote, "Thank you so much . As soon as we pulled up the Tani Mission video my boys spotted their daddy right away. We've been watching him for about the last hour over and over. They love their daddy so much!!" An email from Ryan's mother reads, "My father who is 89 and served in WW II actually had tears in his eyes. He found a frame and is moving it from room to room so he can "always keep Ryan on [his] mind and in [his] prayers." As I said before, you can't imagine what comfort it brings." And another email from a soldier's wife reads, "THANK YOU for giving me the chance to see and know and small glimpse of his life right now." Of all the awards I've received in my career, there is nothing that compares to emails and letters such as these. With our jobs, as journalists, to often we are forced to move from one story to the next, but this story will linger with me for quite some time. I'm so happy that my photographs have provided so many with glimpses into their sons, husbands, dads, brothers, uncles, cousins, and friend's lives while serving in Afghanistan. In particular, I'm overwhelmed at the emails I've received from Sgt. Ryan Baumann's friends, family members and fellow soldiers. There are to many to mention but each one deeply touches me and humbles me. I wanted to share some more photos I took of Ryan while I was with his platoon in Afghanistan. He truly was a consummate soldier and American.

Top photo: Ryan stopping to check for IEDs along a road near Seneky. Second photo: Ryan with Sgt. 1st Class Dustin Horn locating wells on a mission in Legorah. Third photo: Ryan at a well with Afghans on a mission in Legorah. Fourth photo: Ryan (center) with Capt. Nick Howard (left) and Sgt. 1st Class Dustin Horn (right) on a mission near Seneky. Final photo: Ryan keeps a careful watch along a road on a recognizance mission.