PORTRAITS OF CAPITAL AIRMEN: Remembering Arlington's Airmen

Joint Base Andrews, Md. -- My Name is Christopher Ruano. I am a staff Sergeant in the United States Air Force. I work for the Air Force District of Washington as a still photographer.

I am the storyteller of the Air Force's mission at Arlington National Cemetery.

Not many Americans have the chance to see, and not many photographers have the honor to cover the stories that I see.

I am one of two photographers in the USAF trained to photograph Air Force funerals at Arlington National Cemetery, Va., one of our nation's most sacred grounds.

The photos I take are not for me, or the public - but for the wives, husbands, mothers, fathers and, yes, even for the children, of our nation's fallen heroes. The photos are to remember those who have given the ultimate sacrifice for our country's freedom and for the freedom of others.

Before Arlington, I didn't really have an appreciation for the mission - or maybe it was just a lack of knowledge. But after my first funeral, I promised myself that I would get the best photos I could for the families so that their last day with loved ones would always be remembered.

One funeral I will never forget was of Tech. Sgt. John Brown, 24th Special Tactics Squadron, who was killed when his Chinook helicopter was hit with a rocket propelled grenade during a mission in Afghanistan.

This was a sad funeral like all the rest I have covered. However, it was amazing when more than 100 of his fellow special operations members came to comfort his wife and pay their respects. Not only was Brown their comrade, but also a friend. Each of his fellow service members nailed in coins, representing special operations, onto his coffin before it was lowered into the earth. It was a sight to see.

Photographing Arlington funeral services has given me a deeper appreciation for the one percent of Americans who choose to serve our country in the U.S. military.

It gives me a deeper appreciation for our U.S. Air Force Chaplains, Band, and Honor Guard ceremonial guardsmen and women who perform their missions at Arlington National Cemetery every day. They display precision, excellence and the utmost reverence to honor our Airmen and their families.

I have a deeper appreciation for my own life, my family, and my fellow Airmen.

This is my story. My name is Staff Sgt. Christopher Ruano, AFDW, USAF.