Sergeant Steve Blake is a professional Army Photographer with the Royal Logistic Corps. A trained soldier, Steve is currently serving a six-month tour of Afghanistan as part of the three-man Combat Camera Team (comprising a trained journalist, photographer and video cameraman).
Steve and the team are based at Camp Bastion in Helmand province but will spend most of their time out on the ground, capturing life on the front line.
Over the past week, the Combat Camera Team have been out on a job with a difference.
We were recently approached by Warrant Officer Class 2 (WO2) Simon Macey, the Forward Operating Base Catering Warrant Officer (FOBCWO), from the Bastion Kitchen regarding a front-line feeding story.
WO2 Macey is responsible for the feeding of all troops in forward locations from Bastion. This comprises of nearly 6,000 troops. It is his job to ensure enough ration packs are sent to even the remotest of locations within Helmand.
As I am sure you can appreciate, transporting fresh food to these remote Checkpoints (CP’s) can be quite tricky, therefore, most of the lads don’t receive a vast amount of fresh, but aPpreciate the little things they do manage to get.
So, with a plan in mind, WO2 Macey and WO2 Medlock proposed a plan, fully endorsed by the Brigade Commander, Brigadier Patrick Sanders, that they would fly to as many CPs as possible within their six-month tour to cook fresh food for the blokes, and intend to spend at least 24hrs in each location.
The main aim for the Operation was to boost morale, but to also provide some hands-on training to those in the CPs responsible for cooking. A booklet written by WO2 Macey would also be handed out with basic kitchen hygiene rules in, and some menu options using the 10-man ration pack, just to vary their diets with the food they had.
With everything in place, we headed to the kitchen to watch WO2 Macey prepare his food boxes before the off. The preparation that goes into a five-day Op, feeding blokes at three different CPs was immense, but needless to say, carried out with true Military precision. WO2 Macey flew about the store with his boxes, filling them to the brim, this was all before any fresh was included.
Fresh chicken and fillet steak
That night we met at the flight line with our kit, which weighed a fair bit as it was, only to meet WO2 Macey with his 750kg of freight! Luckily there were only seven of us on the Merlin flight, but with all this freight it was still packed, and boy did it take some loading! There were about six large boxes, a field cookset and a portable refrigeration unit full of fresh chicken and fillet steaks, then all of our personal kit and cameras.
After an arduous 20 minutes of packing the aircraft, we were off, heading for Patrol Base (PB) 5 in the Nad-e-Ali South region. We were to spend a night there before our road moves to the CPs where he will be feeding personnel from 2nd Battalion The Rifles.
The next morning we had time after breakfast for some final prep, and loading of stores before we headed out to CP Sarhad. The cooker also got tested and run up before that got delivered to CP Seka prior to our arrival the next day.
On arrival at CP Sarhad, it was time to get straight to work. WO2 Macey quickly blitzed the kitchen area, with our help, before starting lunch. Anyone would have thought all these blokes’ Christmases had come at once, they were ecstatic. They had been on ration packs for three months, and rarely got any fresh. This was a real treat for them.
Having got all excited over the amount of fresh food they were about to consume, they decided to treat it like Christmas Day and get dressed up. God knows where they got some of their outfits from, but this was the most viewer friendly image I have to show you. The rest of the outfits showed quite a bit of flesh, need I say more!
No sooner was lunch over, and the lads got cracking with the pan bashing (Military term for cleaning the pots), WO2 Macey was preparing a chicken curry and fillet steak for the evening meal. The last meal to be cooked at Sarhad would be breakfast. The lads were out of an Op that morning, so breakfast was a very early start prior to them all heading out. I think heading out on an Op after bacon baps, porridge and danish pastries was a good start to the day for them.
After breakfast, the Mastiffs arrived and we were off again. By this point, we finally had the feeling back in our feet after a freezing night sleeping on the floor in their compound.
The cookset had arrived safely at CP Seka the day before, although everyone was scared to touch it until we arrived in case they broke it, knowing they would get three freshly cooked meals from it.
About an hour or so before lunch, one of the patrols arrived back at the CP. They had just got in from an Op, one that they had got contacted on, resulting in one of the lads being shot in the leg. Those of you that know what Squaddies are like, will know we have weird senses of humour. Needless to say, once they found out he had only got shot in the leg, the jokes started. Most of them revolving around the fact that he had only been in Afghan for 10 days, and gets to go home already! So, in a weird way morale was already high, but would get higher when lunch arrived.
Yet again, the blokes were amazed with this experience! The thought of fresh food, cooked by a professional chef was the talk of the CP. Not one bloke went past the kitchen without making a comment about how ‘amazing’ it was, and how they were ‘proper chuffed.’ For us, this was a great story to cover, with such a positive reason for doing it. Plus, we knew we’d get fed well for the five days we were out! Ha
Again, WO2 Macey set straight to work on the evening meal as soon as lunch was finished. I’ll give him credit where credit’s due, he worked bloody hard, as do all chef.
As with the last CP, Seka had 3 fresh meals cooked for them before we left for CP Chabaak. On arrival at Chabaak, we were pleasantly surprised by its size in comparison to Seka and Sarhad. Chabaak is the only out of the three that has been almost 100% purpose built. The others are old Afghan compounds that are rented by ISAF, and probably older than all the blokes in it put together.
Chabaak was quite a chilled day for the CCT. We had all the footage we needed in both stills and video from the last two CP’s, so we spent most of the day helping in the kitchen.
Come dine with me
Loads of the blokes had heard about the visit, but didn’t quite know what to expect. When they saw they would have fillet steak, spicy savoury rice, spicy potato wedges, carrots, homemade garlic and chilli bread, chocolate cake and homemade raspberry cheesecake for their evening meal, reality soon sank in. They were ecstatic. It was the talk of the CP for the whole time we were there. They couldn’t thank WO2 Macey enough.
As it was the last CP to be covered, and the Brigade Commander had given the Op such a well-known title, we thought it only right to get some scoring done, in true ‘Come Dine With Me’ fashion. What a laugh. The lads sat and gave a proper critique on camera, obviously lots of humour was involved, but it worked well. It was really good to see them happy, although their morale seemed high anyway, this Op just boosted it off the radar!
All in all a cracking job. The chefs here do an amazing job, often for no gratitude at all. To travel down to the remotest CPs in Helmand, and cook three fresh meals is something everyone appreciated during the trip, and that was great to see!
WO2 Macey and WO2 Medlock are currently planning their Christmas dinner delivery Op next, which, if it all goes to plan, every soldier within a CP in Helmand will get a freshly cooked Christmas dinner on Christmas Day. Quite a task, but with helicopters and armoured vehicles in the planning process, they hope to achieve their aim.