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Spc. Terry Rajsombath remembers the moment after he was shot.
He was vaguely aware of fellow platoon members calling his name down an Afghan village road. And he recalls feeling angry at the prospect of dying in a Taliban ambush. Mostly, he felt the “red-hot dagger shredding my muscles,” he said.
The bullet was lodged in Rajsombath’s left thigh, shattering his hipbone and femur. It would eventually trigger several aneurysms and blood clots and keep him from walking for more than three months. Six months later, he has had 10 surgeries at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. He is still living and recovering on the campus.
In the midst of what seems like a nightmare, Rajsombath, 24, is pursing his dream job: photojournalism.
He’s the new intern at the Senate Press Photographers’ Gallery, the office that acts as a liaison between photojournalists and Congress.
Since Nov. 30, Rajsombath has been snapping pictures of Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and other Members during Senate and House hearings. He’s shadowing photographers from various news outlets and learning how they became Hill photographers.
Gallery Director Jeffrey Kent said the internship is a chance to watch and learn.
“We give him exposure,” Kent said. “The internship is mostly an opportunity for him to see how photojournalism works and if he’s interested in doing it as a career. He’s observing and meeting some of the best photographers in the world.”
For the past two years, the Senate Office of the Sergeant-at-Arms has been offering internships to wounded veterans convalescing at Walter Reed and the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.
Rajsombath is one of a dozen wounded Afghanistan and Iraq war veterans to participate in the Sergeant-at-Arms Armed Forces Internship Program, which helps wounded soldiers beef up their résumés in preparation for life after the service.
“The outgrowth came from our sense that we should be doing something to try to help these young men and women out,” said Pat Murphy, the office’s director of human resources. “We thought maybe we could work with the people in rehab at Walter Reed who are still in the service — we could provide them with professional experience here in areas where they have real interests.”
For Rajsombath, that interest was photography, a passion inspired by a cross-country road trip.
“I took my father’s old 1985 point-and-shoot and used Google to teach myself about shutter speed, white balance and different types of film,” Rajsombath said. “I’d take pictures, then drive around the nearest neighborhoods until I found a wireless signal on my laptop. I’d look up the nearest store and pull off the road to develop the films. I wanted to document everything.”