Returning to civilian life: Back in basic

Captain Mau Gris began this blog when he was team leader for the British Army’s Combat Camera Team (CCT) based in Afghanistan throughout the summer 2013 as part of 1st Mechanized Brigade on Op Herrick 18. 

Captain Mau Gris on the road to civilian life

Captain Mau Gris on the road to civilian life

Mau returned to the UK at the end of September 2013. The rest of his blog will focus on leaving the Army and going back to the life of a civilian. For Mau, this includes going back to university – trading his helmet and combats for a mortar board and gown.

Transition angst

I can only imagine the kind of angst and worry those with a family to support must experience as they go through the transition to civilian life.  For me with no dependents or mortgage there is a low level buzz of anxiety, drawn from looming unemployment and being out of my Army comfort blanket.

Also being back at school on the wrong side of 30 was never something I planned. In reality my TV Journalism MA is more like being back in basic training. Which isn’t a pleasant idea, I didn’t make a great start in training. I turned up with long hair on the first day, which was a massive error.

A lot of people resettling won’t have to do what I am doing. For most, the CTP package which I also did, should be good enough to launch them into a job provided they do the leg work. Failing that, there are loads of people who can help. The key is knowing what you want to do.

Know the area you want to be in

I know the area I want to be in, which has lead me to where I am now.

Fortunately like most Forces personnel resettling, I am not quite at square one. My job as a Combat Camera Team leader has given me practical understanding, experience and transferable skills. The problem is knowing how valuable they are, where to apply them and how much they are worth. If anyone knows please tweet me!

For now, the course gives me purpose, and I am in the right place. The shared interest and passion makes journalists more like the soldiers then either would like to admit; once you get past the stubble and dress state. These would have any RSM howling at the moon and lashing out with pace stick in hand.

Army vs civilian life

Never having worked in the real world, unless you count a summer as an Punter in Cambridge, I increasingly find myself using the Army to make sense of the new civilian environment. In my MA, my lecturers are the DS (Directing Staff). Experienced practitioners in the industry who will teach me the ways of the job. The only differences are physical and environmental.

My first Army DS was a 6ft 4 Yorkshire man with a shorn head, who’d deliver ‘instructions’ and ‘encouragement’ like enemy machine gun fire and with similar effect. Often peppering the platoon with wisdom when we were up to our webbing in water in some godforsaken Welsh ditch.

My Masters Directing Staff is a 5ft something and a former BBC journalist. From a cosy lecture theatre, she delivers her wisdom couched in amongst anecdotes. They are different, but they are teaching you what to expect in the job. And like basic, this is the start of the job as I see it.

Jack Nicholson.

Jack Nicholson. ‘You can’t handle the truth’!

The difference is in the principles

For all the similarities the two jobs are very different at their core. The core of any profession is in the principles and doctrine they teach. Army principles are different from journalistic principles. It is here that the problem lies for service leavers as they resettle.

Army leavers often feel themselves to be the only ones in the workplace applying principles to their work, other than the ‘look after number one’ principle. For me it hasn’t reached this yet – my problem is one of ‘openness’ versus ‘need to know.’ That classic argument summed up by Jack Nicholson – ‘You can’t handle the truth.’ An issue that has gotten me in a little bit of trouble before.

In truth I am still trying to resolved this as I want to hold on to some of the stuff the Army instils; but not at all costs. Just because there is truth in the saying ‘you can take the boy out of the Army but not the Army out of the boy,’ I think you can choose what part stays.

Next time… Out into the real world -understanding BBC Newsnight through the Army.

The BBC Newsnight studio

The BBC Newsnight studio

Read Mau’s other blogs here: Capt Mau Gris

Follow Mau on Twitter: @mau_gris

Bittersweet return: Helmand to home, soldier to student

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.

For us it is the end of the end

For me it really is. Our new team had arrived, our kit was handed over and the requisite briefs were completed. Our job here was over. For me it is the last post I will hold as  a British Army officer. It’s weird even writing it. Believe it or not I have even delayed writing this, because it feels that once I do it is real.

We were some of the first to leave as 1 Mech slowly transforms into 7 Armoured. It happens in parts. A new fresh face untouched by six months in the Afghan desert here; a new tactical recognition flash there. There is always a bit of teasing as soldiers hand over. You see the guys on their reception briefings in their fresh kit, and mutter ‘crowbags’, and they just tell you to ‘get the hell out of my seat.’ This time there is a bit more sympathy – nine months is a long old time.

Then before you know it with the regulation RAF faff, you are on the plane home. A pit-stop in Cyprus is the only thing between you and the rest of your life. From my previous experience it’s at this point you have a peak inside that mental box, into which you put all that stuff you said you’d deal with later. This tour has thankfully left that box empty as far as I can tell. But there are those initial fingers of worry poking me about what the hell I am going to do when I leave the Army. As the C-17 rumbled on I looked around the plane and wondered what the rest were thinking.

The journey home begins

The journey home begins

Decompression, beer and a show

Fifty tired soldiers got blinking off the plane, and were told to get into ‘civvies’ ready for the organised fun, something the Army loves. It was odd seeing the boys out of camouflage. His Holiness (Sgt Pope) had gone for a glaring yellow tee shirt, Lloydie for some functional sports gear. Then it was down to the beach, a bit like any at a moderately successful holiday resort, except quieter. No one is trying to sell you some moody ‘Ray-Bans’, and there is a priest cutting around trying to ‘chat’ to you. Me and the boys steered clear, opting for some competitive inflatable wrestling instead.

Cyprus stop-over

Cyprus stop-over

Here is where the proper decompression starts, on the oversized inflatables in the sea. But not before your annoying mandatory swim test which everyone gets a little bit competitive about. Then after a few hours, it’s on to the equally isolated Bloodhound Camp for mandatory briefs, followed by strictly four beers and a CSE entertainment show.

This bit was very different from my first experience of decompression. First time round the ‘4 can’ rule was more like guidance, so we all got drunk. This time, however, we were a small group, compared to the 200 that normally go through. So we consumed our first beers in a large draughty hall, playing pool whilst the friendly mental health nurse and the padre wandered around chatting to people.

It was at this point that I got a subtle hint at how padres go about taking a peek in that mental box to see if their help is required. I had just been crowned Pool champion of the CCT, much to Lloydie’s and His Holinesses’s annoyance. When I got challenged by the Padre, he kicked my arse with a bit of divine intervention. In the process we got to chatting about the tour. Naturally he wanted to know what I had found tough. So I told him and slowly I realised he was probing to see if I would hold anything back.

Pretty clever,  generally nothing clams someone in the armed forces up quicker than being asked what scared / disturbed them. But what was tough? I would say that 99 per cent of all Army stories are based on toughness or tough situations. We can chat about those forever. It was only a small thing, but I think it is symptomatic of a growing awareness of the mental health side within the Army and how to deal with it. It gives me hope one day all those who suffer will be treated in time.

Sgt Barry Pope and Sgt Barry Lloyd

Sgt Barry Pope and Sgt Barry Lloyd

Goodbye boys

For me, this tour will leave only good memories, unlike others. Be it at the sharp end with the boys from the Brigade Reconnaissance Force or sitting quietly on the HLS with the boys, telling some ‘dits’ and killing some time, it’s been incredible. There was a little anxiousness there because of the imminent career change, and really I guess I am slightly nervous that once you leave that extend family of the Army, who understand what you’ve done / seen etc, then the issues arise. I have seen it in some of my friends.

These worries chattered away in the back of my head, but didn’t affect what turned out to be a really entertaining evening provide by the CSE guys. All the officers were singled out for derision by the comedian (standard) and the music was excellent. The four beers were consumed without any drunkenness ensuing. Everyone went to bed in that kind of cloud of happy tipsiness that was no doubt intentional by the staff of Decompression.

We woke up with just a hilly bus ride and an aeroplane journey standing between us, our loved ones and the rest of our lives. We arrived at 3 o’clock on a Friday, and I was then ‘in my own time.’ I collected my bags and with more than a little sadness, said goodbye to the boys. For the past six months had never been more than three metres away from them. And, I am proud to have serve alongside them.

I am now officially ‘resettling.’ To compound the strangeness I am starting a Masters course in TV journalism. So that I can keep doing what I am doing at the moment. I am going to keep writing about it but it is going to be weird jump. I hope you stay with me. Soldier to student…. hmmm.

Decompression starts here

Decompression starts here

Read Mau’s other blogs here: Capt Mau Gris

Follow Mau on Twitter: @mau_gris

50 Shades of Green

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.

You can’t put a price on R&R

‘Absence makes the heart grow fonder’. Now whilst I don’t believe this in general, an absence of several months does make you appreciate things you might otherwise take for granted.

You cannot beat the first time you lay eyes on the UK countryside after a prolonged time in the desert. Everything is so green and lush; the smells so familiar and comforting. The taste of that first beer. Underlying that, and most often taken for granted, is that sense of order and safety that is often missing on operations.

Green, green grass (and trees) of home.

Green, green grass (and trees) of home.

Under UK skies again.

Under UK skies again.

Picking your rest and recuperation (R&R) date is a luxury I have not had on previous tours. Being part of a small team has it’s benefits. The question is then is when to go? If you get it wrong your work and relationship with those around you can be affected.

Too early and you come back with more than you have done, left to do. A morale sapping situation, in which you watch everyone else get excited before they go off knowing you still have to push through to the end.  You become a bit of a misery guts.

Too late and you end up climbing the walls and generally getting a bit ratty because working longer than 3 months straight is a long haul. I have experienced both, having gone way too early on my first and way too late on my second tour. So I was ready to make an informed choice.

Ditching the Army regulation footwear for a couple of weeks.

Ditching the Army regulation footwear for a couple of weeks.

Then I got told I had an important wedding ‘that I could not miss; not even for Queen and country.’ So ‘too late,’ it was again. If you’’ve read this blog before you’ll know that the boys (Sgt Pope and Sgt Lloyd) had taken their R&R and were back by the time I was due to go and I was going back solo.

I was ready for mine by the time five months had rolled by. After the obligatory delays, stop overs and reshuffles, I made it back. There is something about seeing British soil for the first time after a long time in Afghanistan. A large weight that you weren’t aware you were carrying, lifts. A blissful moment of stepping off the aircraft into a damp Wednesday morning, entirely mundane.

There is that rush you get in every airport over the world, collecting baggage, clearing customs and the heart-warming scenes of long-separated loved ones reunited. I met my parents, as is tradition, and then met my brother, who came up from London for a meal. The sense of being home reinforced by the quintessentially British streets of Oxford and poor restaurant service.

Beer tastes so good when you've not had any for months.

Beer tastes so good when you’ve not had any for months.

Following that I caught the train home with my bro. Some would advocate going straight out to see friends for a bit of a party, but I find big crowds sketch me out a little when I first get back. Plus, nothing good ever came combining five months booze free with over excitement in London.

So I had my beer in the garden. I had a Sol, as it was the only thing I could find in the fridge. No drink matches the first one back, and there were many over R&R.

Most of R&R passed in a blur. I vaguely remember being dressed as a Spice Girl, and had a lovely relaxed stay in Zurich (not at the same time!)

Too soon it was time to dig out the combats again for the trip back to Helmand. There was the standard antisocial check-in at 0400. I had the nice surprise of finding out that Si Longworth, a fellow Army blogger would be sharing the journey back.

Regardless of how well you planned for your return, there is that feeling in the pit of your stomach of walking into the unknown. A distilled version of that was experienced at the start of tour. As it happened, his Holiness (Sgt Pope) and Lloydie, were all over it.

A couple of days later and it’s like you were never away, although there is a renewed energy that was not quite there when you left. There is a slight debate in some circles about the value of R&R, it is a constant drain of manpower and a logistical strain on the ‘air bridge’. But, then, how do you put a price on R&R?

The all-seeing eye

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 1st Mechanized Brigade. Op Herrick 18′s CCT also includes Sergeant Barry Lloyd – video cameraman – and Sergeant Barry Pope – photographer.

Captain Gris and Longshanks explore the secret world of ‘drones’

Remotely Piloted Air Systems (RPAS), or ‘drones’ as they are sometimes incorrectly referred to, are a constant source of controversy and suspicion. For some they define 21st century warfare – and myself and Longshanks (photographer Si Longworth) were going to get to talk to the crews behind them. I’ll tell you why they shouldn’t be called drones in a bit.

Initially, I was a little dubious about going down. Although we can talk about them, there is still actually quite a bit of secret kit on these things so it is awkward to cover stories which involve them as you are met with a wall of ‘you can’t take that picture’ or ‘I can’t answer that’. I was pleasantly surprised by how candid the whole group were.

Bombardier Edward of the Royal Artillery was one of the pilots I got to speak to. A veteran of multiple tours with over 2000 hours clocked up at the helm, she spoke a little about what it was like to be directly involved with operations, having a direct effect but not being out on the ground with the soldiers experiencing what she was seeing.

It is now a thing of the past that the Hermes would be constantly supporting troops in fire fights but having done a little work with RPAS myself in the past, I could relate to what she was saying about previous tours. You could hear the pressure of the situation in the voice of the person on the other end of the radio, hear the background noise, which fills the quiet composed room you are controlling in, giving life and urgency to what would initially look like bland, aerial images.

Bombardier Edward went on to talk about the differences between a drone and a RPAS. The most important being that ‘drone’ implies some autonomous machine cruising around with no human control or oversight, whereas RPAS is as it is on the tin – remotely piloted and overseen.

Bristling with missiles

Now whilst it is interesting to talk about, the Hermes 450 is not what fans of action films like the Bourne Trilogy would call a proper drone. It isn’t bristling with missiles and a camera that can read a newspaper from space. It isn’t a silent killer delivering unexpected death. Basically, what I am saying is it ain’t that sexy to look at. So I was interested to see what Longshanks would come up with.

Si Longworth’s Hermes 450 image.

The Longshanks Hermes 450.

The answer was written all over his face when he walked into the hanger, his little eyes lit up like all his leave had been granted at once. The lighting was completely in his control and the set up did look a little like something out of the movies. So I left him to it, happy that he was in his element. I think you’ll agree the picture is pretty good.

In addition to our Hermes trip, the Combat Camera Team also went to Sparta to visit the guys from 4 Rifles in the Kandak Advisory Team (KAT).  We had been at the camp for a few hours and I was relaxing in the shade when Si came running up to me saying he had found something.

Me relaxing in the shade. Another Si image.

Me relaxing in the shade.

He brought me round to a couple of soldiers sat in the Afghan dust. One had a guitar and was just messing around with it. It amazed me first how clean he kept his guitar but also how the music in that setting was that much more powerful as there were no distractions. Si knew exactly what he wanted to do. This would form the first combat camera team multimedia piece using Si’s photos and the music I recorded, click here for a look.

Read Mau’s other blogs here: Capt Mau Gris

Follow Mau on Twitter: @mau_gris

Chaos and the creative mind

Chaos and the creative mind

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 1st Mechanized Brigade. Op Herrick 18′s CCT also includes Sergeant Barry Lloyd – video cameraman – and Sergeant Barry Pope – photographer.

Cpl Longworth steps into the breach as the Baz’s take a break

His Holiness (Sgt Pope) and (Sgt) Lloyd(ie), flew out on a plane in the wee hours of this morning for some well earned rest and recuperation. It felt strange getting up and not going to the gym with Lloydie at 0600 or seeing His Holiness just coming back from his afternoon run.

Whilst I felt a bit of a jealous twinge as they discussed plans for travelling back and what they were going to do when they got back; I was excited to be working with Cpl Simon Longworth. He is the brigade photographer based in Helmand and works alongside us as the dedicated photographer for 1st Mechanized Brigade.

The excitement was partly because he has been my social media ‘frenemey‘ since the start of tour. Though the competition is a bit one-sided (he regularly kicks my arse on Twitter followers and blog posts), it’s been fun and a bit of a giggle. So I was interested to see what working closely would yield.

Moreover having been doing this job for over a year I have worked with numerous Army photographers and not one of them is alike style-wise or work-wise. It is amazing to see the difference in their creative eyes, you could put ten of them in the same room with a photography brief and get ten completely different sets of photos.

Chaos in the workplace

Chaos in the work place

Si or ‘Longshanks’ as he is known, is a disciple of Joe McNally and David Hobby, masters of flash photography and lighting, whereas others in the trade might follow Don McCullen, the famous war photographer. There are also those like Jamie Peters who’s passion is nature.

If you look on the British Army Photographers Facebook page, you will see the true variety of photographer that the Army trains.

It’s not only the style that differs between photographers, but the way they work and take input. I am sure Longshanks won’t mind me saying that he quite likes a bit of chaos in the work place ( chaos = mess.) He says it is a sign of the creative mind…I have my doubts!

Whereas Sgt Ian Forsyth, another former Army Photographer was border line obsessive compulsive! So I look forward to seeing what we create! Watch this space…or follow us on Twitter : @maugris and @si_army_photo

Here are some of Si’s images:

PB Aborshak gets handed over to the ANSF

PB Aborshak gets handed over to the ANSF

PB Attal with Egypt Squadron, 2 RTR.

PB Attal with Egypt Squadron, 2 RTR

Op Daas Naizah L100 planned and conducted by the Brigade Operations Company, the First Battalion Irish Guards,

Dog and handler at sunset

Op Daas Zeer Zamin

Op Daas Zeer Zamin

DH3 UAV Launch.

DH3 UAV Launch

Read Mau’s other blogs here: Capt Mau Gris

Follow Mau on Twitter: @mau_gris

Filming a gun fight at night in 3D

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 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.

David Cameron, Prime Minister (PM) Visit.

David Cameron, Prime Minister (PM) visit.  Images by Sgt Barry Pope RLC (Phot)

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.

Helping out a local man.

Helping out a local man.

 4 Troop of the Brigade Reconnaissance Force on Operation DAAS NAIZAH L121

4 Troop of the Brigade Reconnaissance Force on operations.

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.

Night filming

Night filming

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.

Operation DAAS NAIZAH L121

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.

Troops on ops in an insurgent stronghold.

Troops on ops in an insurgent stronghold.

Troops on ops in an insurgent stronghold.

Troops on ops in an insurgent stronghold.

Troops on ops in an insurgent stronghold.

Troops on ops in an insurgent stronghold.

In amongst the action

In amongst the action

The 3D camera

The 3D camera

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.

Read Mau’s other blogs here: Capt Mau Gris

Follow Mau on Twitter: @mau_gris

In the midst of the fight

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.

This trip was the reason we exist, though at the time we didn’t know it. Going in alongside fighting troops to capture their experiences and help out if required.

‘If you don’t get it, you might as well not be there’

It was only meant to be an hour and a half on the cordon for a search operation. The team and I had been put with 3 troop of the Brigade Reconnaissance Force (BRF) along with Matt Cook, a war artist covering the search for bomb making equipment.

I didn’t really think much was going to happen. They aren’t going to put a war artist in the thick of it; even though Matt Cook, who has illustrated for The Times, is a hugely experienced war artist. We would be stuck in one place, the boys would cover it in five minutes; then there’d be an hour of sitting around.

If there is anything that two previous tours has taught me; it’s always those little trips that prove the most interesting.  We inserted as we had with the Brigade Operations Company before, with the ground assault force. I knew what was coming (read about that here…) – a ride in my favourite vehicle, the Warthog.

The insertion was as expected, hot, cramped and dusty. Without going into to much detail, the place we were had a bad reputation, everyone was a little on edge and keen to get into some cover.

We moved off into the green zone. I could see we were going to get some great material from here. It was that classic Helmand landscape, lush green in places, working out to desert through various shades of brown and beige. Photogenic but dangerous, as hiding amongst it is easy to do.

4 Troop of the Brigade Reconnaissance Force.

4 Troop of the Brigade Reconnaissance Force.

Lloydie and his Holiness were moving up and down the line of troops as they moved out to get those ‘patrolling shots’ that have graced fronts covers and illustrated reports for 10 years. I had one eye on them; and one eye on the 3D handycam that I was attempting and failing to master.

We gained access to a compound with the guys fanning out to cover the surrounding area. Using ladders guys clambered up to the roofs to increase their line of sight. I suggested to Matt, did he want to get up to get some pictures? He takes pictures on the ground to work from later. He said, ‘yup,’ and clambered up.

I then moved the ladder to a nearby compound climbing up myself. The moment I reached the top of the ladder, three bullets cracked overhead in rapid succession. Accurate, controlled and close. I dropped down. Immediately regretting telling Matt to get up then taking away his only method of getting down. The lads started returning fire, adding to the noise. The guys were shouting;

‘Get cookie off the roof. Get him down.. Now!’

‘Who’s Cookie?!

‘The fudging war artist, you know, THE CIVVY.’

‘Oh, fudge’ (or words to that effect.)

Same risk

Matt hadn’t been with the guys that long so the nickname threw everyone. I was already moving the ladder. Matt climbed down smiling like a Cheshire cat. Adrenaline has that effect on some people.

To report the incident, we needed more than just the audio of guys firing, so I told the two Baz(s) to get up there and gather the material. It was at this point that I paused. Previously, when I have ordered soldiers to put themselves in at risk; in situations like this one, the reasoning is clear. It would give us an advantage on the battlefield. Now the risk verses reward was not as clear cut.

In the end it came down to the basic reason for our existence as a combat camera team; as it is in our mission statement: “The Combat Camera Team provides broadcast standard news footage, audio content, photographic images and copy on stories involving the British Army which, for reasons of national or foreign security, operational necessity or general sensitivity, would not ordinarily be available to the public media.”

Capturing the action.

Capturing the action on film.

We take the same risk to show people what our fellow soldier goes through. We were in danger anyway and if you don’t get it, you might as well not be there in the first place. Lloydie and His Holiness were straight up there.

The contact tailed off quickly, and we had to move to a new compound. Before moving, I tried capturing the reality of what a fire fight sounds like for the soldiers, whilst it was fresh in their minds and because I had recorded the actual fire fight I would be speaking to them about. So I made a quick recording with one of the guys before we moved out.

Troops of the Brigade Reconnaissance Force.

Troops of the Brigade Reconnaissance Force.

Troops of the Brigade Reconnaissance Force.

Troops of the Brigade Reconnaissance Force.

Troops of the Brigade Reconnaissance Force.

Troops of the Brigade Reconnaissance Force.

You can listen to that here: Crack,Thump. It’s only a minute or so long but the feeling is there, and we were preoccupied at the time. We moved off to get a better view of the area and ended up on the border where green zone meets desert, in a raised compound. Lloydie hopped up to the best vantage point and me and his Holiness hung around Matt Cook as he sketched.

Matt Cook takes notes.

Matt Cook takes notes.

Matt Cook takes photos of the soldiers to draw from later.

Matt Cook takes photos of the soldiers to draw from later.

As the firing had died down the guys went back to the original tasking of compound searching for any enemy weapons stashes. It wasn’t long before it picked up again.

A hollow sound, like something being spat out of a tube; followed the shout of ‘incoming..,’ The troops dived for any available cover. A pregnant pause preceded the dull impact and explosion of a grenade launched from a UGL (underslung grenade launcher).

With the same accuracy of the initial engagement, the grenade had landed 30 metres behind me and between the Baz(s). A bullet landing on the domed roof two metres in front of Lloydie meant it was probably time to move.

Before we got the chance, another shout of ‘incoming.’ This grenade landed within 15 metres of his Holiness. Lloydie hopped off the roof and joined Baz Pope and me beside a wall which offered us cover. As the BRF suppressed the enemy, with their own grenade launchers, the fire eased up.

At that point, I poked my head above the wall. A ‘crack’ followed by that small puff of dust on a compound wall not far from my head made be duck back down. It felt personal.

Duck!

Duck!

Contact with the enemy.

Contact with the enemy.

The combat camera team with war artist Matt Cook.

The combat camera team with war artist Matt Cook.

As I was the only one exposed, he could only have been shooting at me. This has happened before, but it is rare and I always come away feeling the same. Despite my chosen profession; it still strikes me as strange from an objective point of view that someone would try to kill me or I them, despite no personal grievance between us.

It is an obvious thing to say, and naive too, I am sure some would also say. It’s not something that I dwell on or particularly think about other than when I am in the situation or immediately afterwards. Or when I am blogging…

After that, we were joined by the guys who would be taking our place. These guys had landed with the main body on the helicopter assault force and had experienced more fighting than we had that day, but not without reward.

Some significant finds had been made. Enemy machine guns, thousands of rounds of ammunition, and bomb making equipment had all been uncovered. For us though after only an hour and a half, the operation was over.

We returned to Patrol Base Lashkar Gah Durai, not minding the Warthog ride as much as usual; anticipating the material we had gathered and the stories we could tell. The guys from the BRF were interested in what we had gathered as well. There’s a certain pride in seeing the interest and the reaction of the guys to the footage the team had produced.

There was one downside. We hadn’t seen the stuff being found, so we couldn’t tell that story as well as we should be able to. Secondhand recollections and helmet cam footage – poor material for us to build the story with. The curse of TV or photographic reporting – ‘If you didn’t get it and you can’t show it, you might as well have not been there’.

If you want to see the photos we get or those recordings I make; follow me on Twitter or Soundcloud.

Speak to you soon.

Read Mau’s other blogs here: Capt Mau Gris

Follow Mau on Twitter: @mau_gris