Lieutenant James Wakeham, Press Officer of the 4th Regiment, Royal Artillery (4 Regt RA) looks back at Operation HERRICK 12.
Recently, as I sat in an Afghan compound eating sun-warmed Baxter’s Tomato Soup (and in 50 degree heat that is more than adequate!) with small arms fire snapping in the air overhead, I couldn’t help but think back to the strange road that had led to this current situation.
When late last year I was chosen from a cast of literally… well, one – to take up the post of Unit Press Officer for the 4 Regt RA deployment to Afghanistan, my reaction was one of devastation. I had joined the Army to ‘soldier’ and now I was condemned to fighting the war from an office – cue the world’s smallest violins, playing the world’s saddest songs just for me.
Leaving the Adjutant’s office with slumped shoulders and watery eyes (figuratively speaking of course!), I spent a short while feeling sorry for myself before realising that at least I would still be going on ops, and secondly this job looked like it presented some serious opportunities ‘to cut one’s own detail’; a thought that cheered me greatly.
With this in mind I booked and completed the necessary media-related courses and set about forming a media action plan for the Regiment. It was quickly apparent that having a CO who had previous Influence experience, coupled with a great opportunity to build on the Regiment’s corporate image, provided ample opportunities for subaltern graft and creativity.
A short course at Blandford later and it was time to completely rebuild the Regimental ArmyNET website. The great thing about starting from scratch is that you can make it look exactly how you want it to. The bad part is that this is by no measure a small undertaking. However, after a couple of weeks spent in the Learning Centre, who kindly donated considerable internet access to ‘The War Effort’, we had a website that was none too shoddy, in fact you could even say it was good.
Next on the list prior to deployment was the creation of a Facebook group that we could also utilise to pass back pictures and updates to friends and family back home. One of our Regimental veterans had already started a suitable group, which has now been adopted by the Regiment as the official method to get our updates back home for the period of the tour. With over 1600 members, “4 Regt RA – A safe tour of Afghanistan” is very active and a great tool to help reduce the separation between home and our deployed soldiers.
On top of this we also revamped our pages on the Army website to reflect the current Regiment. In addition, the Wikipedia entry for 4 Regt RA has received some loving attention. With the ‘new media’ element to 4th Regiment being a continuous ongoing project, it was time in theatre for the attention to be turned to gathering ‘stories from the boys’.
This was where my job became pretty fun. ‘Mission critical’ visits were organised to MOBs and FOBs throughout theatre to gather information for various projects. To date we have produced around seventy ‘home town stories’ on various members of the Regiment and attached personal, of which a significant number have been published. The Batterys are providing photos, updates and articles which are edited, cleared and distributed for maximum coverage.
Product placement for the Gunners has been shameless, with attempts to get a Gunner flash or a cap badge in the press wherever possible, one of the most famous so far being the picture of LBdr Casson with the Prime Minister that is constantly in the news. Good work Bombardier!
In addition to this, as a media asset, I have been tasked by the media cell to conduct various hosting duties, which dutifully brings me back to sitting in a compound and eating soup whilst being shot at. In this instance it is Operation OMID DO, the first Afghan National Army-planned and led operation. The 2 day operation gave me a real insight into what our guys ‘on the ground’ are facing and it was a privilege to be allowed to help get their achievements back to the folks at home.
The media department comes second in the order of topics discussed at the Commander’s brief every evening, a clear demonstration by the Commander of the importance he places on public opinion and how what we’re doing is being reported back home. Whilst public support for our troops is high, their views on the mission are less clear cut. It’s up to us to help provide the media with as much info to rally support as possible, especially when the price paid is so high.
So far, what has been thrown at me has been both exciting and interesting and I am glad to say that this job has turned out to be one of the more varied and exciting jobs available to the subalterns of 4 Regt RA on this tour.