Herrick 18 Stories
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 1st Mechanized Brigade. Op Herrick 18′s CCT also includes Sergeant Barry Lloyd – video cameraman – and Sergeant Barry Pope – photographer.A night time helicopter raid into a place of symbolic importance to the enemy, filming it in 3D. It doesn’t get more challenging than that.
First time ever
One of the more mixed times for us was the visit by the Prime Minister to Bastion. It was all super hush hush in the build up. It was interesting to see the media circus that follows him around, I would find it very claustrophobic to have 26 reporters following me round.
More annoyingly though the team and I were due to fly out to Kabul on a meaty job, but got put on stand by “just in case.” Now I don’t know whether it’s that mid-tour tiredness but no one seemed to want to do anything.
As anyone on tour will tell you, time slows down to a snail’s pace when you have nothing to do. We tried to keep ourselves busy with little jobs and housekeeping but when you’ve had a pukka job pulled from under your nose, nothing seems quite as good.
That said what I didn’t know, was that on the horizon was something that I have been trying to achieve for a while: a full team deployment filming in 3D, alongside the BRF on a helicopter mission into Yakchal, the area I talked about in my last blog.
The mission was to gather intelligence on the effect of one of the biggest operations the Afghan Forces had launched unaided, which had cleared through the area earlier in the month. In plain terms we wanted to see if there had been large re-infiltration of insurgents into the area.
What’s more – we were going to film this in 3D. The first mission of its kind to be recorded like this. Easier said than done! – we would be inserting at night so would have to take a separate camera for the night filming, and we would have to carry the large 3D camera with us the whole way.
The night came. I was carrying the big 3D camera initially as Lloydie was running about filming with the night vision camera. Unsurprisingly It’s flipping hard to get through irrigation ditches, waist high crops with a massive camera in one hand and rifle in the other, and with your depth perception shot to bits because you only have night vision on one eye!
Still, there are times when you just have to pinch yourself, how is it that I got this job? I was covering a helicopter operation at night, in Afghanistan, in 3D for the first time ever. You can’t help but smile through the sweat and suspicious smelling ditch water.
Military cat and mouse
The helicopter was cramped, as you would expect with two whole sections of Afghan and British soldiers. We landed, and rapidly debus-ed into a protective formation, in case the enemy were waiting. All was still, and the humid air settled over us as the helicopter left.
The silence was only punctuated with barking dogs and the sound of Sgt Pope’s Infra Red flash going off, which would be producing ghostly images of the troops in action. We moved off. Across fields and ditches, the night vision goggles turning the crops a ghostly green as we moved through them. Men scanning their arcs out into the inky darkness.
We were heading towards our objective known as ‘old school house.’ A place of symbolic importance to the enemy before the operation, we wanted to see what they would think of us taking up residence for the morning. Turns out they weren’t too keen on the idea.
They waited for a beautiful dawn to break before delivering a flurry of accurate rounds small arms fire, just over the tops of the heads of the sentries posted on the roof. This was some of the most professionally applied suppressing fire I had seen in a while.
The men of the Brigade Reconnaissance Force were more than up to challenge. What followed was military cat and mouse. Lloydie and his holiness got amongst the guys magnificently, producing what I believe will be the best media we have create this tour so far.
This harassing fire continued throughout the tasking, but the Afghan troops, the BRF and CCT continued business as usual. As we finished and withdrew the shooting died down, we were not followed. Some insurgents had returned but their appetite to take us on following the operation was not there.
Follow Mau on Twitter: @mau_gris