ALEXANDRIA, Va. — Service members transitioning out of the service face a new set of challenges as they begin brand new careers. One group is working to alleviate some of that stress.
Portraits for Patriots focuses on the first impression: The headshot.
The group has built up a network of local photographers across the country who offer free professional portraits to people leaving military service.
One of these volunteers based in Alexandria is Sam Fatima, who owns Sam Headshots.
“My wife works for the State Department, and I see those that serve our country, whether they're in civilian jobs or military jobs, and they give a lot of sacrifices to keep us safe," Fatima said. "And I wanted just to thank them, and offer them something that I can do.”
He can take a photo that captures the essence of who someone is.
That's a huge help to service members, like Master Sergeant Audrey Tanacea, who is retiring from the Army soon, after 22 years.
“I've never had to interview before. I've never had to write a resume before," Tanacea said.
She also hasn't had a headshot taken of her out of her uniform.
“So I just started googling… and I just happened to land on Portraits for Patriots," she said. "And then I was blessed to have found Sam.”
He's been volunteering his talents since 2021. Since then, he estimates that he's taken close to 300 portraits of veterans and their spouses.
“It’s actually a big part," Marine Matthew Jordan said. “It's how you market yourself and how you're really showing yourself to the world. So I think most people just think of it as a photo. But, you know, I think it has a lot more meaning than that."
Headshots can be a steep expense, so these service members say being able to get them taken for free is a huge help.
“It's amazing that people like Sam volunteer their time, with no compensation, to help people like me get started on the next step of their journey," Maura Thompsan, who has served in the Navy for 20 years, said.
Fatima uses a few different techniques to help his clients relax — like asking them to think of the last time they were truly happy.
“You want to represent their true self, so they can go out in the world and find a new job and conquer a new mission," he said.
Tanacea said she's been thinking a lot about the missions she's completed over the last 20+ years.
“I've thought about my own service and the fact that I've had some near-death challenges myself, she said. "And I'm still here, and I'm just grateful for that.”
She's grateful, reflecting on her last chapter, as she transitions into her next one.
If you'd like to apply to the Portraits for Patriots program, click here.