Lieutenant Claire Jackson is team leader for the British Army’s combat camera team for Herrick 19. She works alongside Sgt Dan Bardsley (photographer) and Sgt Paul Shaw (video cameraman). They are based in Afghanistan and will be covering the work of the Armed forces, in particular 7th Armoured Brigade – the Desert Rats, throughout the winter. They capture moving and still imagery from events out on the ground that national broadcasters don’t have access to.
Diamonds are forever
Goodbye 2013 and hello 2014! My last blog ended with Christmas festivities around Camp Bastion and highlighted the last few weeks prior to our RnR which we were very fortunate to get over New Years Eve. So not only did I get a Christmas Day in Afghanistan, I got to eat Turkey and stuffing all over again, drink mulled wine, and open more presents when I got back to the UK thanks to my parents.
It was so nice also to remind myself that there is still a bit of femininity lurking beneath the Army greens having worn no make-up and had my hair scraped back for the last 4 months. So time to get out the little black dress and dancing shoes, and welcome in the New Year.
And what a great start to 2014! My boyfriend, or as I should be referring to him these days, my fiancée…. popped the question on New Year’s Eve. So now I am the very proud owner of a beautiful diamond ring which is safely locked up in the UK ready for my return in March.
So back to the desert on a high, head buzzing with lots of wedding ideas (the real planning will have to wait until the tour finishes) and 8 weeks left until the end of tour. I wonder what stories are waiting to be discovered upon our return.
International Women’s Day
The first tasking we are given is in preparation for International Women’s Day on 8 March which celebrates the role that women have played and continue to play in conflict resolution and peace building. We’ve been asked to collate a list of women in the military involved in such roles and collect supporting imagery and footage.
Having spoken to a number of units around camp we have a list of potential candidates all lined up ready to be interviewed and talk about their roles in theatre and civilian roles if they are Reservists. After several trips out the data and images are recorded and a short list is compiled with an array of interesting stories ranging from a Movement Controller from Hong Kong who has a Masters in Crime Science but enjoys the military life and is thinking of becoming a Regular soldier, to a Senior Insurance Underwriter who is out here as a Troop Commander with 2 Close Support Logistic Regiment and is responsible for planning and implementing the Combat Logistic Patrols to and from the remaining bases. Both have very different roles but at the same time they are both contributing to the withdrawal of all British troops by the end of 2014.
Change in weather
We have been very lucky with the weather during this tour having been told that the winter is pretty wet and miserable in Afghanistan. Most days we have been waking up to a clear blue sky with just a slight nip in the air, and some amazing sunsets.
The good weather seems to running out though and over the last week there has been a couple of storms with snow forecast over the next few days. A great opportunity for both Dan and Paul though, and some stunning images I’m sure.
Ten green bottles
Not many people know that the water we drink in theatre comes from Afghanistan. Everyday approx 48,000 litres of water are pumped to the surface to quench the thirst of the troops in Camp Bastion and the remaining bases. Not all of it is treated and used as drinking water though, some of it is used to supply the toilets and bathrooms with running water, or as a dust suppressant around camp.
When we were initially asked to capture footage of the Camp Bastion water bottling plant I wasn’t too interested in the tasking, especially once we arrived and were told we were going to be given the full tour of the plant. I felt like we were going back to our school days with the random trips out that were supposed to be educational.
But having donned a hairnet, boot covers and a white lab coat, Paul and I headed off with video camera in hand to find out how the tiny plastic test-tube shaped containers that arrive in Bastion end up bottle shaped and filled with drinking water with their own ‘Bastion Drinking Water’ labels.
By having this water bottling facility in Bastion it has meant that money can be saved by not having to send truck loads of water across the desert. The plastic used to produce the bottles is a lot tougher than commercially produced bottles and gives them a longer shelf life (2 years rather than 12 months). They are also more robust to allow them to be air-dropped when supplying the forward operating bases.
Success for British-mentored Afghan soldiers
The focus over the past year has been for the Afghans to take the lead in operations in preparation for the withdrawal of ISAF troops. As part of this process British troops have been mentoring and training the Afghan National Army (ANA) in a number of ways.
The Kandak Liaison Team (KLT) made up of soldiers from 3rd Battalion, the Mercian Regiment and a number of attached Reservists from the 6th Battalion, the Rifles deployed alongside the ANA on an op to drive insurgents away from populated areas.
The CCT were offered at short notice a couple of seats on the op to capture the ANA at work. Sadly there were only two seats so I had to stay behind whilst Dan and Paul headed off in anticipation of a few days out on the ground.
The op was a great success all around with the ANA seizing and destroying a vast quantity of illegal fertilizer which is used for making explosives, and with them requiring minimal support from the KLT having taken advantage of the ISAF training they have received to lead the operation from start to finish.
As we draw nearer to the end of OP HERRICK it’s very rewarding to see how much we have helped the Afghans in terms of winning the fight over the Taliban. The ANA have improved in leaps and bounds from the memories that soldiers have recalled from previous tours.