War dances and the nomadic life

Herrick 18 Stories

Capt Mau Gris. Sgt Barry Pope RLC (Phot)

Capt Mau Gris. Sgt Barry Pope RLC (Phot)

Captain Mau Gris is team leader for the British Army’s Combat Camera Team (CCT) based in Afghanistan throughout the summer 2013 as part of 1 Mechanized Brigade. Op Herrick 18′s CCT also includes Sergeant Barry Lloyd – video cameraman – and Sergeant Barry Pope – photographer.

Tongan tribal dance

Hi, it’s been awhile since I last wrote because we have been out and about Helmand; living out of our Bergens. Lots of very random, interesting stuff has cropped up and the lads (His Holiness and Lloydie) and I have covered them all.

Now if you had told me during pre-deployment training that within 2 weeks of being in Afghanistan I would be flying out of Helmand to a completely different province, I would probably have snorted and said something along the lines of, ‘yeah right, whatever.’

Well, that happened. Now imagine if you’d told me I would be filming a Maori war dance. Sure enough, I found myself in a small tent confronted with 60 Tongan soldiers who were going to show me how it was well and truly done.

These quiet but impressive soldiers had quietly completed their tour of duty guarding one of the main entrances to Camp Bastion, they were going to perform ‘the Sipi Tau’. Which is a traditional Tongan tribal dance done by ‘the old guard’ to test whether ‘the new guard’ is ready and up to the task.’

It was incredible, the noise and passion displayed was truly impressive. From prior painful experience we knew as a team, that the noise levels would be blown out unless we adjusted the ‘gain’ on the mics and strategically positioned them so they weren’t to close.

Annoyingly for Lloydie every rendition of the Sipi Tau was done slightly differently, so none of the video could really be cut together but the sound of it is impressive enough.

For a listen click here.

After blowing the audience away with the Sipi Tau, the deeply religious Tongans broke out into a Hymn, which was both the opposite in spirit to the war dance, but still made the hairs on the back of your neck stand up.

Click here for a listen.

Images of the Tongan Defence Force  medal presentation parade.

Images of the Tongan Defence Force medal presentation parade.

Images of the Tongan Defence Force  medal presentation parade.

Images of the Tongan Defence Force medal presentation parade.

FOB life

This last few weeks has also been a period of nomadic living for me and the CCT. We have been spreading the CCT love. First up was Forward Operating Base Ouellette and it’s little brother, Observation Post Dara. One of the interesting things about us travelling is that about five per cent of the stuff we take with us is normal travelling kit, like washing kit, sleeping bag. The rest is pure kit.

Situated to the North Ouellette is a large camp that houses the Royal Highland Fusiliers, the Second Battalion the Royal Regiment of Scotland, and the attached personnel.

FOB Life, Ouellette

FOB Life, Ouellette

FOB Life, Ouellette

FOB Life, Ouellette

FOB Life, Ouellette

FOB Life, Ouellette

FOB Life, Ouellette

FOB Life, Ouellette

One of the main reason for the existence of the camp is to help out the Afghan National Civil Order Police or ANCOP as they are called. Their job is patrolling route 611, one of the main routes in Helmand. So we got out on the ground with them and the British forces with them, in this case the Explosive Ordnance Disposal and Search Task Force.

It was a great experience, going through one of the local Bazaars making sure it was free of explosives. It was good to see how well received both Afghan and British Troops were by the locals but importantly it was a good lesson for me about how the team worked out on the ground.

One of my main responsibilities is to act as a body guard for the guys whilst we are out on the ground. The idea being that they are focusing on their jobs with their hands full of camera equipment.

 

The CCT at work out at the forward operating bases

The CCT at work out at the forward operating bases

 

The CCT at work out at the forward operating bases

The CCT at work out at the forward operating bases

 

Previously, because his holiness (Sgt Pope) has always deployed separately to myself and Lloydie, I had no problems covering one man. Now I had two guys, both of whom don’t want to be anywhere near each other (they tend to get in each other shots, and the stills camera is too noisy when taking pictures to be near the video camera).

I found myself having to make rapid decisions on the ground who was in the riskiest position and most vulnerable. Not that either were in any real danger in this situation as there was more than enough soldiers around. I found myself with Lloydie more often than not, as ENG filming draws the attention more completely, his Holiness is able to maintain more situational awareness because the camera is up to his face less often when taking stills.

Next up was Observation Post Dara, positioned a little way away from Ouellette, it’s a little camp, with enough guys in it, to keep a constant watch on the green zone that it overlooks. FOB soldiering at its purest, like the start of the campaign. The guys cooked, cleaned, and looked after each other. I am sure for some, the idea of living there for six months on top of each other would make most stir crazy; but the guys were a formed community. Living safely guided by the standard operating procedures they had laid down.

FOB life PB Attal

FOB life PB Attal

FOB life PB Attal

FOB life PB Attal

Finally there was the comfortable Patrol Base Attal. We got sent there at the last minute of some filming concerning Armed force and were welcomed by E battery of 1 RHA. What we saw here is what happens when an Army Chef puts his heart and soul into a kitchen, top rate food and obvious pride in the kitchen. This seemed to eminate around camp with the guys taking that little bit of time to make the place more homely.

Anyway, thanks for reading let me know what you think or want you want to hear about on twitter .

See you next time guys.

Read Mau’s other blogs here: Capt Mau Gris

Follow Mau on Twitter: @mau_gris

3 thoughts on “War dances and the nomadic life

  1. Thank you for another great blog which I always look forward to reading, listening to the Tongan soldiers Sipi Tau, and there very moving hymn was truly amazing,sharing with us life for the guys in the FOB’s really interesting, and eye opening as well! Brilliant pictures as always, look forward to your next blog
    Stay safe
    Anna

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  2. Thank you Capt, Gris,

    I enjoy reading about your lives – even though not in the safest spot in this crazy world. The camaraderie sounds wonderful and under the circumstances very necessary. There’s a certain unspoken brotherhood no words can summarize, the bond lifelong. Even in the most silent of moments, to the most daunting of times, you watch over each other whilst reflecting on life.

    It doesn’t seem fair when those we care about the most are taken from us so suddenly but yet we go on so that we can be there for those that have a place in our hearts.

    I wish you safety, a hawk’s eye when watching over the lads, bravery, and excellent instinct. May your journey be uneventful during your tour but include the beauty of nature, brotherhood love, and a certainty that you are helping shape the world, one person, one step at a time.

    Yours,

    Rachael

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