Three years ago, Jacob J. Kirk was taking a photography class at Howard Community College. Today, he is taking photographs of the devastation caused by the tsunami in Indonesia.
A photographer's mate airman, Kirk, 21, is stationed aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln in the Indian Ocean, off the coast of Indonesia, taking pictures and aiding survivors.
"This thing completely wiped out a country, no standing buildings ... beach then destruction," Kirk wrote in an e-mail. "Then we go through mountains and valleys, looks a lot like Vietnam. "
"I landed and started taking pictures right away of the Indonesian soldiers with blank stares on their faces," he wrote.
Kirk was honored in October with the Walter L. Richardson 2004 Pacific Photographer of the Year award for his work in Navy photography. The award came with a computer, watch and camera, and also some recognition from his Ellicott City family many miles away.
"We were always close; we were only two years apart, so I went to school with him," said his sister, Kelly, a senior at Glenelg High School. "For him to succeed that quickly, I'm really proud."
Kirk - who also has a 12-year-old brother, Doug, who goes to Glenwood Middle School - said he wants to document for the rest of the world the destruction and suffering he has encountered in South Asia.
"I just want people to know what's really going on over here from a real source, who has been in the thick of the thing and talked to the people of the country," he said in an e-mail.
Through his photography, which has been published worldwide by the Associated Press and other photo services, Kirk captures life amid the devastation.
"I've seen things I never thought I would see in my life," wrote Kirk, who went to high school in Washington state. "The people are so unbelievably nice, and it's amazing after all that has happened to them that they still have compassion for others."
He added: "I sat on the ground to talk to a family that lost everything and before I got to the ground they wanted to put cardboard where I was sitting. I told them not to worry and smiled and they laughed ... after all that they've been through, they want to put a piece of cardboard under me so I'd be comfortable. Amazing.
"I told them that we are helping, the world is joining together and showing love. ... Nations from all over the world joining together to help a country is something so powerful to see. And it gives us all hope. Hope for peace on earth."
Kirk is also one of three search and rescue swimmers aboard the Abraham Lincoln, a position that required five weeks of intense training last summer in Jacksonville, Fla.
"He got to the ship and he noticed that there was a handful of guys wearing shirts and hats that had this motto, 'So others may live,' " said Kirk's father, John, 46. "He asked about it; they told him those are rescue swimmers ... in case somebody goes overboard."
He added, "A photographer might be viewed as a soft job, so it's kind of a unique combination to be a photographer and then be a rescue swimmer."
After his service in the Navy, Kirk aspires to be a filmmaker, according to his father.
His mother, Kim, said she's seen her son mature quickly during his time in the Navy.
"When he was a little boy, he used to tell me that he was going to take an airplane and feed the poor," she said. "It's kind of ironic that he's out there saving people's lives."