Download a powerpoint of the photograph.
Ask students for their first impressions on seeing the photograph. If the class had to choose just one word to sum it up, what would it be? Ask students to identify particular elements of the picture that contribute to that effect.
Challenge students to say as much as they can about the soldier, his surroundings and how he might be feeling. Can they imagine the sounds and the smells of that war scene? What might he have been doing just before the picture was taken?
The photograph, taken on 16 September 2007, shows a US soldier of the 2nd Battalion (Airborne) of the 503rd Infantry, US Army. The setting is an outpost in the Korengal Valley in the Eastern province of Afghanistan. The valley has seen some of the most intense fighting by US soldiers anywhere in the world.
The purpose of the outpost is to protect the main US base further up the valley. A platoon of around 30 soldiers takes fire from virtually every direction. When they are not fighting they are working, filling sandbags and building up fortifications. The photographer Tim Hetherington says, "It’s an image about a young man, on the side of a mountain in Afghanistan. He's in a bunker that he dug by hand. A quarter of his unit are dead or wounded. He doesn't know if he will see his wife again."
The photographer says he feels connected to the soldier through the image. He hopes that anyone viewing it can become connected with him too. Invite students to say what feelings of sympathy or understanding the image creates. Discuss the young soldier. If he was not at war what might he be doing? Talk about the humanity of this soldier, and of all soldiers on all sides in all wars. Is it a view that is present or absent in most discussions of conflict?
Discuss the power of images to connect people. What photographs have students seen that allow them to feel a sense of closeness and understanding with other people or events?
Talk about students' experience of exhaustion – their own or that of people who are close to them. What happens to you when you are unable to rest? Discuss different causes of exhaustion in modern life – child care, illness, overworking, partying... What are the differences, what are the similarities?
In 2008, the photograph won first prize in the World Press Photo awards. Discuss why. Much more dramatic, horrific and gruesome images of conflict exist. Why might the judges have been so impressed with this one?
The soldier in the photograph says he is proud of the image, as are his parents and his wife. Talk about what conflict is like for the families of serving military personnel. Discuss how they live from day to day knowing what circumstances are like for their relative. What makes it easier for them, and what might make it harder?
Do students feel they know enough about the circumstances and experiences of UK armed forces in conflict? Whose accounts would they most like to hear? Do they feel the public in general know enough? There have been a few calls this year for greater appreciation of the work of the armed forces. Do students support those views? If so, what public recognition can they suggest?
During World War I, 1914–18, people talked about soldiers who suffered "shell shock". Nowadays it tends to be called post-traumatic stress disorder. Discuss the psychological injuries caused by warfare. In what way are they different from and similar to physical injuries?
Other World Press Photo winning images are the basis of the migration lesson plan.
For more resources, visit redcross.org.uk/education