I had always felt like I was born for a Storm. It was this perceptual feeling inside of me for as long as I could remember; an innate longing to cure a turmoil. It was so impulsive and almost involuntary. To try and shake it only made it stronger. I felt that it was impetuous and congenital. To say I chased that feeling and let it drive the man I’ve become would be a massive understatement. It was a never ending thirst. Hell, it's still a never ending thirst.
I grew up aggressive and goal oriented in everything that I did. At the age of seven, Pop Warner Football only amplified this feeling that I had inside of me. It felt disease-like at the time and I couldn’t understand why I would obsess over things that I put in front of me. Wrestling took that obsession to another level. That, in turn, led to a wrestling scholarship in college. I kept sailing into these Storms without a care as to what it was doing to me or anyone in the way and when a goal was complete and I had sailed successfully through my Storm, I would seek out another.
In middle school, watching planes glide through the Twin Towers only solidified, to me, the storm I would eventually seek out. When the time came, I did just that. I was my own Earnest Shackleton navigating territories only few had the desire to navigate…
I have to preface the rest of this with some words I’ve thrown out into the ether before. I am not, nor have I ever been some Tier 1 Operator; I’ve never claimed to be. However, I joined at the height of the GWOT which led to some definite Shit Storms I was able to chase freely.
… Like Shackleton, the Storms I chased were, putting it mildly, ‘Endurance Expeditions.’ I was lucky enough (this is completely subjective) to be, what some would call, prolific, in the art of chasing the Shit Storm. I craved it. It was visceral and damning and as much as I wanted the Calm, it might as well have been strung just outside my finger tips. It was palpable; tangible almost but it never existed for me at the time. There was nothing like sleeping in a wooden frame, next to my gear in some remote area of the world where you feed off of adrenaline and fear is real. Anyone who says that fear didn’t exist in them then is either lying or living on another planet. My gear was my comfort away from home, always there for me when I needed it most. We spent most nights together navigating terrain men dreamt of; and I loved it.
I gave-chase to 7 deployments in various AORs in just over a decade. Quick math would tell you that I was on a deployment about 70% of the time. On top of that, I was gone most of the time I was home on various training workups. That time gone was a Storm in and of itself that I had no idea I was sailing into.
Over the years playing Shackleton, I was very fortunately enough to help make a family. What I should say, is that I was fortunate enough that my family stuck around for all the Storm Chasing I did. Lord knows I put them through hell. My daughter still gets emotional and can vividly recall a night I called them to say Goodnight and the small FOB I was on started getting IDF’d (Indirect Fire). She could hear rounds whistling in and the IDF Alarms going off. I could hear the panic in her voice and the absolute terror in my wife’s tone as I told them I had to go and rushed them off the phone.
Fast forward through these years, I often now ask myself if those non-dyadic goals and thoughts that I had were worth the end results. That innate longing to stifle the fire that would never truly be put out was so curious. It was meddlesome and peculiar at times and drove much of my life. You see, the thing about chasing Storms is that the last one was never big enough. You need more, you need longer and it eventually becomes the thing that unravels your very being if not properly addressed. At least for me, that was the direction I was headed.
My definition of the Storm has changed after all these years. It’s no longer a purely selfish definition nor do I view it as an itch I can never fully satisfy. It takes, almost, an act of God to be able to re-wire your once linear thoughts on the subject matter, but it’s doable and I’m proof. I no longer consider my chase of these environments a “Storm.” Now I address it as an ‘Intention.’ My intentions are to be a father who is around to teach his Children about Navigating their own Storms. My intention is to be a husband worth sticking around for. My intention is to be a friend and mentor that people can look to.
The crazy thing about all of this self realization is that Photography is what got me there. Photography allowed me to obsess over something that would permit me to take my mind off of all the other facets of the job. It allowed me to be present within the moment instead of looking forward to what was next. Having a camera in hand became this sort of existential out-of-body experience for me in so many ways. Looking through a lens sort of has that affect on you, I guess. For instance, pulling a camera out during a training event or in another country had this amazing ability to pull me back from the moment. It slowed down time just enough that I could widen the focus and take in the environments around me in new ways. That feeling has only ever been amplified when I do the same around my wife and children. And capturing that moment forever… that never gets old. To truly try and wrap your mind around that is just breathtaking.
Photography, very much so, saved parts of my life. I’m not saying that I was destined for some torrential downpour, but the truth of the matter is, nearing the end of my time in service, its given me access to a new identity to curate; one away from the life I’ve been blessed to live for so long. It has given me a chapter that lights the same spark as the one I had when I witnessed two steel birds flying into steel trees. It has allowed me to really see what is in front of my eyes by, oddly enough, putting a tiny machine in front of my eyes.
Picking up a camera might look easy; I thought it would be. But I was quickly humbled by the skill it takes to produce a great photo. That is obviously, mostly subjective, and the intention of producing a great photo was just another thrill I’m excited about pursuing every day. Aside from that, I have met some really great people though the discipline; people that have given me a platform to share my life lessons learned and my art through my work. Some of these people I get to call pretty good friends now.
So here is my proposition to you… Take more photos and do it with intention; real, thoughtful intention. It doesn't need to be some high end camera, hell, we walk around with cameras in our pockets on the daily. So, take that thing out, point it in a direction and begin to create moments that you’ll have for the rest of your life. You never know where it's going to take you and what you might “accidentally’ stumble upon.
This is already long enough but I’d like to leave you with this: We all have our Storm within us. We all have that itch that is racing from synapse to synapse begging to be cured.
Whatever it is that you’re thinking about chasing; whether its your Storm, Intention, or Goal… turn the key in your ignition and start driving, even if that road is rarely traveled. The path less traveled is often full of things rarely seen.
Sonny is a US Navy EOD Tech and photographer. You can see some insight to both his profession as well as his personal photography via Instagram at
or on his website