This is our Freedom

"To really know us, to know what happened to us, you have to be here. You have to see it with your own eyes."

The most common question asked of the Syracuse News21 team during our six-week stay in rural Washington state was a simple one, but it proved difficult to answer:

Why are you here?

To answer in brief, we went to Ferry and Okanogan counties because so many veterans are there. The reasons why they are there are sometimes obvious, sometimes touching and sometimes discouraging to hear, and they helped guide us in telling these stories.

All That Lingers


By Justin Murphy News21 / Syracuse University

Even after you get to the swinging front gate — across the gravel bridge over Bolster Creek, half a mile down a rumbling, rutted driveway, cheatgrass stabbing through the car windows and magpies rattling along a barbed wire fence — Jerry Middleton’s house is still out of sight.

Wives Left Behind


By Sherri Williams
News21 / Syracuse University

Rayna Cawston has been through a war deployment. She understands the fear, loneliness and anxiety of having a husband in a combat zone.

When Rayna, 25, was afraid to sleep alone at night she had her girls — Mylia, 7, and Antya, 22 months — sleep with her. Scary noises Rayna heard at night prompted her to buy two intimidating dogs for an added sense of security. As Rayna’s loneliness lingered and her sadness swelled she started to take antidepressants, and had her family rally around her to support her.

All good things must end

All of us with our K Diamond K friends!

Well, last week we packed up and moved out of the K Diamond K bunkhouse, where we had been living for nearly seven weeks. 

Now we're back in Syracuse, working in a windowless, fluorescent-lit room in Newhouse. Don't get me wrong, the computer labs at the university are fantastic, but nothing compares to working in a window-filled room surrounded by beautiful mountainous landscapes.

Different Vets in the woods

Ed Bush and Bob Davis talk as the sun sets. Photo by: Juliette Lynch

Ed and Linda Bush took another several hours of their time Saturday to escort Juliette and I around to veterans in the woods of Ferry and Okanogan counties. We met two: Mike Rounds and Bob Davis.

Mike, who spent four years in the Army during the Vietnam War, has steely eyes, a cool, steady voice, and 20 gorgeous acres far above a wooded valley. For 25 years, he designed traffic patterns for major events in Seattle, a job that gave him a thorough distaste for city life. “I see living out here as definitely an escape,” he said.

Timelapse: 24 Hours in the Valley

Photo by:

In this video watch 24 hours unfold in 60 seconds, shot from the view out the window of the Syracuse News21 Bunkhouse in Republic, WA.

Home Tour

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Wednesday we tagged along for a tour of the Okanogan Department of Social and Health Services along with Okanogan County Community Action Council Executive Director Lael Duncan and some VIP visitors. Mike Gregoire and WDVA Director John E. Lee were making rounds and visited a home that local service officers hope could make a suitable site to house homeless veterans. The brand new home was built with the help of local high school students.

All in the Family

The Starkel/Thornton Family. Photo by: AJ Chavar

We had a lengthy portrait session the other day with Jared's family, but it was nice to get some shots for them to have as keepsakes besides the standard photojournalistic images I have taken. Ultimately they'll be getting CDs (and hopefully prints) of the work we've done on the family, and I thought some portraits could both add to the coverage we are doing, and be a nice way to say "thank you" to them for letting us into their lives so easily and so frequently!

Left: Jared and Clark; Middle: Katy and Ashleigh; Right: Cassie and Garryn

Nature as Abstract Art

Late afternoon light warms clouds in Tonasket, WA. Photo by: AJ Chavar

In addition to writing, photographing, and videotaping stories here in Washington, we're also trying to make a wide array of statistics and other "dry" data as interesting visually as it is cerebrally.

To that end, Dave Miller and I are working together on a series of natural environment infographics; combining graphically composed still images with graph and text data in a way that makes sense on a visual and emotional level.

The Uncharted road

The sign outside of Gary's house from our first visit. Photo by Juliette Lynch

When you think you might get shot, it’s scary.

To wit: Juliette and I drove into the woods near Lost Lake yesterday to track down our “mountain vets,” Gary LaShelle and Frank Walaczek. After nine miles of single-lane dirt-road driving, it turned out neither was home. We think.

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