Capturing Force Protection activity in Kabul

Corporal Mike Hubbard - video operator CCT H17

Corporal Mike Hubbard – video operator CCT H17

I am Corporal Mike Hubbard and I’m an Army reservist, Rifles cap badge and member of the Media Operations Group (Volunteers) (MOG(V)). As an Ex-infantier-turned-photographer I’m currently deployed on a winter tour of Afghanistan on Op Herrick 17, as the video operator for the Army Combat Camera Team (CCT), which is a three-man team consisting of a photographer, video operator and team commander. This job is a million miles from my civilian career working for BT Global Services as an Account Manager

Layer of snow

As a team the three of us recently travelled up to Kabul, with the aim of collecting stories on 2 Signal Regiment. They are based out of Camp Souter, as well as their main signals/communications role they are also providing force protection and other services around Kabul. Working in the media you do notice Kabul doesn’t really get mentioned much, the focus is nearly always Helmand province. So units like 2 Signal Regiment get missed. They are actually doing an infantry task up in Kabul which the Signals have for a number of years. Herrick 17 will be the last tour the signals are doing this job as an infantry unit will be taking over the task on Herrick 18.

On arriving in Kabul the difference in weather was the most surprising thing, as we got off the plane there was a layer of snow everywhere.

As part of the visit, I filmed another My Job in Afghanistan video, following Staff Sergeant Britton in his job as a multiple commander.

My boots crunch through melting layers of ice covering the rough concrete pathway. Bits of rubble and the odd weed poke through the ice. I can feel the biting cold, cutting through my body armour as I walk in the looming shadows of derelict factory buildings. A portion of the UK troops based in Kabul call this camp home. An old factory constructed from concrete and steel, surrounded by high fences topped with razor wire and guard towers lining the perimeter of the camp.  Its times like this I’m glad I’m wearing a helmet, as they do provide some extra warmth.

Inside the buildings they could actually be any barracks back in the UK. Outside the whole place feels grey and dreary but when you look above the wire fences, concrete walls and shattered building, you see breath-taking views of mountains covered in snow and bathed in sunlight, a site you see in most ski resorts in the Alps but not something I associated with Afghanistan. When I leave the patches of freezing shade, the heat of the sun warms me up almost instantly. Everywhere we go in this country all the elements seem to be measured in extremes.

The one thing that is the same in either Kabul or down in Helmand is the smell, it’s not a bad smell but it’s always in the air. The smell of diesel from vehicles, mixed with burning rubbish and refuge. Also the gentle thrum of generators, that’s a sound that becomes so normal after 6 months out here you forget it’s even there. Every camp you go to, there are generators and their relentless noise.

Morale is high

Foot patrols with members of the Signals. Image by Cpl Jamie Peters

Foot patrols with members of the Signals. Image by Cpl Jamie Peters

I arrive at the main gate and meet the rest of the patrol, all ready to head out into Kabul city on a foot patrol. The gate is sheet metal in fact there are two gates, a double layer of protection, with enough room for two vehicles to be closed in between them. Thick concrete blast walls flank the gates and the lane leading up to the gate is also lined with temporary concrete blast walls. The patrol stands in a rough gaggle, wearing full British uniform, body armour, helmets, eye-protective glasses, a mix of rifles and Mini-Mi machine guns are spread throughout the patrol. Rucksacks full of equipment, ammunition, water and radios weigh down everyone’s shoulders.

The banter is flowing so morale is high. I like to think it’s because the guys are looking forward to me videoing the patrol and making them all famous! But I doubt that. Thankfully we’re all stood in the sun while we wait for the last few to arrive. I can feel the sun soaking its’ heat into my core. Staff Britton walks over to me and says “when the main snow fall came at the weekend, it covered everything with about a foot of snow, the following day the sun came out and melted the lot in a couple of hours!”.

Whilst with the Signals, we went out on a foot patrol with them and a vehicle patrol here are some images take by my colleague Cpl Jamie Peters during these patrols.

Foot patrols with members of the Signals. Image by Cpl Jamie Peters

Foot patrols with members of the Signals. Image by Cpl Jamie Peters

Foot patrols with members of the Signals. Image by Cpl Jamie Peters

Foot patrols with members of the Signals. Image by Cpl Jamie Peters

Foot patrols with members of the Signals. Image by Cpl Jamie Peters

Foot patrols with members of the Signals. Image by Cpl Jamie Peters

Patrolling in vehicles. Image by Cpl Jamie Peters

Patrolling in vehicles. Image by Cpl Jamie Peters

Patrolling in vehicles. Image by Cpl Jamie Peters

Patrolling in vehicles. Image by Cpl Jamie Peters

 

Don’t forget you can follow us on Twitter: @CombatCameraH17

Bagpipes and dancing girls

Corporal Mike Hubbard - video operator CCT H17

Corporal Mike Hubbard – video operator CCT H17

I am Corporal Mike Hubbard and I’m an Army reservist, Rifles cap badge and member of the Media Operations Group (Volunteers) (MOG(V)). As an Ex-infantier-turned-photographer I’m currently deployed on a winter tour of Afghanistan on Op Herrick 17, as the video operator for the Army Combat Camera Team (CCT), which is a three-man team consisting of a photographer, video operator and team commander. This job is a million miles from my civilian career working for BT Global Services as an Account Manager

‘Cut and thrust of news media’

Where do I start! I’ve just sat down to write this blog and realised how much we’ve been doing! So here’s the highlights from the last month…

First of all what have we got released, well Jay, Cpl Jamie Peters, has had lots of his images used in various forms of print across the media.  On the video front some highlights for me were Remembrance and St Andrew’s Day. These two jobs were both with the Scots Guards who are based out at FOB Ouellette. For these jobs I had to film, edit and send the footage back to the media all in the same day, which is really what the CCT is made for and on both occasions STV (Scottish TV) ran with the stories.

Me and the boss interviewing.

Me and the boss interviewing.

Remembrance Day. Cpl Jamie Peters (Army Photographer)

Remembrance Day. Cpl Jamie Peters (Army Photographer)

1st Battalion Scots Guards celebrate Saint Andrews day in Helmand.

1st Battalion Scots Guards celebrate Saint Andrew’s day in Helmand. Cpl Jamie Peters (Army Photographer)

1st Battalion Scots Guards celebrate Saint Andrews day in Helmand.

1st Battalion Scots Guards celebrate Saint Andrews day in Helmand. Cpl Jamie Peters (Army Photographer)

The main challenges with this sort of job are, time appreciation and technology. Both these events were planned in true military fashion down to the minute. The situation really did remind me of wedding photography, the couple have their big day planned to the minute and they’ve planned in some 5 minute slots for photographs. You then have to deliver a slice of reality to them and the time table is started again actually giving you a chance to cover the day successfully. If only the military was that easy but as some one of a more senior rank than me has planned the days activity’s I don’t have a cat in hell’s chance so the only thing that is getting changed is my plan of attack. Inevitably there will be some things I can’t film as I’m somewhere filming something else or we’ve got the next  5 mins sprung on us to do an interview with the commanding officer, which also means I’m going to miss another key part of the day. I’ve found that I have to keep a mental note of what I have filmed and what’s left to shoot, if I imagine the news story in my head using the footage I have I will either be happy or start panicking!

In reality, news stations don’t need clips of ‘everything’ as they only have 20-30 seconds to fill with the story anyway, I just need to make sure what I do film is strong and tells the story, No pressure then. The technology side of this is the BGAN satellite link we use to send the rushes (video footage) back to the news and this dictates the other time issue. It will take me about an hour to take all the footage off the camera and cut it down to rushes, then we have to allow at least another hour to upload and if we’re aiming to get this on the evening news we really need to get it over to the news stations by 13.00 – 14.00 which is 17.30 Afghan time… So I need to stop shooting at around 15.00 and if they’ve got anything really interesting planned after that time I have to be really strict and not film it as we’d rather get what we have on the news than none at all because it went over to late. Both pieces were used by Scottish TV, which is great for us but more importantly it’s great for the guys we’ve filmed and their friends and family back home.

Freezing in the desert

It was my birthday last month. Another year older! But luckily it seems the might of the British Armed Forces came through and organised a CSE show for my birthday, although it seems they invited the rest of Camp Bastion as well. Combined Services Entertainment are part of the same organisation as BFBS and they travel the world as well as the UK and provide much needed entertainment to troops serving away from home. Normally in a period of six months they will visit Afghanistan twice hopefully giving a large portion of the troops out here a chance to relax for the evening and enjoy the show. You can see a video I put together of the night here:

Me filming the CSS show. Cpl Jamie Peters (Army Photographer)CSS show. Cpl Jamie Peters (Army Photographer)

Me filming the CSS show. Cpl Jamie Peters (Army Photographer)CSS show. Cpl Jamie Peters (Army Photographer)

Me filming the CSS show. Cpl Jamie Peters (Army Photographer)CSS show. Cpl Jamie Peters (Army Photographer)

Me filming the CSS show. Cpl Jamie Peters (Army Photographer)CSS show. Cpl Jamie Peters (Army Photographer)

Me filming the CSE show. Cpl Mike oNeill (Army Photographer)

Me filming the CSE show. Cpl Mike oNeill (Army Photographer)

We’ve also spent some time putting together a video message from Afghanistan to be played at the British Military Tournament this month, so that’s quite exciting as it’s a high profile event, so keep your eyes out for that!

Also a continuation from my last post, the bridge-build by 21 Engineer Regiment ‘Gurkhas celebrate with watermelon’ the footage I shot got used on BFBS you can see the story here: BFBS link

I’ll leave it at that I could keep going but fear you may fall asleep! One final thought, we’re in the desert and its freezing!

Don’t forget if you’re on Twitter you can follow our progress on a more regular basis via our Twitter feed @CombatCameraH17

Gurkhas celebrate with watermelon

Corporal Mike Hubbard - video operator CCT H17

Corporal Mike Hubbard – video operator CCT H17

I am Corporal Mike Hubbard and I’m an Army reservist, Rifles cap badge and member of the Media Operations Group (Volunteers) (MOG(V)). As an Ex-infantier-turned-photographer I’m currently deployed on a winter tour of Afghanistan on Op Herrick 17, as the video operator for the Army Combat Camera Team (CCT), which is a three-man team consisting of a photographer, video operator and team commander. This job is a million miles from my civilian career working for BT Global Services as an Account Manager

‘Building bridges in Afghanistan’

Well we’ve been here six weeks now. And we’ve been busy bees.. In the six weeks we’ve been here we’ve been back and forth from Lashkar Gah and as a team we’ve been out to Patrol Base 2, PB4, PB5, Shawqat, PB Clifton and Main Operating Base Price to name a few.

The great thing about being on the Combat Camera Team and in the job as an Army Photographer as my Regular counterparts are, is you get to see what every unit in the Army does, normally if you’re an Infantry soldier, a medic, an engineer or any other unit in the Army you only really see what your unit does as that’s your job, you’ll see the periphery of other units but in our roll we embed with a unit and really see what goes on.

We went out to PB Clifton to see 21 Engineers as they were building a non-equipment bridge, this kind of bridge build is great for Afghanistan as the bridge itself is made from local materials and built in a way that the locals can repair and maintain the bridge easily long after ISAF forces have left Afghanistan.

Here’s a collection of images taken by Cpl Jamie Peters, Jamie is the photographer in our three-man team.

Building bridges in Afghanistan

Building bridges in Afghanistan

Building bridges in Afghanistan

Building bridges in Afghanistan

Building bridges in Afghanistan

Building bridges in Afghanistan

Building bridges in Afghanistan

Building bridges in Afghanistan

Gurkha celebrations

Straight after the PB Clifton job we were bounced out to PB2, as the Gurkha’s from 1st Battalion Royal Gurkha Rifles were about to start celebrating Dashain and sacrifice some watermelons. The Dashain Festival, as celebrations in Nepal go is the equivalent of our Christmas, so it’s a big deal and a special time for family and friends. As we will see in a couple of months time with random Santa outfits, decorated patrol bases, millions of sprouts and tonnes of Turkey. It’s important to the troops to make this time as normal and happy as possible. And the Gurkhas didn’t let us down, they really did have a fantastic couple of days. Back home in Nepal and the UK, Dashain is celebrated for 14 days. But for obvious reasons they have to shrink it down here in Helmand and they settled for four days. We were only there for one day but that was the day involving Curry and entertainment so we did well. We also foot patrolled out to one of the smaller check points to visit the guys out there to see how their celebrations were going too.

Here’s a video I produced of the day, so you can get a feel for what it was all about.

Gurkhas Celebrate Dashain Hindu Festival in Helmand.

Gurkhas Celebrate Dashain Hindu Festival in Helmand.

Gurkhas Celebrate Dashain Hindu Festival in Helmand.

Gurkhas Celebrate Dashain Hindu Festival in Helmand.

Gurkhas Celebrate Dashain Hindu Festival in Helmand.

Gurkhas Celebrate Dashain Hindu Festival in Helmand.

Gurkhas Celebrate Dashain Hindu Festival in Helmand.

Gurkhas Celebrate Dashain Hindu Festival in Helmand.

Making ISO containers exciting

Here’s a photo of me taken by the boss Captain Booth and as you can see six weeks into a tour working with two photographers and he’s still chopping my feet off!

Me on patrol

Me on patrol

Back in Bastion, we still have to carry out jobs that are equally as exciting like filming and photographing ISO containers. That’s a challenge in itself, make ISO containers exciting!

Me on top of the ISO containers

Me on top of the ISO containers

I think I’ve gone on enough now but I’ll be sure to update you again soon.

Don’t forget if you’re on Twitter you can follow our progress on a more regular basis via our Twitter feed @CombatCameraH17

A new combat camera team arrives in Afghanistan

Corporal Mike Hubbard - video operator CCT H17

Corporal Mike Hubbard – video operator CCT H17

I am Corporal Mike Hubbard and I’m an Army reservist, Rifles cap badge and member of the Media Operations Group (Volunteers) (MOG(V)). As an Ex-infantier-turned-photographer I’m currently deployed on a winter tour of Afghanistan on Op Herrick 17, as the video operator for the Army Combat Camera Team (CCT), which is a three-man team consisting of a photographer, video operator and team commander. This job is a million miles from my civilian career working for BT Global Services as an Account Manager.

‘Children: The sounds of progress’

“I was sitting in Lashkar Gah waiting for a helicopter. It was about 10am and the sun was out. It felt like a nice summer morning you get in the UK (sometimes). The camp at Lash  is surrounded by high walls and on the other side of those walls is the hustle bustle of life, people living in the provincial capital going about their daily business. These are sounds you get used too, but then came the sound of children, lots of them laughing, screaming and playing, the noises that are all too familiar with a playground during break time in any country around the world but not here. It’s a sound I’ve never heard here before.

During my last tour, three years ago, we were involved in projects building schools in this area but we never got to see the schools full let alone hear all the kids playing and laughing outside.. For me the sounds I heard washing over the walls brought on a moment of contemplation.. It really was the sound of progress..”

First of all here’s a quick video, this was from the Brigade’s final training exercise before we deployed. This was filmed and edited by me:

Combat Camera Teams handover

Combat Camera Teams handover

Train the trainer

We’ve been here for just over three weeks now, after an overlap of about a week with the outgoing CCT (Combat Camera Team) we’re finally in the driving seat.

Our second week was spent at Lashkar Gah where the brigade HQ is located and the other half of the AMOC (Afghanistan Media Operations Cell) team. We were tasked to cover a story with the PMAG (Police Mentoring Advisory Group). They were handing over and officially opening up a new wing at the police training school, which has been built and developed by the PMAG. The wing was being taken over by Afghan trainers who had only recently attended a ‘train the trainer’ course. The new class being enrolled was the first co-ed mixed male and female class to be held, so this was a great mile stone in the history of Afghan Police Force training and a real sign of change.

Cpl Mike Hubbard filming the hand over of a training wing at Police HQ Lashkar Gah

Cpl Mike Hubbard filming the handover of a training wing at Police HQ Lashkar Gah

Capt Booth patrolling back from Police HQ

Capt Booth patrolling back from Police HQ

Cpl Mike Hubbard filming in Lashkar Gah

Cpl Mike Hubbard filming in Lashkar Gah

Dougal picked up great audio

As part of this story we interviewed one of the Afghan female police officers, now this gave me something to think about as we had to use an interpreter as well, so the format of the interview needed to change. I needed to get an end result where the female was framed like a normal interviewee and looking in the right direction with good audio. We had a dougal mic (a big mic that looks like a wee scotty dog) and I also had radio mics (small and clip on your shirt collar). My preferred method is to ‘radio mic’ the person we’re interviewing but as there are real sensitivities around females in Afghanistan, I don’t think getting her to start stuffing wires up her top with me guiding them through would be appropriate. So we went with the dougal and positioned the boss and the interpreter where the female we were interviewing wouldn’t be bobbing her head from one place to the next when they were asking questions and interpreting.

The interview went really well. We got some great quotes and she was funny. Once I got back to start the edit, I found as we had been focused on the interviewee the dougal picked up great audio from her but we could hardly hear the interpreter and we needed the audio from them … So lesson learnt. Next time I’ll set the interview up exactly the same but I’ll put the radio mic on the interpreter and dougal on the interviewee so we get both sets of audio on different channels.

The output from this job, is a set of rushes that we make available to the media, rushes are an un-edited collection of clips and interviews put together with a press release, this gives a news team all the parts they need to run their own story during a news broadcast.

More technical and mentally demanding

Once we got to Lash, the jobs started sprouting out of nowhere.  In the first two days we ended up with five jobs and I’m not moaning as a like to be busy. To give you an idea, these were our tasks for that week:  The police training story, Kings Royal Hussars coming home story for their local news, Brigadier’s end-of-tour piece to camera, collecting stock footage of Lash, collecting video messages for a charity event ‘Ride to the Wall’. Fingers crossed, this is a sign of things to come as I want to get as much material out of my tour as possible and really develop my video skills and to do that we need lots of work!

Although when I say we were busy, the one thing that has hit me is the difference in activity. All my previous tours have been with a formed infantry company with 100 other blokes. You normally hit the ground running and life is pretty hectic, long hours and hard work of a totally different type, whether it’s standing in a guard tower for hours on end, driving vehicles on long patrols or humping kit on foot patrols. Every day you’re rolling from one job to the next without much of a break, if any, in between.

So far, what I’ve seen from this job, which to be fair isn’t much yet, it’s more like my civilian job where the work-load is more technical and mentally demanding with long hours in front of a computer. Yes we’ll be getting out on the ground for weeks in a row so I’ll get my boots muddy, but we’ll always be heading back into Bastion to get the footage edited and sent off to where ever it needs to be. It has felt a bit weird sometimes, I keep feeling like I should be leaping onto a vehicle and heading out on a 12 hour patrol or getting stuck in a sangar for a couple of days instead of being sat in an office.

Another similarity with my civilian job is that a large part of this job is finding and developing relationships. For BT as an account manager I have to find the right person within a government organisation at a high and low-level to talk to and then develop that relationship, leading to new business for BT etc. With the CCT we have to find all the right people to talk to within all the units out here and develop those relationships, which will then lead to stories. And it’s much the same with the media. We want to get the stories out so we have to find the right people to talk to and more or less sell them the story. Another great way of finding stories is just talking to random people and its surprising what you can dig up.

Here’s one last video, these were the video messages we recorded to be played at the Ride To The Wall event at the National Arboretum, Stafford. A great event raising money for the upkeep of the memorial:

Well it looks like we’ll be getting out on the ground shortly so I’ll make sure I have some good footage to share on my next update…

Previous post: H17 Combat Camera Team: Call-up papers and pre-ops training

H17 Combat Camera Team: Call-up papers and pre-ops training

Corporal Mike Hubbard - video operator CCT H17

Corporal Mike Hubbard – video operator CCT H17

I am Corporal Mike Hubbard and I’m an Army reservist, Rifles cap badge and member of the Media Operations Group (Volunteers) (MOG(V)). As an Ex-infantier-turned-photographer I’m currently deployed on a winter tour of Afghanistan on Op Herrick 17, as the video operator for the Army Combat Camera Team (CCT), which is a three-man team consisting of a photographer, video operator and team commander. This job is a million miles from my civilian career working for BT Global Services as an Account Manager

‘Relevant, lifesaving stuff’

Being a member of the Army Reserves (TA) my journey to Afghanistan started in a different way to my regular colleagues. If I cast my mind back to April when I mobilized, once the call-up papers dropped through my door I knew I was needed to fill the ENG (electronic news gathering/video) role on the Combat Camera Team and I was due at the RTMC (Reserves Training and Mobilisation Centre) Chillwell in April to mobilise into full-time service for 12 months.

At Chillwell you spend two weeks training and passing various assessments, physical, mental and medical. Once deemed fit and ready to serve, you’re then taken into regular service and then you are sent on to more training, which is the operational training that all troops need to do, whether full-time regulars or reserves. The training is specific to Afghanistan and includes current tactics, cultural and environmental training, which bugs and beasties’s to look out for and how to say “hello!” to the locals. Many things are covered over long days and nights, but it’s all relevant, lifesaving stuff.

Once all the general Afghanistan training was covered and all the soldiering skills were up to scratch, it was time for my job specific training to begin. My next stop was RAF Halton and the Defence Media Operations Centre. I spent a couple of weeks there with the other two members of our team, Corporal Jamie Peters the photographer and Capt Tony Booth our team commander, learning about the Combat Camera Team (CCT) job and what is expected and required of us.

I also had my kit issued. As the ENG (electronic news gathering/video) operator I had a lot of kit- two video cameras (Panasonic P2s), a tripod, laptop, BGAN satellite system, night scopes, various mics – from the big fluffy ones to the small radio mics you can clip onto people, the list goes on! But at least I now have everything I need and a huge PELI case to lug it all around in as well!! I wasn’t looking forward to getting all our kit on and off the flights to Afghanistan!

The next stage of my training in the UK was to work with the army news teams here in the UK, to get as much experience and practice filming and editing footage for the news as possible. While I was there I learnt a lot and produced several video pieces, here are a couple:

The Tri-service offshore sailing Regatta, filmed on the Olympic course at Weymouth:

Boris Johnson, Mark Cavendish and the Sun girls visit the troops staying at Tobacco dock during OP Olympics: