The Halfway Point

Lt Claire Jackson, OC CCT Herrick 19

Lt Claire Jackson, OC CCT Herrick 19

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.

Like a scene out of Top Gun

12 weeks in and we’ve reached the halfway point of our H19 tour. It only seems like yesterday when we arrived a bit dazed and tired in the middle of the night into Camp Bastion. I still have to keep reminding myself at times of how lucky we are to be doing this job, with such a diverse range of taskings. And for me being a Reservist, and this my first tour, it’s a real privilege.

As I’m writing this I’m sat in front of a Tornado GR4 watching pilots and crewmen doing their various pre-flight checks, the huge ‘Three Mile Mountain’ in the background towering over Kandahar airfield. A bit different to the view outside the office window in the UK that I’m used, and more like a scene from Top Gun. We’re here to capture some footage with 617 Sqn, part of 904 Expeditionary Air Wing (EAW), known as the ‘Dambusters’.

Three Mile Mountain towers over Kandahar Airfield as we carry out the filming

Three Mile Mountain towers over Kandahar Airfield as we carry out the filming

“Take my breath away…” Just like a scene out of Top Gun!

“Take my breath away…” Just like a scene out of Top Gun!

This is our second trip to Kandahar. We were here only a few weeks ago to capture HRH, the Duke of York at a Remembrance Service. I got very excited as I was told that there might be an opportunity for us to interview him. So with questions already prepped and signed off, we waited patiently at the flight line for him to arrive only to be told that he wasn’t doing any more interviews as he’d already done a fair few in Bastion earlier that day. Oh well, next time I might be more lucky to get a VIP interview.

HRH, the Duke of York visits Kandahar for a Remembrance Service

HRH, the Duke of York visits Kandahar for a Remembrance Service

Could it be magic?

The Duke of York isn’t the first VIP visit that we have covered on this tour. We were very lucky to be involved in an ITV production, which was hosted by Take That’s Gary Barlow. For two weeks we had a large TV crew living with us. A great bunch of people from the world of tv production and one that I’m very familiar with, so great for a bit of networking. I’m going to need to start looking for a job once this tour is over! And, another VIP visit last month when Katherine Jenkins came out to sing to the troops.

A photogenic Katherine Jenkins puts a smile on troops faces

A photogenic Katherine Jenkins puts a smile on troops faces

An unforgettable trip to Kajaki

One memory that I will definitely be taking back with me from this tour is a recent trip to Kajaki, a tasking for the Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT). Not only is the place breathtaking, but we arrived in a V-22 Osprey. For those of you who haven’t heard of this aircraft, it’s a tilt-rotor aircraft that takes off and lands like a helicopter but once airborne its engines rotate to convert the aircraft into a turboprop plane capable of high-speed, high altitude flight. It looks just like an aircraft from the set of Avatar!

This wouldn’t look out of place in the Avatar movie

This wouldn’t look out of place in the Avatar movie

We took off in the pitch black early hours of the morning with the rear ramp open just like in a Chinook. A very strange feeling once the aircraft has taken off vertically like a helicopter only to then switch into plane mode and shoot up into the sky at an angle, with the rear ramp still open, and the gunner sitting very comfortably on the back. All I’ll say is just hold on to your bags!

Just another average view for this gunner on the back ramp of an Osprey

Just another average view for this gunner on the back ramp of an Osprey

The picturesque sights of Kajaki

The picturesque sights of Kajaki

The PRT has been responsible for a number of development projects in Helmand Province. Afghan contractors have carried out construction work on Route 611 which has been routinely monitored by a team of Royal Engineers from the PRT. We were out filming with the Engineers on the ground, which prompted interest from the local Helmandi population. We were greeted by loads of happy and curious children and adults eager to see what we were doing.

Three Mile Mountain towers over Kandahar Airfield as we carry out the filming

The CCT at work

The curious locals eager to see what we were doing

The curious locals eager to see what we were doing

Locals continue on with their daily chores as the engineers carry out their work

Locals continue on with their daily chores as the engineers carry out their work

An amazing few days in Kajaki. Just seeing how the work on this route has improved the lives of the locals is such a great feeling. The smiles on the kids’ faces say it all. This is one trip that will stay with me for a very long time.

Images were taken by Sgt Dan Bardsley and Sgt Paul Shaw

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Getting into the swing of things pt2

Lt Claire Jackson, OC CCT Herrick 19

Lt Claire Jackson, OC CCT Herrick 19

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.

From one dust storm to another

Back in Bastion, media edited and released for public consumption, it was time to set to work on clearing up a backlog of articles and stories, and set up the next jobs, one of them being a footage request from the BBC for a future TV programme. They required a shot of a Chinook carrying an under-slung load (a large net used to transport cargo). So having tracked down the relevant contact and found a day suitable for all parties, we headed down to the JAG (which is another MOD abbreviation and nothing to do with the car – Joint Aviation Group) to capture the required footage.

We were given an initial briefing, told where to stand and how close we could get to the helicopter as the load was being lifted.  Then it was time to head out to the HLS (helicopter landing site) to await it’s arrival, kitted out in full PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) which consists of body armour, helmet, gloves, ear protection (ballistic knickers and a nappy type contraption if you are going out on the ground).  The body armour alone weighs approx 35lb so for a petite lady like myself it has been a bit gruelling at times carrying all the kit and I’ve had to learn to man up!

The power and energy from this aircraft is immense!

The power and energy from this aircraft is immense!

Within minutes the beast was flying above our heads. The sheer noise and power from its rotor blades is immense. The main issue though is the amount of dust it kicks up and the sheer force it generates, it can literally blow you right over.  Paul and Dan got into action pretty quickly and captured the required footage and images from various angles. Job done!

A few days later we experienced our own natural dust storm which swept through Bastion at some speed creating devastation in camps where doors and windows had been left opened. Normally we are given prior warnings but on this occasion there was none and within minutes the sky had turned a dusty orange colour.  It was just like something out of the movies, with a dirty orange cloud of dust all around us.  The safety glasses came in very useful for once.  And I’m sure the layer of dust worked well as a substitute exfoliator in the absence of the usual beauty products!

A dust storm sweeps through Bastion

A dust storm sweeps through Bastion

The photographers are in their element amidst the storm

The photographers are in their element amidst the storm

Paul and Dan took this as a perfect opportunity to put their photographic skills to the test.

The taskings continue to flow in. They may not be as ‘war-focussed’ as the team would like but as the Afghan National Army (ANA) takes the lead in Helmand, British and ISAF troops are stepping back into a more of mentoring and training role which opens up opportunities of a different nature, and a variety of internal stories from the remaining patrol bases and within Bastion as troops draw back.

FOB Price at night

FOB Price at night

A soldier takes cover during RSOI training

A soldier takes cover during RSOI training

Animal withdrawal symptoms

Being out here away from all the usual creature comforts, as well as missing family and friends, I’ve been missing my pets and any sort of interaction with fluffy animals being very much a cat and dog lover.  The wildlife in Bastion consists of the odd fox or rodent, a breed of enormous ants that can be found swarming around the camp, and in the smaller patrol bases you get the occasional stray cat or dog.  My parents will be glad to know that I haven’t adopted any of the fluffy variety yet using my tour bonus to fly them back to the UK!

So when the lads stumbled across an injured bird (or deformed, not quite sure if it was born this way), my maternal instincts kicked in.  Unfortunately there wasn’t much to be done for this creature and rescuing the local wildlife doesn’t fit into our job spec.  The bird seemed happy enough though and has found a temporary home outside the Media compound. So my quest to rescue a stray animal continues….!

Not sure if he is injured or born this way?

Not sure if he is injured or born this way?

Have you ever seen ants this size before?

Have you ever seen ants this size before?

Images were taken by Sgt Dan Bardsley and Sgt Paul Shaw

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Getting into the swing of things pt1

Lt Claire Jackson, OC CCT Herrick 19

Lt Claire Jackson, OC CCT Herrick 19

Lieutenant Claire Jackson is team leader for the British Army’s combat camera team for H19. 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.

Just go with the flow

I’m currently sitting in Forward Operating Base (FOB) Lashkar Gah waiting for a flight back to Bastion. We came out here for a tasking near Kajaki but unfortunately it’s been put on hold for the day and we are required back at base for another job.  We’ve been out here two months now and have had a reasonably busy tour so far with lots of taskings and last-minute changes which send all plans into disarray.

Those of you who know me, know that I am ‘Little Miss Organised’ to the degree of putting Excel spreadsheets together for past holidays (something my boyfriend and family will agree proved very useful in terms of being able to fit in as much as possible into our trips!!) Therefore it’s been quite hard for me at times to adapt and just go with the flow when plans do get changed.  It’s doing me good though.

CCT at work filming 4 SCOTS during RSOI

CCT at work filming 4 SCOTS during RSOI

Paul makes the most of his artistic skills during some downtime

Paul makes the most of his artistic skills during some downtime

Living and learning Army jargon

Before I go any further I must apologise for the use of military acronyms or jargon throughout this blog.  When I first enlisted I was completely shell shocked by the amount of TLAs (they even have a name for them – Three Letter Abbreviations!!) the MOD uses in its everyday language and thought I would never understand what people were talking about.

I can just about get by on most days now without having to use Google or the Army Arrse (Army Rumour Service) website to find out what certain abbreviations mean.  My parents have insisted though that on my return to the UK, I’m only allowed to visit on the condition that I revert back to using the full English language and stop using military jargon!  But for the rest of this tour, I’m sorry but I can’t avoid the use of it.

A salute marks the start of the ceremony

A salute marks the start of the ceremony

Lots of firsts

Our first tasking was a low key government video project that was cancelled at the last minute. Feeling very sorry for ourselves and with all our kit packed and ready to go for the first trip out, we jumped for joy when we heard that we were being re-routed to Patrol Base (PB) Ouellette to cover the base handover to the Afghan National Civil Order Police (ANCOP). So having been in Theatre for only six days, suddenly we find ourselves outside the wire and at the flight line about to catch a Chinook out to Ouellette.

I don’t have the best of ‘sea/air’ legs so was slightly apprehensive as we boarded the aircraft and didn’t really know what to expect.  I just prayed I didn’t feel too sick as I didn’t want to look like a feeble woman out here on her first tasking with the team.  But I had nothing to fear, the flight was awesome with some amazing views looking out of the back ramp, and I felt great! The ramp stays slightly open for the gunner to provide protection if necessary. We have been using the Chinooks regularly to fly in and out of bases, so much so that to me it’s almost like hailing a cab now.  I feel right at home.

View of the back ramp of the Chinook and beyond

View of the back ramp of the Chinook and beyond

Our stay at Ouellette continued to be a string of new experiences for me – the first one being told what a ‘desert rose’ is…..and it’s not a flower.  Let’s just say this sort of rose was designed with male soldiers in mind. But with the invention of a female ‘She Wee’ (for those of you that don’t know what that is, it’s basically a funnel and a tube and I’ll leave the rest to your imagination) and me having been issued a nato green one prior to deploying (I had a test run in the shower before using it for real!), I could now also use the desert rose if I so wished.  But with the lack of a corrugated metal sheet which normally provides a small amount of privacy, I declined during daylight hours and opted for a wooden cubicle and a ‘john bag’ and then waited until darkness fell to put the plastic pipe to the test!

Making use of a ‘desert rose’

Making use of a ‘desert rose’

PB Ouellette was a fascinating experience seeing how the soldiers outside the wire live, and inside this particular patrol base, how they provide security over Route 611 – a route I became fairly familiar with that first night when asked if we would help out on stag duty by keeping watch on a sentry post (sangar) for any activity beyond the base.  The last time I did something similar was at Sandhurst during my Officer training when the only real threat was being attacked by the instructors.  And now it was for real!

Waiting for dinner to cook

Waiting for dinner to cook

Sangar duty at PB Ouellette

Sangar duty at PB Ouellette

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New tour, new team

Lt Claire Jackson, OC CCT Herrick 19

Lt Claire Jackson, OC CCT Herrick 19

Lieutenant Claire Jackson is team leader for the British Army’s combat camera team for H19. 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.

From a different viewpoint

Well, four weeks in and I finally feel like I’m getting the hang of things out here in the desert. I’ve taken over from Capt Mau Gris who was the team leader for the H18 combat camera team (CCT).  Mau had gathered a large fan base through his blog, and I’m hoping to continue the story, but this time telling the story through the eyes of a female, a relative newcomer to the Army, a first tour, and a Reservist.

The beginning

My journey started in May 2013 when I worked my last day in the office of my civilian job and the following day rocked up to the Reinforcements Training Mobilisation Centre (RTMC), Chilwell, to sign on the dotted line. What was I doing?  Second thoughts rushing through my mind.  Was I mad?  Did I realise what I was giving up – the warmth and cleanliness of an office in Warwickshire in exchange for a portacabin and tent in the middle of the desert?

Our workplace – the Media Operations portacabin

Our workplace – the Media Operations portacabin

Home sweet home – my tented bedroom

Home sweet home – my tented bedroom

I have worked as a TV Production Manager for a small independent company in Barford, Warwickshire, called X2 Productions Ltd for the last four years, having finished a short-term contract at the BBC in Birmingham.  It’s down to X2 that I joined the Territorial Army (TA / the Army Reserves as they are now called) because of the first TV series that I worked on where we sent a crew to Afghanistan and embedded them for six weeks with the Army.  There wasn’t a budget to send me along so I manned the phones from the UK and organised the trip for them, wishing I was out there with them.

My first real experience of Army life – passing out as a Private soldier

My first real experience of Army life – passing out as a Private soldier

From Private to Combat Camera Team Leader

I joined the TA in 2009, went through basic training as a private soldier, then went down the Officer path and commissioned in October 2011 into the RLC.  After a stint of troop commanding with 243 HQ Squadron, 159 Supply Regiment, Canley, I made the decision to transfer into the Media Operations Group (MOG), mainly because of work commitments and not being able to dedicate enough time to my supply troop.

A year and a half on and a commissioned officer – Sandhurst Commissioning Parade

A year and a half on and a commissioned officer – Sandhurst Commissioning Parade

The MOG is a national unit for personnel with specialist media skills and has a lower level of commitment which suited me.  Having passed the selection day with the group, I soon discovered the role of the CCT having listened to a presentation from a team who had just returned from a six-month tour.  It had me hooked and I immediately decided that was going to be my goal. And here I am now a year-and-a-half later, sitting in Helmand Province leading a combat camera team.

The team

Sgt Shaw and Sgt Bardsley hard at work

Sgt Shaw and Sgt Bardsley hard at work

The team consists of Sgt Paul Shaw and Sgt Dan Bardsley. Both originally trained as photographers with Paul branching off into the role of Electronic News Gatherer (ENG) / video operator for this tour, whilst Dan is responsible for taking the photos.  My job is to pull the team together, organise and set up the jobs, direct and produce, and write up the stories.  I ensure that all jobs are completed and pushed out to various media outlets where possible.

All three of us play very different roles within the team.  Myself and Paul work closely together as I have to act as his force protection when out on the ground when he’s got his head behind the camera (it’s a good job I had that bit of extra training before I deployed).  Whereas Dan works a bit more independently and can be tasked on jobs by himself if needs be.

I met Paul and Dan for the first time in July when we did a two week CCT course. We’re going to be spending the next six months together working and living in a very close-knit environment, and one that is very different from my life back in the UK.  No make-up, no jewellery, no civilian clothes, a military green wardrobe and a whole new world in the desert.

There’s no going back now……

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Living in the Buffer Zone, the Ledra Palace Hotel

Capt Peter Singlehurst.

Capt Peter Singlehurst.

Captain Peter Singlehurst is from the Media Operations Group(V) and is currently serving as the Media and Ops Info Officer, with 17 Port and Maritime Group in Cyprus.

Hello from Cyprus!

In this blog I am going to look behind the scenes at where we in Sector 2 actually live during our tour here in Cyprus with the UN.  Our camp is made up of the former Ledra Palace Hotel, a small part of the former colonial period Wolsey Barracks and some other buildings. All of this is in the UN Buffer Zone, the area controlled by the UN that separates the 1974 cease fire lines of the Republic of Cyprus National Guard and the Turkish Forces.

The Ledra Palace Hotel was once really quite famous, and was known as the most glamorous and luxurious hotel in Nicosia.  Originally built in 1949, the hotel in its heyday had 163 bedrooms, together with a conference room, library, card room and ballroom with orchestra.  There were two restaurants, two bars, a café and several small shops. In the garden there was a swimming pool, paddling pool, children’s playground and tennis courts.

In 1974 following the military action the Ledra Palace Hotel found itself isolated in the newly established UN Buffer Zone, between the Turkish and Greek Cypriot cease fire lines and during the fighting the hotel suffered superficial damage that is still visible today.  As a result the hotel became a base for UN peacekeeping troops, first the Canadian contingent and now, following their withdrawal, the British.

Sweet smell of washing powder

So let us enter the hotel, we walk in through the main entrance, the old reception is the guard room, around us the décor is frozen in the 1970s.  Looking up we see some old grand chandeliers set into intricate plaster ceiling roses.  The walls are richly decorated with architectural features and the floors are marble.  All however have suffered over time and now the reception is a shadow of its former self, as the passing of time and thousands of UN peacekeepers have taken their toll

As we walk around the ground floor we find the various messes, the old ballroom has been divided and is now the main cookhouse and our gym.  Where once the notice boards would have told of holiday excursions there are now military notices and everywhere are signs of the military use of the former hotel for the last almost 40 years.

As we climb the main staircase around us there is constant activity, this after all is the the centre of a military operation that goes on 24 hours a day seven days week.  On each floor is both living accommodation and the Troop offices from which the Buffer Zone patrols are organised.

Walking down the corridors the way is illuminated by harsh strip lights.  An industrial electrical system has been added with trunking attached to the walls.  There is a constant hum from the electricity.  We walk past one of the rooms that has been set aside for washing machines and smell the sweet smell of washing powder.  Looking up the hotel’s old plumbing has been replaced with an industrial system.  The pipes are exposed the same as the trunking, this is a building that has lost its refinement and has become utilitarian.  As we continue to make our way to the roof we can hear and see Cypriot builders gradually refurbishing rooms that have fallen into disuse.

Europe’s last divided city

Looking north from main gate of the Ledra Palace Hotel

Looking north from main gate of the Ledra Palace Hotel

 

As we arrive on the roof we emerge into the bright sun, and the heat is reflected back off the flat roof, under a lazily flapping UN flag, we can look out over the city.  To the north we see the Turkish cease fire line running near the old tennis courts and in the distance the Kyrenia Mountains, with the massive iconic flag of the Turkish north on the side of the mountain.  To the west we look into the buffer zone and agricultural land with the Troodos Mountains beyond.  To the east is the old bastion walls of Nicosia and the roof tops of the old town with the minarets of the Selimiye Mosque prominent.  South we see the modern buildings of central Nicosia that reminds us we are in Europe’s last divided city.

Ledra Palace Hotel

Ledra Palace Hotel

Returning to the ground floor and the outside we walk across the car park on one side are war damaged buildings; on the other side is the Greek Ambassador’s residence.  As we walk across depending on the time of day the cicadas are chirping or the bells of the Greek Cypriot churches are ringing or the call to prayer from the Turkish Cypriot mosques rings out.  At the main entrance we can see Cypriots and tourists making their way to the Buffer Zone crossing beside the Ledra Palace Hotel, but if we look behind us there is the Buffer Zone, overgrown and quite, frozen in time since 1974.

Read more of Peter’s blogs here

Modern city to deserted landscape

Capt Peter Singlehurst.

Capt Peter Singlehurst.

Captain Peter Singlehurst is from the Media Operations Group(V) and is currently serving as the Media and an Ops Info Officer, with 17 Port and Maritime Group in Cyprus.

Hello from Cyprus!

The day-to-day work of Sector 2 is patrolling our part of the Buffer Zone here in Cyprus, as I have mentioned before this is carried out in four ways, namely in vehicles, on bikes, on foot and in the air.  This blog will describe a recent vehicle patrol I accompanied in the west of our area.

Normally patrols consist of two soldiers, either two Privates or a Lance Corporal and a Private.  For this patrol they were joined by me and some army media personnel from the Media Operations Group, who were in Cyprus to gather material to help tell our story.  For this blog however I will concentrate of the patrol itself, so that you can get a flavour of what the patrols are actually like.

We set off from our base at the old Ledra Palace Hotel, in the centre of Nicosia; our objective was to patrol the western end of our operational area.  To get there however first involves a drive through the city.  We leave by our main gate and join the busy traffic at the well-known “Billy the Bomber” roundabout.  So called because in the centre is a statue of an EOKA member throwing a grenade.  A constant reminder of previous troubled times and the British Army’s long standing presence here.

Watching us watching them

We drive through the city towards the old airport, the Cypriots do no give us a second thought we are part of their everyday lives and the sight of the white Toyota Hilux pick-ups we use with the large black UN letters on the side is an everyday occurrence.

After a few minutes we arrive at the main entrance of the United Nations Protected Area, as the old international airport is now known. Here we pass through a UN manned check point and receive a salute from the Argentinian soldier manning the gate, immediately we turn off the main road and on to the patrol track.  We have entered the Buffer Zone and the change is immediate.  We have gone from a modern busy European city to a deserted landscape.  Around us are a few scattered damaged buildings and old defensive positions from the 1974 fighting, as we drive on we see our first Greek Cypriot National Guard Observation posts and Turkish Forces Observation posts.  Some are manned but many are not due to the progress that the UN has made in de-escalating tensions between the two opposing sides.

We wave at the soldiers and sometimes get a friendly wave back, sometimes though they are indifferent and continue watching us watching them.

Our first stop is AD crossing, this is one of three places in Sector Two where the two communities can cross the Buffer Zone that divides them.  It also marks the boundary between our West Troop and our Centre troop.  Just before we get there however the patrol track takes us past one of the most unexpected parts of the Buffer Zone, when we drive past what are now the back gardens of a row of houses where people still live.  The edge of the Buffer Zone is the edge of their property and the patrol track used to be a normal residential road.  On the other side of the track are derelict houses.  This means the Cypriots living in the houses can just walk out of their property and straight into the buffer zone.  Today though nobody is about and it is all quite.

Wayne’s Keep

Our next stop is an old UN patrol house. In the past up to a company of men were based here and the area was once a problem area.  On top of the patrol house is a UN observation point and soon we are watching the Turkish and Greek Forces watching each other and us.

Nearby is the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Cemetery of Wayne’s Keep that is located in the Buffer Zone.  The cemetery is one of the unexpected jobs that we in Sector Two have, for we conduct visits to it on behalf of the CWGC.  Nearby is also an old school, high on a hill that commands the whole area and which has a Turkish Observation point on it, we look to see that all the opposing forces have the right number of troops in their observation posts and they do, so it is time to move on.

Caption Wayne’s Keep Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery in the Buffer Zone Sector 2 UNFICYP

Wayne’s Keep Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery in the Buffer Zone Sector 2 UNFICYP

Poo lagoon

We set off again driving west and the Buffer Zone opens up here the land is dry and parched.  The ground is stony with only the hardiest of plants growing, it is deserted and the Turkish and Greek Observation posts are now in the distance.  We continue our drive west to visit a pig farm that has been given permission to operate in the Buffer Zone.  We need to monitor the activities of the farmer to see that he is sticking to what has been agreed.  This includes inspecting his pig slurry lagoons. The smell is unbelievable and it is not a pleasant task.

Caption On Patrol West AO Sector 2 UNFICYP

Caption On Patrol West AO Sector 2 UNFICYP

 

The patrol is also on the lookout for fly tipping, this has been an issue for many years as Cyprus like most countries charge for commercial rubbish disposal and therefore dumping rubbish in the UN controlled Buffer Zone is a cheap, if illegal solution.  Near the pig farm some fly tipping is spotted and so we stop and take pictures.  In due course the Municipality will be informed and they will remove the rubbish.

Our final stop of the patrol is at another UN observation post that is in the far west of our patrol area; here the OP is on the edge of a long ridge that means we look out far to the west and north of the Turkish Cypriot area.  The land is dry grassland with a strong hot wind blowing.  Nothing is moving and in this part of the Buffer Zone we are quite alone.  It is only in the distance that the nearest town with its large mosque with twin minarets and a silver dome glistens in the sun.

Our patrol has reached the edge of the area of operations and now it is time to head back to Nicosia, another patrol complete.

Looking West Sector 2 UNFICYP

Looking West Sector 2 UNFICYP


Read more of Peter’s blogs here

Flying with the Argentine military

Capt Peter Singlehurst.

Capt Peter Singlehurst.

Captain Peter Singlehurst is from the Media Operations Group(V) and is currently serving as the Media and an Ops Info Officer, with 17 Port and Maritime Group in Cyprus.

 

The military currently serving with the United Nations in Cyprus is made up of service personnel from a number of nations that you would not expect to usually work together.  Not many people realise that here on the island we, the British Army, work very closely with the Argentinian military who, after the UK, contribute the second largest contingent to UNIFYCP.

Argentinian helicopters on service with the UN

Argentinian helicopters on service with the UN

The Argentinians patrol Sector 1, which includes the mountainous Buffer Zone in the west and they also operate the only helicopters the UN has with this mission.  This therefore means that when we in Sector 2 patrol from the air we are flown by the Argentinian Air Force in their helicopters.  Recently I joined one of these air patrols and have also spent a day with my Argentinian counterparts to see how they carry out their work and the challenges the UN face in Sector 1.

In Sector 2 we patrol on the ground, on foot, by bike and by vehicle.  This however limits what we can see and we need to monitor what the opposing forces are doing immediately behind their respective cease fire lines.  The answer therefore is to take to the air and fly along the Buffer Zone. 

The air patrol

One morning recently I  joined two other British soldiers for an air patrol.  First we had to report to the Argentinian UN Flight for a briefing.  The helicopters operate from a corner of the old Nicosia International Airport.  This has been closed since the fighting of 1974 and remains frozen in time slowly deteriorating, as nature recaptures the land and the buildings crumble.  Here in a corner sits one hanger and a small office where we are briefed on the flight and I explain that I want to look at an illegal rubbish dump that is being used by Greek Cypriots from the south and some building work being carried out by the Turkish Forces in the north.  Finally I will be looking at the farmer’s crops in the Buffer Zone and how much they have harvested so far.

Once the briefing is over we are taken out to the small Hughes 500 helicopter for our patrol.  I sit in the front right hand set next to the pilot and the other patrol members sit behind.  Soon we are off and I am looking out through the plexi glass dome at the deserted airport.  We fly over the old runway and see the long abandoned remains of an old Royal Air Force Shackleton below.

On aerial patrol

On aerial patrol

As we climb it is now time to be thinking of work, I have to get my bearings and look for the edge of the buffer zone so I can find the rubbish dump.  I see it and take some pictures before we fly on to the northern side of the Buffer Zone to check on the construction we have been asked to look at.  Everything is in order so now it is a quick flight across the old town before we can see the east of our sector opening up before me.  I note the progress of the farmers before it is time to return to the airport.  Suddenly we are coming into land and the patrol is over.

Nearly an hour has passed and though I have flown in British military helicopters many times I have never been in one so small and noisy.  As the pilot shuts down the ground crew are there to escort us out but not before thanking the pilot.  It has certainly been an experience.  Now it is back to Ledra Palace to download my pictures and file my report.

The Buffer Zone Nicosia

The Buffer Zone Nicosia

The ground patrol

On Tuesday a small group of British personnel joined our Argentinian colleagues for a familiarisation tour of their sector.  Our sector, Sector 2 consists of the Buffer Zone passing through Nicosia and some flat rolling agricultural land either side.  It is therefore the narrowest part of the Buffer Zone and also the most populous area.  Sector 1 lies to the west and the Buffer Zone quickly opens up into a wide area several kilometres across.  Initially the land is farmed and it is green with orange and lemon groves unlike the parched fields we are used to where cereals are grown.  The Buffer Zone then rises into the Troodos Mountains before meeting the northern coast away to the west. The two sectors therefore are very different and the UN peacekeepers face different challenges.

We join our Argentinian hosts at the UN Headquarters and set off for Sector 1 in convoy, our first stop is in the Buffer Zone, near the northern edge, by a Turkish Cypriot village which lies just outside the Buffer Zone and further north.  Here we are standing on the site of a serious disagreement last year with one of the opposing forces that ultimately was resolved after some prolonged negotiations by the UN Force Commander, Maj Gen Chao Liu, but the area still remains contentious.

Polite discussions and negotiations

Soon after our arrival and as our Argentinian host is explaining the past problems to us an officer and private soldier from one of the opposing forces approach us.

Our visit has just become a patrol and we are witnessing a violation of the status quo agreements.  This means that troops from either of the opposing forces can only enter the Buffer Zone with prior UN agreement and that is not the case here.  To start with we observe, photograph and report the incursion.  Meanwhile the officer observes photographs and reports us!  Our Argentinian host begins to discuss the situation with the officer but an Argentine patrol arrives and we are able to hand over the incident to the new arrivals.

Welcome to the UN Buffer Zone where instead of violence, it is polite discussions and negotiations over what might appear to be very minor incidents, but this is the world of the peacekeeper and it has worked for many years here.  Our success means tensions between the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot sides have eased and now it will be the diplomats and politicians who must reach a solution through talk.

The rest of the visit passes without incident as we journey to the far end of the Buffer Zone to visit the large manned observation post there. This OP is on the top of a small mountain that looks out over the sea.  Here an officer and eight soldiers look out over the other peaks at the equally isolated Greek Cypriot and Turkish positions in the distance.

Argentinian manned UN Observation Post Sector 1

Argentinian manned UN Observation Post Sector 1

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