Sergeant Steve Blake is a professional Army Photographer with the Royal Logistic Corps. A trained soldier, Steve has recently returned from a six-month tour of Afghanistan as part of the three-man Combat Camera Team. Having completed his operational tour, Steve continues his role as a photographer and soldier this time focusing his lens on the UK.
The last couple of weeks here at the Army Headquarters in Andover have been exceptionally busy. I have covered a variety of jobs including the Secretary of State for Defence, TA Cavalry firing the Challenger 2 Main Battle Tank, an archaeological dig and a Forces career day. There has certainly been no rest for the wicked.
On exercise with the Royal Army of Oman
Another interesting story I covered was the Royal Army of Oman on exercise with 2nd Battalion ‘The Parachute Regiment’ on Salisbury Plain. The Omani Western Frontier Regiment had spent two weeks on exercise with 2 Para, which concluded at the Military training village of Copehill Down.
Troops arrive by Helicopter
The arrival of all the exercising troops was to be by Helicopter insertion. So after a short wait, the helicopter ‘work-horses’ arrived, otherwise known as the Chinook.
Within minutes of the aircraft landing, the ground was covered with a sea of multi-coloured camouflage. With the Omani soldiers leading the patrol, it was quite clear who was who. The patrols strengths varied. Some were small 2 Para patrols, while others were mixed with the Oman’s.
It wasn’t long before everyone got into cover for more detailed map briefs. Once into cover and the commanders had put their men in the relevant places, the briefs took place. After the main briefings, the men needed to move closer to Copehill village in order to get a better appreciation of the land and current exercise threat.
The CO, by this time, had all his ‘ducks in a row’ so to speak and was ready for the off. The relevant sections were informed of their route of approach. They then prepared to attack the village.
More than a few surprises
As with any well planned exercise, there were more than a few surprises for the lads. Several buildings had been occupied with ‘enemy’ and were making the task anything but easy for the troops. Once the main entry to the village was done, they progressed down the street clearing each building as they moved forward. Some of these buildings were made purposely hard to enter, so high entries were needed. As with any good commanders’ assessment of the task, ladders and all relevant equipment were carried for this reason.
By now, the exercise was moving at a nice pace. The Omani soldiers were really proving their worth too, working together with ease, despite an obvious language barrier.
The exercise, from my point of view, was going well. The enemy were taking a good hit and the progress being made was excellent. The Paras had a good amount of weapon systems between them, as did the Omanis. As the exercise came to a natural lull, it was clear that not many enemy positions were still manned. The lads were all pumping with adrenaline and could have continued on all day.
In front of the lens
It had been a long time since my last trip to Copehill. Photographically, this was a good job for me as it always provides me with good pictures.
Training villages like these always have their advantages. Firing blanks is one of them. This means my movement is less restricted due to safety implications, as sometimes being in front of the barrel of a machine gun is where you need to be for the best image. Clearly this can never happen on a live range.
Once we were finished, it was back to the office to edit and send to press. Job done! For the official press release from this story, please visit the Army Website
So all in all it’s been a very busy, but varied couple of weeks at work. Over the next few weeks I have some Olympic Torch events and a trip to the Defence Animal Centre to look forward too. These will make for some amazing images!
Thanks for reading and more from me soon