Sumter, SC (WLTX) -"One minute people are laughing and you're just doing the daily things and the next minute we're getting shot at," said former Staff Sgt. Ashley Brokop.
Women in the military can now serve on the front lines in combat roles, thanks to the removal of a ban that prevented them. Yet while Brokop was serving, she was on the front lines.
Brokop didn't need a ban to be lifted she didn't shoot an assault weapon instead she was armed with a Canon digital camera.
"Afterward you sit down to edit your work and you realize what you actually lived through or what you dealt with," she said.
She was attached to the First Calvary with the Army in Iraq and Afghanistan for almost four years as a military photographer. Many times she found herself in the middle of the action.
"One of the tanks that was in front of our vehicle was hit and that was the first time I had been in a situation like that," Brokop said. "The men were pulled out of the tank and that was the first time I'd seen a dead body."
Brokop witnessed war through the lens of her camera. She was the only woman deployed with the unit to Iraq.
"I felt like the Army, they're not used to fighting with women. They're not used to having women with them," she said. "I think the Army sometimes feels like we're a liability because we are women, we're not really helping by shooting back. Sometimes we do, but sometimes we're there just to document. We are armed, but our main priority and our main job is to document what's going on."
Brokop has had a front row seat to history.
"Up pulls an armored van and Sadaam Hussein comes off," Brokop said.
She watched as Iraq women enlisted to defend their country.
"It's exciting but I know that they have a long road ahead of them because just seeing how America's progressed and how many years its been. I know that they're going to have quite a few years until they are respected as equal," she said.
Brokop is a proponent of the change and says the military culture will have to adjust to it.
"Traditionally men want to protect the women and so I think we're going to have to figure out our roles now. We work with camaraderie but I think it's going to be something that's going to take time to get used to," she said.
Brokop got out of the military in 2006.
She's still shooting, but has changed her focus from war to capturing moments at weddings to baby and family portraits.
If you'd like to see more of Ashley's work, you can click here.