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.
Well, today is Boxing Day. For most of you, the festive season is still in full swing, but for us, the Christmas rush and its festivities are over.
The last week has been a manic one. With several key visits all before Christmas, there has been no rest for the CCT.
The first visit, which was not done for media publicity, was the Earl and Countess of Wessex. They both flew out to Afghanistan for a two-day programme. The first day was in Helmand, before heading to Kandahar for the second day.
So on the first morning, after an initial ‘meet and greet,’ we flew out to Patrol Base (PB) 2 in Nahr-e Saraj South.
As the Regimental Colonels for both 5 and 2 Rifles, it was key for them to see as many men from their battalions as possible. So after a quick morning brief on the current situation within the area, they got a guided tour of camp.
The Earl and Countess had several key bits to see within the PB, including the Operations Room (Ops Rm), the Welfare facilities, and the Regimental Aid Post, or Medical Centre. After this, the Royalty split down into two, slightly different visits, where the Earl of Wessex got to meet soldiers from A Company, 2 Rifles, who had just arrived at PB2 from a nearby Check Point (CP).
With A Company fresh in off the ground, they were able to demonstrate their capabilities within their patrol. The Earl was briefed by the team medic, the lead man of the patrol, the patrol commander and the Signaller. This all highlighted key points about how they operate as a patrol, what kit they carry, how they carry it and so on.
Another part of the visit, was showing the Earl the latest Counter IED measures, showing him the kit used to detect IEDs, and also an example of an IED. Very eye opening stuff for him to see.
After the visit was over, and lunch was eaten, we flew back to Bastion. I think the RAF Chinook crew enjoyed their flight back, giving the Royals a real taste for ‘tactical’ flying! It was a real cheeky ride back, but quite a good one. Not sure the Countess of Wessex enjoyed it as much as the crew did though.
That night, we were off to meet 2 Rifles, the Brigade Advisory Group (BAG) in Camp Tombstone. Their first point of call was to meet the Afghan Commander of the 3rd Brigade, Afghan National Army, Brigadier General Sheren Shah.
The General spoke about upcoming Operations with the BAG, and the recent training they have undertaken. The General enjoyed a cup of ‘chai’ with the Royals, before presenting them with traditional Afghan gifts.
Then it was time for a spot of curry at the BAG before having a group photo at the end of the night.
A day or so later, Christmas preparations seemed to be going well.
The Royal Regiment of Scotland Band had recently arrived in theatre with a master plan of visiting as many PBs as possible. The weather mucked up their plans a bit, but nevertheless, they put on a good show at the carol service.
The Chief of The General Staff (CGS) General Sir Peter Wall was in theatre at the time, so he was also in attendance. The hangar where the service took place was packed. Lots of people were getting in the festive mood, with Christmas hats, santa outfits etc, and believe it or not, they all seemed to sing, something squaddies are renowned for hating.
With several multi national forces in attendance too, the night went well. We had a choir from the United States forces sing to us, as well as the Tongan Marines serenade us with a Christmas Carol, but sung in their native tongue.
The CGS then addressed the troops, thanking them for their hard work and wishing them the best for the festive season.
Christmas day was just another working day for the CCT. We had planned to get out to the PBs but our plans fell through. We decided to cover the day with the BAG in Camp Tombstone, who were going to be hosting the Commander of the 3rd Brigade, Afghan National Army, Brigadier General Sheren Shah.
The day was relaxed, with the guys making the most of a day off since completing an Afghan Operation just prior to Christmas.
The day there was good, despite not having a drop of alcohol in sight.
The BAG all had their presents from the charity UK4U to open among many others, with WO2 Kev Diggle dressed as Santa, on a quad bike sleigh, dishing them out.
After the presents were over the carol service began, with the padre leading the proceedings.
The Officers and Senior Non Commissioned Officers then opened their ‘Secret Santa’ gifts from one another before heading over to lunch.
Lunch, as you would expect, was the full trimmings you probably had at home. Homemade tomato soup, beef, turkey, ham, pigs in blankets, sprouts, carrots, gravy and some of the most amazing puddings and cakes imaginable.
Everybody got served and sat to eat. Probably the quietest 20 minutes of the day, as everybody tucked into a cracking meal.
As mentioned, the Afghan General was also in attendance, which is something I am not sure has happened before. The day went well, and everybody enjoyed themselves.
For us, it was then back to the office to edit, making sure I got the pictures out for today’s press.
With the Christmas rush now over, work resumes as normal with my bags getting packed for an imminent trip out.