Serving Clovis, Portales and the Surrounding Communities

Op Love captures memories

Portales resident Nikki Penny and her daughter, Haley Penny, look through photos at their home.

Three local photographers are preserving moments for local military families through a program called Operation: Love ReUnited.

The non-profit is made up of photographers nationwide who donate sessions and albums to soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines who are deploying for an overseas tour of duty, already deployed overseas or returning home from an overseas deployment.

An album of 4x6 patriotic photographs from the session is sent to the service member at home or abroad. The mission is to boost the deployed service member’s morale.

Portales resident Nikki Penny, 24, works as the regional coordinator for the area. As a military spouse, Penny said she knows what families go through when a service member gets orders to deploy.

“I’ve gone through deployments and TDYs,” she said. “I know how important it is to have those photos for them to look at while they’re gone.”

Penny’s husband has been in the Air Force for almost two years. Penny has been with Op Love, as the photographers call it, for about a year, she said, and enjoys giving back with her photography.

“I picked photography up as a hobby. I had a friend who used to do Op Love. She suggested it to me as a good opportunity,” she said. “I wanted to be able to give back to our military families.”

The program grew locally when photographer Kristin Allen’s husband was stationed at Cannon Air Force Base two years ago and she worked as the regional coordinator.

“Whenever I first moved out there, nothing was going on. It just took off when I started getting the word out,” Allen said.

Allen’s husband received orders and the couple moved to Bellview, Neb., where Allen still volunteers as an Op Love photographer. She introduced Penny to the program.

“As a military spouse, there’s something extra knowing what we go through,” she said. “It’s an amazing program. It’s priceless. It’s free to them and to me it’s worth more than anything to be able to give them these pictures.”

Allen said she’s glad to see the program in Clovis and Portales grow to three photographers. Penny said three are needed to keep up with the work load.

Two of the three local photographers are military spouses. Clovis resident Jaymi Firestone’s only connection with the military died with her grandfather.

“I grew up in Clovis. I’ve been around Cannon for so long...having been in a military town has made me more patriotic. It gave me more respect for the men and women who serve our country,” the 24-year-old said.

Firestone also had a friend involved with Op Love who told her about it.

“It sounded like a neat thing to do,” Firestone said. “We’re giving them something, paying back what they’re doing for us a little. It’s nice to give them that something that will make them feel close to home.”

Firestone has been with Op Love for about four months and hasn’t done a donated session yet. She’s been a photographer since she picked up a camera in her teens and liked it enough to make it a career.

“I like being able to capture moments that only happen once,” she said.

Clovis resident Kayla Blair has been with Op Love for two months and also hasn’t done a shoot yet.

“With my husband having orders to deploy at the time, I wanted to provide families the support that was offered to me,” she said about joining the program. “Being a photographer, I knew that I could offer that and thought it was a great idea.”

Blair, 24, said she enjoys taking photos of military families before a deployment and at homecomings.

“I like that I can take pictures of a family completely together,” she said. “Right before they leave and when they come back, their love is so strong because they don’t want to let go. I want to capture that.”

Military families interested in having their family photographed before or during a deployment or at a homecoming can find a local photographer on the program’s website, oplove.org.

 
 
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