Onwards and Upwards

Corporal Si Longworth

Sergeant Si Longworth

Sergeant Si Longworth is one of 38 trained British Army photographers.  He left a career in aviation to pursue his passion for photography; capturing everything that military life has to offer. He has recently returned from Afghanistan where he was the Task Force Helmand Photographer.

It does feel a little strange writing this blog. Not because I am at 44,000 feet. Not because it’s being written on a shiny new Apple MacBook Air which I have borrowed from my boss. Not even because said laptop is just working seamlessly which is the other side of the coin from what I am used to trying to work on. All these excuses could account for why this is a strange blog to write, but of course they would all be incorrect.

Your precious time will tell

The reason is simply because I haven’t put the proverbial pen to paper in such a long time that it feels somewhat alien to me. Not immensely alien you understand. Only as alien as say, using a Canon DSLR for the first time. As you all know, that opportunity knocked on my door last year and within an extremely short period of ‘self-beasting’ I had tamed it and was ready to use that great bit of kit on live jobs for work – (‘Beasting’ is military slang for pushing someone or one’s self to extreme limits).

So, with the same mind-set as I had when I unwrapped the Canon 1DX, I am here to write you another blog. I am hoping that throughout my thousand words or so I have still got the knack of keeping you entertained. Only your precious time will tell.

[Quick read of my last blog to find out where we are in the life of Si_Army_Phot]

Right, lets continue…

… 2014 ended on a high for me for a multitude of differing reasons, some work and some personal, but it all started to ramp up from July onwards.

Ramping up

Work was keeping me busy in Tidworth. The Brigade Headquarters went through a seamless role, and name-change. 1 Mechanized Brigade became 1 Armoured Infantry Brigade under the Future Army Structure. Apart from having to remember to change my file naming structure, I wasn’t really affected by the change.

Jobs continued to roll in. Two in particular caught my eye. The first of which being the Tarleton Trophy with 4 RIFLES. This was an annual inter-company competition, which was first set up by the late Colonel Tarleton.

It is a grueling long distance march across Dartmoor competing in different mini-exercises along the way. I followed several sections as they made their way around the ground and captured the various stages. One of the last events for them was a platoon attack over unforgiving ground. What made this one more interesting from my point of view was the ‘casualty’, which the guys had to deal with whilst coming under attack.

You may or may not know of several companies which are employed by the Armed Forces to act as casualties, creating highly realistic scenarios for the troops. One of these companies, Amputees in Action was being used on this exercise.

The casualty was a woman who had suffered from Meningitis in her adult life and had lost her legs. She had worked for the company part-time for years and [today] she was playing the role of a IED (Improvised Explosive Device) victim who has lost both her legs, and sustained a bullet wound to the chest. I had plenty of time to chat to her, and she said she enjoyed providing realistic training for the troops. Watching scenario after scenario unfold, I found it amazing how soldiers dealt with such realistic trauma.

My hat goes off to all those people who make the choice to help out in realistic training scenarios, even though they must have had to deal with difficult personal circumstances themselves.

An ‘Amputee in Action’ providing realistic and valuable training scenarios to soldiers.

An ‘Amputee in Action’ providing realistic and valuable training scenarios to soldiers.

The second job that provided great imagery spanned a whole week. I deployed to Warminster with Cpl (Now Sgt) Baz Lloyd to assist the Army Engagement Group in gathering up to date imagery of a wide spectrum of training on the Salisbury Plain Training Area.

Working with Baz

Baz and I moved from section attacks, to village clearances, to tank battles across open plains to underslung load training with the Army Air Corps. It was like being a kid in a sweet shop with virtually unlimited golden opportunities to capture the best of what the Army has to offer. Here are just a few of the examples:

A section commander keeps watch over his men during a battle through an urban area.

A section commander keeps watch over his men during a battle through an urban area.

 

A tank crew pause on the plain to assess the battle plan.

A tank crew pause on the plain to assess the battle plan.

 

A Warrior Armoured Fighting Vehicle on patrol on Salisbury Plain.

A Warrior Armoured Fighting Vehicle on patrol on Salisbury Plain.

 

The Army Air Corps conducting underslung load training with the help of an RAF Chinook.

The Army Air Corps conducting underslung load training with the help of an RAF Chinook.

So the year was going well, but not well enough it seemed, as it was going to get better. The Army decided to promote me. I had managed to get back to Sergeant again and as you can imagine, was very happy about it. I wasn’t able to wear it until I had moved to my next posting location.

Oh the hardship

The Army would hand me the news of where that was likely to be later in the year, but first they were going to send me abroad again. Where this time? I am sure those of you who follow me on twitter already know as I couldn’t really keep it in. That’s right, I was New Zealand-bound with 4 Rifles. Oh the hardship.

There isn’t much I can say about New Zealand (believe it or not) other than what a friendly place it is. I have never experienced such hospitality since I came home to my parents for the first time after I’d completed basic army training. I was there to cover a multinational planning exercise consisting of the following ‘players’ – Singapore, UK, Malaysia, Austrailia and New Zealand (SUMAN).

I managed to make friends with another military photographer whilst over there, an Australian Naval Photographer called Jayson Tuffrey. He was my ‘Ozzy-opposite’ and together we documented most of what went on inside the wire and at times, and with help from a Royal New Zealand Air Force Photographer, a little of went on outside it. For those of you who manage a trip to Wellington, I thoroughly recommend trying to find the secret entrance to ‘Alice’s’ and drinking a copious amount of cocktails from white china teapots. It’s a great way to make friends and get ridiculous bargains on Fujifilm lenses …

Soldiers from the Five-Power Defence Arrangement war game.

Soldiers from the Five-Power Defence Arrangement war game.

 

Jayson, Alex and I discuss Fuji prices.

Jayson, Alex and I discuss Fuji prices.

I got back to find out that in the December I was going to be posted to the Press Office in York. Inevitably, this was going to be a change in pace from what I was used to at Tidworth. Being on the doorstep of a lot of front line troops and having Salisbury Plain as my back garden meant I was never short of an image. I wondered if York would provide me with the same excitement. One thing was for sure, I was thrilled to be posted in the North for the first time in my 19-year career.

Another rooftop

I rounded the photographic year off with the opportunity to capture the Remembrance Parade in London from another rooftop. I simply love the opportunities that being an Army Photographer affords me.

A slightly different view of the parade but a poignant reminder, none the less.

A slightly different view of the parade but a poignant reminder, none the less.

So, that was 2014 more or less wrapped up. As I said, I thought it ended very well… However, I would be lying if I said it ended there. I can assure you that it shifted up yet another gear before the clock struck midnight on December 31.

Baby_Si_Army_Phot

After a long and successful year I was handed a note by ‘Mrs Si_Army_Phot’ and informed that 2015 would be even better.

In 2015, the world was going to welcome Baby_Si_Army_Phot. The year doesn’t get a much better end than that.

So now here I am, early March. Twenty odd-jobs-in having already (to name only a few) travelled UK-wide capturing environmental portraits, been flown around Yorkshire with the RAF capturing aerial images, covered two Royal visits, covered the testing of equipment at the Jaguar test track for the Bloodhound Supersonic Car, and now, on a jet heading to a Russian-Estonian border town for a few days to grab some topical news.

With such a strong start, I ask you… where is 2015 going to go from here?

Stick with me and no doubt you will soon find out…

 

Read Si’s other blogs here: Life Through a Lens…

By Royal Invitation – Garden Party at The Palace

Invitation to the Queen’s Garden Party at Buckingham Palace

By SSgt A Standley

Me and Mrs Standley.

Me and Mrs Standley.

When you arrive back to work after your Christmas and New Year break it can seem a very long time to the summer and those lazy hazy days drinking Pimms (other drinks are available). So as in previous years one of the first emails which arrives, comes courtesy of the adjutant, this year on the 6th January giving serving personnel the opportunity to apply to attend the Queen’s Garden party.

Being in my 40th year of service as either a Regular Soldier, TA Soldier or as an NRPS (SQMS) I figured that this year it must be my turn.

So, as I have done for many years now, I filled in my application and applied for myself and my good lady to attend one of the dates available. Then as in previous years forgotten about…. until…

Lets fast-forward to the 23rd of April, and many celebrations in the Standley house as it is our 26th Wedding Anniversary. I departed for work with the words ‘ thought you could at least have had the day off to be with me, I have taken time off’ (whoops!) Then I receive a call mid-morning asking what I have done wrong as there appears to be a letter from the Palace. I think I may know what it is, and sure enough we had been fortunate enough to receive an invite to this year’s Queen’s Garden Party at Buckingham Palace.

My thoughts immediately turned to ‘jeez how much is this going to cost’?

Dress…Check
Shoes …Check
Hat…Check
Small handbag…Check
Really good deal on the Train….Check
NO Forget that………first class on the train….Check
Top-up Oyster card…..yup forget that taxi only, if you like.
Premier Inn…you get the idea.

So off we set to attend on the 3rd June on a lovely sunny day. We arrive in London in good time to check into our hotel, get dressed into our outfits for the day; with the wife looking pretty good in a spotty number with various matching items. And, if I say so myself, I looked pretty cool too.

We left in good time to arrive at the palace for about 3.15pm and on arrival we joined the queue with other attendees. We spent about 15 minutes in the queue, then we were into the main gate after the first security check had taken place. You get to walk under ‘THE BALCONY’ and through the courtyard and the inner quadrangle and finally through the rear part of the Palace for the final security check and on into the garden.

The garden is laid out with 2 long marquees and 2 military band areas and the Royal tea tent (for invited guests only) along with numerous tables and chairs dotted around the grassed area. It is a very, very big garden. At approximately 3.55pm the Royal party arrived headed by the Queen with various family members including The Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Charles and Camilla, Prince Edward and Sophie and also many of the younger members.

Our view across the lawn to the rear of Buckingham Palace

Our view across the lawn to the rear of Buckingham Palace

Smallest plate in the world

The event then starts with the National Anthem. This year it was followed by what can only be described as a downpour of biblical proportions, which then changes all the plans for the day so instead of 4 different Royal groups mingling about, the Royal family are ushered to the Royal tea tent with attendants producing brollies, as if by magic! With all the other guests all trying to squeeze into a marquee that is probably large enough for about a third of the invited guests. It was at this time we realised that the expensive matching brolly was indeed not that much use – it was still in the hotel room!

Still with military guile and not a small amount skill we managed to find our way to the front of the cake and sandwich queue where we selected from such as an ice coffee or tea, sandwiches cut into soldiers with no crusts, made of various fillings including Cucumber and Mint, Egg Mayo, Smoked Salmon, Gammon Ham to name but a few and many various other nibbles along with a selection of very small but exceedingly tasty cakes which included Dundee cake, Victoria sponge, Strawberry tart all served on the smallest plate in the world, I kid you not. But all very pleasant nevertheless.

Then as suddenly as the rain started out came the sun, so time to leave the marquee and explore the gardens. Many people were taking photos and no one seemed overly concerned (but none of inside the house). The gardens and the lake at Buckingham Palace are huge and it took around an hour to walk round soaking up the atmosphere of the day and to be fair, mainly people watching and having the occasional laugh at the ladies sinking their heels in the grass. The afternoon finishes off once again with the National Anthem and as the Royal Party retires, the guests then start to leave. It is quite amusing how the guests become a tourist attraction themselves as on the way in and out there are many people photographing us.

Afternoon tea

The history bit now, the Queens Garden Party albeit originally a breakfast party, primarily for debutants and the likes started in the 1860s by Queen Victoria and took place twice a year but by the mid 1950s there were now 3 a year and took the form of an afternoon tea party between the hours of 4 till 6 pm and along with the Royals there also present are the Yeoman of the Guard, Gentleman at Arms and Gentleman Ushers. At the garden party, you will see and meet many members of the public and service personnel from around the Commonwealth, there is also numerous attendees from across all religious divides, classes and race. With people attending in National costume, or Service personnel in uniform (albeit not required), lounge suits or morning suits. With the ladies in a variety of outfits and hats (dress as if you were attending a wedding being the best advice).

It is an event to be part of and savoured. Both my wife and I feel privileged to have received an invite and to be able to attend an event that is part of British history.

The Royal Stamp on the Envelope.

The Royal Stamp on the Envelope.

 

About 159 Regiment RLC

159 Supply Regiment Royal Logistic Corps (RLC) is an Army Reserve Supply Regiment, which is responsible for more than a million items of equipment, spares and stores of the Army. Its soldiers work alongside Regular troops from 102 Logistic Brigade; 6 Regiment RLC and 7 Regiment RLC.

Members of the 159 Regt RLC run a regular blog http://159er.blogspot.co.uk and are sharing their story with us.

Setting sail with adventurous training

Setting sail with adventurous training

Adventurous training teaches powerboat sailing and navigation

By Corporal Dawn Gibbs

A party of 12 soldiers from different squadrons of 159 Regiment RLC arrived at Kiel Yachting Club early in the afternoon of Friday 16th May. It was a beautiful place with views from the harbour looking across the Baltic ocean to the coastline of the rugged landscape of the northern fjords in Germany.

Once all the logistics of accommodation had been organised we were introduced to the instructors and split into two groups, one for sailing the other for powerboating. After collecting our prospective wet weather gear for the following four days, the rest of the day was ours and we took the time to explore the local town and surrounding harbour area.

Saturday morning began at 5am with beautiful clear skies but by breakfast fog had come in from the ocean reducing visibility to about 500 metres. However by 10am, beautiful blue skies again, a sharp warning of how quickly the weather could change in this area.

The day began with a lesson in the classroom regarding safety and the aims of the course. We then all piled out to our various boats. Myself, WO2 Williams (243 Coventry Squadron) and Sgt Johnson (123 Telford Squadron) made up a three man crew for our powerboat with instructor Nigel.

We spent the morning learning basic navigation in the harbour. At a speed of 2 knots we learnt how to steer, moor and leave a jetty and how to keep a boat motionless. After lunch we left the harbour area and Nigel demonstrated controlled faster moves, at 7 knots, which we all had a go at. Below is Sgt Johnson practising steering with Nigel and WO2 Williams looking on.

Sgt Johnson practising steering .

Sgt Johnson practising steering.

Sunday morning was spent consolidating low speed manoeuvres, learning how to turn the boat 180 degrees on the spot followed by some slalom navigating. We crossed the bay to Laboe for lunch and visited the German submarine. It was fascinating to see where so many men lived underwater in exceptionally cramped conditions, even the officers.

After lunch we ventured further out into the ocean where we could travel up to 20 knots and learnt high speed turning and emergency stopping. ‘Bob’ was used for man overboard drills, which came in very handy as I was thrown overboard the next day, just hours after we were awarded our personal certificates for power-boating- enough said!

Sleeping quarters for seven men and a torpedo!

Sleeping quarters for seven men and a torpedo!

Monday morning we took our test, which we all passed. To celebrate we returned to Laboe for their famous fish and chips. We spent the final hour of the afternoon speeding around the open ocean doing amazing figures of eight and just generally having fun.

Our course only lasted three days, so all six of us who were on the powerboats had a spare day on Tuesday. We were allowed to take a yacht out (with an instructor) to learn some basic yachting skills. This was a completely different experience from powerboating, a much slower but definitely more difficult skill to acquire.

Me and Sgt Johnson are raising the sails.

Me and Sgt Johnson are raising the sails.

With beautiful weather, we again crossed the bay to Laboe. We visited the War Museum and climbed the Naval War Memorial which stands a staggering 279 feet above sea level.

The whole adventurous training package was a truly remarkable and amazing experience.

For more information on sailing and other adventurous training opportunities, all paid for, visit your local Army Reserve Centre or search for Army Reserve careers.

 

About 159 Regiment RLC

159 Supply Regiment Royal Logistic Corps (RLC) is an Army Reserve Supply Regiment, which is responsible for more than a million items of equipment, spares and stores of the Army. Its soldiers work alongside Regular troops from 102 Logistic Brigade; 6 Regiment RLC and 7 Regiment RLC.

Members of the 159 Regt RLC run a regular blog http://159er.blogspot.co.uk and are sharing their story with us.

A brief pause for thought

Corporal Si Longworth

Corporal Si Longworth

Corporal Si Longworth is one of 38 trained British Army photographers.  He left a career in aviation to pursue his passion for photography; capturing everything that military life has to offer. He has recently returned from Afghanistan where he was the Task Force Helmand Photographer.

‘More time off than Clint Eastwood’s safety catch’

That was how a co-worker chose to describe my work/holiday routine. To be fair, I had just returned from a two-week holiday to the US and Caribbean prior to skiing in Austria for a week. So, it was harsh but true. In my defence, when I got back from Afghanistan I had a huge chunk of leave to use before the end of the financial year and I was determined to give it my best effort! I think I succeeded.

In order to restore the balance of things on my return, I needed to get some work done and quickly. Quick diary check: Cyprus? Suits me, so here I am writing you another blog from a seat in an Airbus A330 (somewhere over Eastern Europe), having just completed another week-long photo assignment. Hey come on, it’s still work.

When I got the assignment to go to Cyprus, I thought it would be a Civil Servant Army Press officer from the Exeter office and me, so I was surprised to see the Senior video camera guys from the Army News Team at HQ Army plus three civilian members of the press at RAF Brize Norton when I arrived for check in. I knew I was going to be busier than expected. I wasn’t wrong.

My pictures were going to be sent in several directions; the British Army social media channels (including Facebook, Twitter, tumblr), regional press newspapers and also some news websites. Plus I was supposed to be putting together a multimedia presentation.

It’s always been a great incentive to get better pictures when you are pretty much guaranteed to have some kind of output with them besides throwing them up on Twitter or Facebook. Don’t get me wrong; some of my pictures have had great success on social media. This one for instance had all the ingredients to be a success: It has a dog and it has an interaction of some kind between it and a human. Very simple ingredients, but a very powerful recipe. It’s not the record for Army social media but, as I write this, it has close to 10,000 ‘likes’ on Facebook. I am happy with that.

Pictured: Lance Corporal Ryan Millican  shows affection to his search dog, Otis during an Exercise in Cyprus.

Pictured: Lance Corporal Ryan Millican shows affection to his search dog, Otis during an Exercise in Cyprus.

So, knowing I had a lot of outlets to cater for meant I was hyped about getting on that plane. With introductions complete we set off. Well, I say that. What I meant was that we finally got off once we factored in the seemingly obligatory delay that comes with airline travel. Even the RAF is not immune.

Run for the hills

We landed in Cyprus late in the evening but were quickly assigned our accommodation. I was with some senior ranks from 6th Battalion The Rifles in the transit rooms, but I was lucky to have one all to myself.

As soon as I arrived at Episkopi camp I was barraged by the smell of reminiscence. The flora of camp took me back to the late nineties when I was based in the same place. I will never forget that smell. Back in 1998 I lived in a transit block similar to the one I had been given. It hadn’t aged a bit in my mind or reality. The décor was similar to how I remembered it. Quite how I remembered those days is a little beyond me. I was nineteen years old and the streets of Limasol were alive with loud music and Cypriot vodka. In my days off I would party hard, but back then a hangover didn’t mean three subsequent days of recovery!

Back to today; and a Miami time zone meant it was a struggle to get out of bed the next morning, but we were straight up and out. The ‘cookhouse’ was up a hill about half a mile from where I was staying, so breakfast was bought in the café 200 metres away instead. We all headed for briefings by the officers of 6 Rifles, who were hosting us for the exercise. They are a reservist unit based predominantly in Cornwall, hence the reason we had ITV Southwest, Pirate FM and the West Briton newspaper reporters with us.

Once all the military jargon of the briefings had been decrypted and translated for the press, we made a run for the hills where a platoon of riflemen was storming a position. Being in uniform meant I could work my way through the patrols, capturing what I could.

A soldier battles with the hills and heat during an attack

A soldier battles with the hills and heat during an attack

A soldier pauses for shade

A soldier pauses for shade

Throughout the trip the press and I were allowed great access to see just how integrated the reservists were with their parent battalion, 1 Rifles. At times it was difficult to tell them apart. I never exercised like this in Cyprus and had forgotten what ‘mean bush’ the scrubland was. Literally everything that grows out of the ground has spikes. Trees, shrubs; even some of the grass was deadly. There are thistle-looking plants that would eat Scottish thistles alive. I have about four of them still embedded in my thigh. Needless to say that elbow and knee-pads were an absolute necessity.

The day after, my Cyprus dreams were all answered in the form of a pooch. Not the Royal Marine pooch you may be thinking of, which stores essential kit. I am talking about the Golden retriever kind in the form of Otis, the search dog, and his handler from the Royal Army Veterinary Corps, LCpl Millican. Those of you who have been following this blog will know that not only do I absolutely love dogs (even though I have never had one) but also they are my ‘gold dust’ when it comes to imagery. It’s fair to say that the social media-using public love to see them, and I am here to cater for that demand.

I learned very quickly that Otis loved his picture being taken, and it was as if he had attended doggy modelling school; the shots just kept on coming.

LCpl Millican and Otis

LCpl Millican and Otis

 

LCpl Millican and Otis

LCpl Millican and Otis

The team resting after a long day

The team resting after a long day

Nineteen year old me

The next couple of days I just bounced from attacks, to patrols, to night routine, to harbour areas and tried to get as much out of the trip as I could. During an afternoon of editing though, my mind began to wander again to my teenage years in Cyprus. The only camera I had with me then was a disposable. I didn’t really take all that many pictures in Cyprus. Not sure why; I cannot remember now, but I know I bought a couple of normal and underwater disposables. As I write this I am trying to think where all those pictures went. They must be somewhere buried under a mountain of old things in my house. I know I have them as, whilst thinking back, I remembered that when I first got onto facebook I scanned a whole load of images that I came across. One of them was a picture of me standing alongside a Military Police 4×4, outside the Cyprus Joint Police Unit in Episkopi. I must have been trying to be creative as I had it developed in sepia. (Lord knows why!). Anyway, a quick check of one of the first albums I posted to facebook and there it was. A 19-year-old me standing in the police station courtyard with the Isuzu Trooper. I downloaded it to my computer and had a thought. It was only 200 yards down the road from where I was now accommodated, so maybe I could go recreate it. So that’s exactly what I did.

The Military Police were only too happy to move a vehicle for me once I had explained what I wanted and had shown them the original picture. I positioned the ‘photographer’ where I wanted him and adopted the pose. I got it nearly right and here is the result of that shot, set alongside the original, now converted to black and white:

Younger and slimmer v older and fatter

Younger and slimmer v older and fatter

There are 16 years between these pictures. Now I have never been one to reflect on past times as I have always been happy about what I have done and achieved in life but staring at this set of two images got to me. It is while I write this that I recently lost two military ‘brothers’ and it has profoundly affected me and the way I view certain things. I never expected to grieve quite the way that I am. Their lives have unexpectedly been cut short, and their families will never be the same; something I have given much thought to.

I thought too about growing old myself. I thought about whether I had missed opportunities along the way. I thought about loss. I thought about making sure now that I do everything I have always wanted to.

This pair of pictures should represent achievement and progress along life’s conveyor belt, but instead they make me sad because I can’t slow it down to savour what I love. My body has changed, the people in my life have changed; some come and some go and I suppose that’s just ‘life’, but at times such as these … it’s hard to reconcile.

Hey, if you could see me now, it isn’t a pretty sight.

Being in the thick of it

I am not sure my inner thoughts on life have a place in this photographic blog. I have deliberated with my conscience at great length about their inclusion and in the end, here they are. Why? Well, because that’s the essence of what I believe photography should be about. Stirring up emotion; which these two images set beside each other did with me. I have always been passionate about looking at other people’s photographs, as I have mentioned in previous blogs. If a photograph moves you for whatever reason then it has impact and power and has achieved its aim.

“Back to the pretty pictures” I hear you say. Ok then.

Before the exercise was declared over, the soldiers of 1 and 6 rifles had their final testing phase. I was there to cover it all. Some of the terrain meant our minibus couldn’t make it, therefore I had to lug my kit into position. It was hot. Not as hot as Afghan, but I hadn’t had any time to get used to it, so water intake was a must. Running around in the heat, however, reminded me of Afghan and how much I enjoyed being in the thick of it.

Soldiers discussing their next plan

Soldiers discussing their next plan

It wouldn’t be my blog without a silhouette

It wouldn’t be my blog without a silhouette

In less than a week I was back on a flight home. As always; spending time editing and writing this blog [which incidentally I have only just got around to finishing]

I was happy with my imagery from Cyprus. I didn’t have long to revel in it though. Two days after landing I was heading to Devon for a few days to watch hundreds of kids yomp over the moors. I’ll save that for another blog.

More TC

Read Si’s other blogs here: Life Through a Lens…

‘So, how would you like to go on tour?’

‘So, how would you like to go on tour?’

Experiences of a Mobilised Reservist Troop Commander in 1 Logistic Support Regiment

By Second Lieutenant Sam Walton (160 Transport Regt)

Reservists of 159 Supply Regiment deal with a 'casualty' during Mission Specific Training for Op HERRICK 20.

Reservists of 159 Supply Regiment deal with a ‘casualty’ during Mission Specific Training for Op HERRICK 20.

My journey began in September 2012 when I first met my CO. Having just commissioned his first question to me was, “So, how would you like to go on tour?” 18 months later I find myself finishing Mission Specific Training (MST) about to deploy to Afghanistan. My path has changed slightly, from originally commanding a Transport Troop drawn from my own Regiment, 160 Transport Regiment, to commanding a Troop of Suppliers from 159 Supply Regiment. I now command Materiel Troop of 1 Logistic Support Regiment (1LSR) who deploy as the Theatre Logistic Group for Op HERRICK 20.

The first stage of MST was the 159 Regiment Battle Camp. The Regiment has a strong history of providing supply capability, deploying a troop of 23 soldiers to Afghanistan every six months since 2011. The camp was an excellent introduction to the Regiment for me and allowed me to have an input into the selection of the lucky soldiers who were capable, robust and dedicated to deploy on operations.

Under the flags

The next step was to travel to Germany and join 1LSR. Due to the changing nature of Op HERRICK 20, the Reserves were divided across the Regiment, with only 12 under my command in the General Support (GS) Squadron. Day One set the tone for the ethos of the ‘First Regiment’, with an ‘orientation’ run around the airfield – the first of many!

The first week with GS Sqn included the Squadron Sergeant Major’s (SSM) parade ‘under the flags’. 1 LSR, and the GS Sqn particularly, contains soldiers from all over the Commonwealth and flags from each country represented are displayed on the hanger wall. I spent the majority of the week learning the ropes from the Technical Warrant Officer and practiced issues and receipts whilst asking lots of questions. Gaining an idea of what each department did, enabled me to ask the right questions during the hand-over with the outgoing Troop Commander. I felt fully prepared for the Field Training Exercise (FTX).

About to deploy

Reservists LCpl Jones and LCpl Molloy on Mission Rehearsal Exercise (MRX).

Reservists LCpl Jones and LCpl Molloy on Mission Rehearsal Exercise (MRX).

The FTX was held at the Supply Training Facility (Germany) (STF(G)), a facility designed to test suppliers on the technical aspects of their trade. The Reservists had quickly gelled with the Regulars and there was little to tell them apart as soldiers and the previous training gaps were quickly identified and remedied; both through hard work from the Reservists and from excellent teamwork and tutoring from the Regulars.

The FTX stretched everyone with a high volume of supply activity to be completed – mirroring the current operational tempo in Afghanistan. The FTX wasn’t just about trade skills though and there were plenty of ‘kinetic’ serials throughout to keep everyone on their toes.

The next few weeks flew by, with leave and courses before the Mission Rehearsal Exercise (MRX). So here I am now at STF(G), on the final step and looking forward to the hot summer ahead. With many of my NCOs already or about to deploy, the remainder have had an opportunity to step-up and work in other roles, pushing themselves professionally than many had thought likely.

As a Troop Commander my main priority is ensuring that my troops are ready to deploy in the best possible manner. The mobilisation process, from selection to MRX, has been challenging and rewarding. The pre-selection work ensured we arrived at 1 LSR with the right people to do the job and represent the Reserve Army on operations. The work done since has honed our skills, including mine, and been a positive experience which will see all of the Reservists deploy in as good a state as possible.

 

About 159 Regiment RLC

159 Supply Regiment Royal Logistic Corps (RLC) is an Army Reserve Supply Regiment, which is responsible for more than a million items of equipment, spares and stores of the Army. Its soldiers work alongside Regular troops from 102 Logistic Brigade; 6 Regiment RLC and 7 Regiment RLC.

Members of the 159 Regt RLC run a regular blog http://159er.blogspot.co.uk and are sharing their story with us.

A Reservist Adventurous Training Weekend

A Reservist Adventurous Training Weekend

By Lance Corporal Hoskins (243 Sqn, 159 Regt RLC)

On the weekend of 7- 9 March, 243 (Coventry) HQ Sqn set off on an adventure to the Island of Anglesey. A convoy of three vehicles packed with passengers and adventure training equipment made their way to the Joint Service Mountain Training Centre to begin a weekend packed of excitement, adrenaline fuelled and challenging fun, all for a cost of just £15.00. As each vehicle ‘de-bussed’ the troops were met by SSgt Khan (the Regular Permanent Staff Instructor) who gave each individual the good news that there was free Wi- Fi in the rooms – luxury in Army terms! After receiving the arrival brief, with beds made and kit packed away, we got some sleep before the weekend began on Saturday.

65 feet up in the trees!

65 feet up in the trees!

A sunny Saturday morning greeted us as we rose from our beds with rolling hills and sheep grazing, which is presumably the same as what they had done the day before, and the day before that and the day before that. After a bit of breakfast and plenty of flask filling we made our way to the Nuffield Training Centre in Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwll- llantysiliogogogochuchaf on the banks of the Menai Straits on the island of Anglesey in North Wales. No, I did not type loads of words, this is the name of the local area. I dare you to try to pronounce it. For those interested it means ‘St. Mary’s Church in the hollow of the white hazel near to the rapid whirlpool of Llantysilio of the red cave’.

‘knees wobble and lips wibble’

We were split into two groups and were each given an instructor who took us through a series of stands which included low wire activities, high wire activities, zip wiring and a trapeze jump. The low wire was quite exciting, it really tested your balance and co-ordination skills but as we progressed on to the high wire at a soaring 65 feet it definitely was enough to make the knees wobble and lips wibble! On each of the wires we had to make a steady climb up the side of a tree as it swayed from side to side in the wind and then believe that we could let go and walk across a plank whilst being supported only by a wire that was being held down by your mate on the ground. We were tasked with completing a full 360 degree turn and then a star jump before stepping off the platform to be lowered to the ground, some of us faster than others.

Into the arms of safety.

Into the arms of safety.

George in the Jungle

Next we moved on to the zip wire. We were to clip ourselves to the rope and then stand at the edge before our instructor kindly pushed us off. The only way we were going to stop was to either have our mates at the other end of the wire hold a wooden wedge down using a rope, or crash into the fast-approaching tree. The method worked well with the wooden wedge until Cpl Wright jumped off unexpectedly. Those of us who were supposed to stop him just carried on watching as he flew towards us. Luckily, LCpl Scrimshaw and I picked up the supporting rope just in time or he’d have carried out a really good impression of George in the Jungle.

Moving on through the activities we got to the Trapeze Jump. As with the other activities we had to steadily climb up the side of a tree until we reached the top where a horizontal bar presented itself to us. At 65 feet in the air with a tree swishing from side to side it takes a lot of nerve to have trust in yourself and your mate, who is stopping you from falling to the ground, beneath you, to jump reaching out for the bar…  And missing! All of a sudden you feel like you are falling to certain death, the adrenaline rushes up to your head, heart beating faster and then you realize you’re not going anywhere, at which point your legs turn to jelly. For SSgt Coley (237 Squadron) this was particularly challenging. It took what seemed like an eternity for him to jump, but up there, I bet it felt like a lifetime for him. After some strong words of encouragement he made the leap of faith and flew to the bottom. A big well done to you.

Gathering our thoughts.

Gathering our thoughts.

After this, we needed a break so we walked over the grass back to the training centre; something that none of us felt entirely comfy with as it goes against everything you’ve been disciplined in. Our last activity for Saturday was a race between the two teams to build a raft and work our way through a course designed by our instructors. After a tie between both teams and an allegation of cheating there was a forfeit. The first team with all members to jump into the lagoon won. As soon as were informed of this, with a few exceptions, all of us ran and got wet as our rafts naturally never sank. Getting wet however was not great when you didn’t have spare change of clothes… Ahem. At this point I should also point out that both instructors were incredibly knowledgeable and it was a pleasure to be with them both. Saturday concluded with a night out where all of us got together and made friends with the locals.

‘Those who have’ and ‘those who haven’t’

Sunday was the end to a great weekend. The sun was shining again as we packed up our lives back into our bags and made our way to the Indoor Rock Climbing School, Indy. It’s Anglesey’s best rock climbing centre which is just outside of camp. It has beginner walls right through to the more advanced walls for real life spidermen. We spent two hours here and split into two groups ‘those that have’ and ‘those that haven’t’ which soon transpired into ‘those that can’ and ‘those that can’t’. By the end of the two hours I think it was fair to say that we all ended up into the category of ‘those that can’.

The whole weekend was a steal, at £15 per person for travel, accommodation, food and equipment hire you can’t complain and it was good to see the squadron do things together as friends, things that are fun and things that we will talk about for a while. Of course the added bonus was that those that attended we getting paid to do these things too, something that others can only dream about. I’d certainly recommend Adventure Training to anyone. It’s something all the squadron should do together, after all, it’s not all work and no play is it? On behalf of all the Soldiers that attended, I’d also like to thank SSgt Khan for working extremely hard in organising this whole weekend. As a witness to endless work on the way down I can say that his phone did not stop ringing. Well done to all those that attended too, I think we smashed it and I believe the next AT weekend will be just as good, if not better.

 

About 159 Regiment RLC

159 Supply Regiment Royal Logistic Corps (RLC) is an Army Reserve Supply Regiment, which is responsible for more than a million items of equipment, spares and stores of the Army. Its soldiers work alongside Regular troops from 102 Logistic Brigade; 6 Regiment RLC and 7 Regiment RLC.

Members of the 159 Regt RLC run a regular blog http://159er.blogspot.co.uk and are sharing their story with us.

 

UK Yo-Yo!

UK Yo-Yo!

Corporal Si Longworth

Corporal Si Longworth

Corporal Si Longworth is one of 38 trained British Army photographers.  He left a career in aviation to pursue his passion for photography; capturing everything that military life has to offer. He has recently returned from Afghanistan where he was the Task Force Helmand Photographer.

Hello again everyone. I welcome you all from somewhere over the South Atlantic Ocean. Normally I would know where I am, but this time I can only tell where I have come from and where I will end up. I say that with some certainty as I have faith in the flight crew with whom we are cruising at forty-four thousand feet, South-West towards the Falkland Islands. I have time on my hands. About six hours I reckon, so why not write a blog? Well that’s exactly what I am doing.

‘Falkland Islands?’ I hear you ask. Well I have purposely whet your whistle for a future blog, I hope. I haven’t been there yet so I can’t very well write about it at this stage. Give me a week and you may get lucky. There are 12 hours to fill on the journey home between the Ascension Islands (our refuel point) and the UK.

This blog however, is about a little game I played a few weeks ago. I liked to call it UK Yo-Yo and here’s why.

My first week back from Christmas happened to be the third week of January. As most of 1st Mechanized Brigade had been away on operations in 2013, the brigade was granted four weeks leave at Christmas. A welcomed break for most, I can tell you. My first job was helping out on an Army Photographic Selection Course, which was being held at the Defence School of Photography. I was going to be part of the Directing Staff along with Staff Sergeant ‘H’ Harlen. As it went; the selection didn’t run the entire week’s duration and I was back in the office in Tidworth by Wednesday. I was glad I had an extra two days to sift through my work emails… Honestly.

The following week is where the fun really started. I was fully booked for photography jobs; each one in another part of the country. Let me just drag it out for you.

Monday:

The 1st Regiment Royal Horse Artillery were having their homecoming parades scattered around their recruiting grounds. I was tasked with covering them. They happened to be Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Monday was Nottingham. I set off at ‘Sparrow’s fart’ (early enough to catch those noisy Sparrows waking from their sleep and cracking a little trump out, as we humans all do) from Aldershot and headed up the notoriously busy M1. I was early enough to miss most of the morning traffic, but what it meant was that I hit Nottingham around two and a half hours early. That didn’t bother me because I was being joined by Sergeant Paul ‘Moz’ Morrison, the York (and regional) Army Photographer.

As I arrived early I had a chance to meet the owner of a pub that overlooks the City Hall Square. I negotiated access to their fourth floor abandoned premises that sat above the pub. Although the rooms were riddled with the stench of Pigeon excrement the view was fantastic. I knew this is where I wanted to be positioned, but I couldn’t manage it because I needed to be on the square capturing the formalities and couldn’t be in two places at once. As reluctant as I was, and knowing that the other press would not have access to such a fantastic elevated position, I handed the keys over to Moz when he arrived. He looked out the window, grinned at me and I threw him a string of expletives in my mind. He knew what I knew. Those shots where going to go places!

The parade came and went, and I did my bit. I got what I could. I even managed to get a smirking Moz up in the window. He was just relaxing, as he had got what he needed. I can even hear him laughing now.

Look at how relaxed Moz is, as he knew he had gotten the goods!

Look at how relaxed Moz is (in the window), as he knew he had gotten the goods!

Meanwhile, back at ground level.

1 RHA in front of Nottingham City Hall

1 RHA in front of Nottingham City Hall

Parade over, it was time to head to a coffee shop and edit what we had. Edit done, sent out to press, and back to the M1 is was; Southbound. I was tempted to be a good sport and post some of Moz’s pictures up here, but then I thought that it would just be easier for you to do a ‘google’ search for them online. You will no doubt come across a picture of the parade snaking it’s way through the streets from an elevated position. All healthy banter aside, that’s the beauty of finding a great shooting position. If it offers something unique over what other press photographers are getting, then you have a great chance of getting it published in print, which Moz did. Well done!

Tuesday:

Tidworth this time but I had two jobs. Firstly, I was being interviewed live on BFBS Salisbury Plain about being an Army Photographer. This was hopefully going to raise the profile of our trade, and entice potential recruits to get in touch. Secondly, I was engaging my off-road driving skills and heading onto Salisbury Plain to shoot the First Fusiliers training in one of the purpose built villages.

I think the interview went well, but I was much more content with a couple of naturally lit shots of the guys.

A soldier covers his arcs during training

A soldier covers his arcs during training

A soldier gives orders over the radio

A soldier gives orders over the radio

 

Wednesday:

Another early start and this time back up the M1 to Sheffield. It was 1RHA again marching through their recruiting ground. I was shooting it on my own this time. I scoured the surrounding buildings for a vantage point, but I was hit with ‘health and safety’ a lot. You would think a ‘roughty-toughty’ soldier would be allowed to stand on a balcony without fear of purposely climbing over railings to make a jump for it, but sadly I was saved from ever having to suffer a fall. I appreciate it, Sheffield. I did however manage to find a window in a pub that was closed (for health and safety reasons) which was clean enough to shoot through to get this.

Sheffield City Hall, through glass

Sheffield City Hall, through glass

Parade over, images downloaded, edited, uploaded again, packed up, M1 Southbound.

Thursday:

An important part of any parade (or event for that matter) for a photographer is knowing where it will happen, which way it will go, how it will unfold and any other details which may be useful. Fortunately, the Army have a saying for such necessities:

“Time spent on recces is seldom wasted” A military cliché, but very true.

As 2 Regiment Royal Tank Regiment were planning to march through Bristol in a week’s time, I headed off to Bristol on a recce with one of the Regional Press Officers, Tammy Dixon. The Press Officers take control of the media surrounding such events and are key to understanding what’s going on. It was an early start to avoid traffic. Such is life.

We were ‘Bristol’d-and-back’ by early afternoon, which was handy. 1 RHA (who’d have guessed it) were due to parade through another UK town on Friday. Was it Bedford? Bath? Farnbourough? Nope! I wasn’t that lucky. It was Doncaster; even further North. I had a choice to make. As it was around 1500 hrs, I could go home and prepare myself for an even earlier start or make way up my favourite motorway. What to do?

Friday:

Waking up to a beautiful crisp Doncaster morning was the only choice I could make. A lazy coffee and walk into town for my breakfast meant I could do a little ‘elevated position’ recce again. Unfortunately, Doncaster had been hit with the same curse. I was to be ground level-bound again. The parade went off without a hitch and the photographs where much the same.

1 RHA at Doncaster Civic Hal

1 RHA at Doncaster Civic Hall

It was a late finish for me on Friday night. I had to head back to Tidworth to drop off the contract car, pick up my own and head back to Aldershot. In total I racked up 1380 miles in the week. Some going, I thought, but I had enjoyed seeing some towns I hadn’t visited for a few years. I was glad it was all over though…until next week. It wasn’t going to be that bad; a General planting a tree in Winchester and 2 RTR’s actual Parade in Bristol to cover.

CLF Lt Gen Carter plants a memorial tree at the Rifles RHQ

CLF Lt Gen Carter plants a memorial tree at the Rifles RHQ

2 RTR march through Bristol

2 RTR march through Bristol

So there you have it. UK Yo-Yo. Sounds fun doesn’t it?

Back to now.

Typing on an aeroplane isn’t the easiest of things to do. We still seem to be at 44000 feet. Probably a lot further South West though. Luckily I have a fellow photographer with me for company; Sergeant Russ Nolan. The other good thing about having another photographer with you is you actually get pictures of yourself, like this one he took of me working, using my new Fuji X-Pro 1. Yes, that’s right, you read that correctly. A Fuji. Well folks, as a ‘compact’ camera and a backup, this thing ‘rocks’. I will talk about it another time because now that’s two more blogs I have promised you.

me writing this blog on the way to the Falklands

Me writing this blog on the way to the Falklands

See you all on the return journey.

More TC

Read Si’s other blogs here: Life Through a Lens…

Time to switch bodies, perhaps

Time to switch bodies, perhaps

Corporal Si Longworth

Corporal Si Longworth

Corporal Si Longworth is one of 38 trained British Army photographers.  He left a career in aviation to pursue his passion for photography; capturing everything that military life has to offer. He has recently returned from Afghanistan where he was the Task Force Helmand Photographer.

What did I tell you? I said you wouldn’t have to wait long. I have come bouncing back after my blog-abstinence, and quite right too. I can’t have those of you who have faithfully followed me through Afghanistan fall by the wayside now, can I?

After a month off over Christmas, I have been rocket-propelled into 2014 with fury. Something happened to me over that break you know. Something that has likely changed me forever. Did I find religion? Did I see the Eighth Wonder of The World, or was I visited by a ghost? I am afraid the answer is so much simpler than that. I used a Canon…

“Arghhh”, I will hear some of you shouting at me, whilst you throw things at your laptop in disgust. Others will sit back laughing and smiling contently. Whichever you are, hear me out.

A technical epiphany

Those of you who know me, will know that I have NEVER subscribed to the Canon-Nikon argument. Each has their pros and cons, and people (except the professionals) tend to navigate towards one or the other by chance or a recommendation. For me, it was the only one I saw in a secondhand shop in Scunthorpe over twenty years ago; Tom Dennis Cameras (I think it’s still open for business).

There it was on the shelf looking at me, as I looked back with my well-earned lawn-mowing business money in hand. A simple exchange later and I was the proud teenage owner of a second-hand Nikon F90X. I learned it, I loved it and I owned it for many years to come. When the time came to change, I sold it (I wish I hadn’t now) and used what little money I got for it to part-finance a Nikon D200. It only seemed right because I had a couple of lenses and they all fitted. I was also used to the ‘buttonology’. Skipping many years and several Nikons later, I am now in possession (bought or loaned by the Army) of five professional Nikon bodies.

I would be lying if I told you that I didn’t love them. I have Nikon in my blood stream, I suppose, and that was just circumstance. I didn’t choose the brand because it was ‘the best’. As a child I never knew about cameras, and, now that the Army chooses to shoot Nikon, I have no choice but it works for me as that’s what I know.

Now over the years, I have bumped into friends and photographers who have gone the Canon route. Whenever I could, I would always ask to ‘have a go’. I can tell you that, on every single occasion, I have become frustrated within minutes because it was so different to handle and operate than my native Nikon. The buttons were so different and everything was buried in menus. I liked Nikons because there was a button for everything. Inevitably, I ended up handing back the camera and thinking to myself that it was too complicated and it didn’t interest me to learn.

Moving on several years later to the stages when I was taking my photography more seriously, and my mind had started to wander towards doing it as a career. I started regularly buying photographic magazines (as you do). Wasting those three to five pounds every month on ‘mags’ that just go around in circles with the advice they give. All good stuff but, if you buy a year’s worth, you will have covered most of the basic techniques and in that second year they will be there again like a faithful dog.

Focus on Canon

What I did start to notice, from reading the magazines, were two distinct things: Firstly, and most depressingly, my photography wasn’t as good as I thought it was. The second thing was that all the pictures that I considered to have ‘amazing colour depth’, or be ‘dreamy’, were shot with a Canon. Call me what you like, but soon enough I could look at a picture and tell if it was a Canon or a Nikon image. (I am not talking about the heavily post-processed images you see.) I sat and bored friends with this notion for weeks and weeks. Some agreed with me and some said I was talking utter nonsense but, nevertheless, I was always right.

If this had have been a fluke then I would have dismissed it, but the fact that I could always do it seemed strange to me. It worried me a little. Probably because my post-processing ability wasn’t up to scratch either, and I probably thought that I would never be able to produce imagery of that quality.

As time ticked on through 2013 I just kept second-guessing imagery and occasionally ‘tweeting’ other photographers to see what camera brand they used. I suspect you know the outcome of my queries. I decided that I was on to something, but I was never going to be able to prove it because I didn’t have access to a Canon. That soon changed.

Dreamy picture

A chance social engagement gave me opportunity to catch up with a friend ‘over a few beers’ in London. He was an avid Canon-guy and the topic of my ‘findings’ came up during the drunken ramblings of the evening. Without trying to quote the conversation, he essentially offered to lend me some gear so I could have a go and see for myself. I think I sobered up instantly at the offer, as I knew I would have to remember it in the morning.

Sure enough, my friend came good to his word and a couple of months later I was in possession of a Canon 1Dx, 85mm 1.2, 24-70mm 2.8 and the 70-200mm 2.8. A formidable line-up, I am sure you would agree. I had the cameras over Christmas, which was no doubt a quiet period for him. It mattered not. I quickly got to work comparing the Nikon D4 and the Canon 1Dx. I am not talking about scientific laboratory tests here, either. I am talking about walking around my local area with the same lenses on and taking the same pictures, with a bit of comparison later on the computer.

What I should say is that, two weeks prior to receiving the camera, I downloaded the manual and studied it. I didn’t want to have this camera and spend a week getting used to it. Admittedly, it took some time and I was even a bit ‘fingers and thumbs’ with it after two weeks.

Unlike other blogs or web pages, I am not going to put up comparison images. It doesn’t matter because maybe it’s only me who can see what I am talking about. I don’t think ‘dreamy pictures’ are something you can quantify anyhow. What I will tell you is that I was very, very impressed with what that camera could do in terms of frames per second, colour and ISO range. My images didn’t seem as flat, straight off the bat, as they had done before. I was content with everything that came off the memory card.

A love affair with Nikon

You may not appreciate this, but it’s hard for me as a self-professed ‘Nikon guy’ to write such things. I should be faithful, should I not? I am guessing as the years go by, each camera manufacturer gets the edge on something. Canon friends tell me that the colour on previous models was awful, and Nikon had the edge. Well, it certainly seems like it has swung the other way for me. The trouble for me is the way it has left me feeling each time I go to shoot a job with my current gear.

When I look at images that I take, even as much as a week ago, I start to feel deflated that they just aren’t up to scratch. I know there is a better machine out there, and I just don’t have the time to always be processing hundreds of images to make them look as zesty and full of life as those images I produced over Christmas.

Go on, shout at me again. I know some of you will want to, but hey, I am only telling you the truth about how I feel, and I think you have the right to know. I will always promote Nikon for what it is , because it is an amazing bit of kit. I love my Nikon kit deep down, and I will always have a love affair with the history we have shared, but the fact still remains; If tomorrow I were not an Army Photographer, and I didn’t own a single bit of Nikon gear … I would go out and buy Canon.

1/125 @ f1.2 ISO 2000

1/125 @ f1.2 ISO 2000

 

Roger Roberts – Solo Artist.

Roger Roberts – Solo Artist.

Roger shot at f1.2 with no post-production. As I say; ‘dreamy’ (not the guy).

Roger shot at f1.2 with no post-production. As I say; ‘dreamy’ (not the guy).

More tc

Read Si’s other blogs here: Life Through a Lens…

Si’s opinions are his own and not an endorsement of the British Army. 

Capturing the essence of life in Afghanistan

Capturing the essence of life in Afghanistan

Me in the middle of a sandstorm. Image by Cpl Ross Fernie

Me in the middle of a sandstorm. Image by Cpl Ross Fernie

I’m Sergeant Paul Shaw. I’m 28 and having served 11 years in the British Army I have now been one of its professional photographers for over a year and have enjoyed every minute of it. The very day I passed my Defence Photographers course I volunteered for a tour in Afghanistan as part of the Combat Camera Team in the Electronic News Gatherer ENG role (The Video Guy). It is my job to collect moving footage for the media and have also filmed for other productions such as The One Show, Gary Barlow: Journey to Afghanistan and Top Gear.

During my time here I have seen some amazing sights and had the opportunity to visit a variety of areas including Kajaki dam and Kabul, the country’s capital city. It has been a fantastic journey so far and although my job is moving pictures, my true passion lies with photography and I have been trying to capture ‘my world’ for the last six months as often as possible.

Geography and the weather

Sunset over Camp Bastion

Sunset over Camp Bastion

Most of my time has been spent in and around Helmand, one of the country’s largest provinces. For those who don’t know, it is an arid region in the south of Afghanistan covering 22,619 square miles, half the size of England and it is believed that civilization may have begun in the area as early as 3,000 BC. Being such a dry region it is often subject to sandstorms and even rainstorms, during the winter months. I am however still waiting for my thunderstorm.

Sandstorm over Camp Bastion

Sandstorm over Camp Bastion

A cyclist during a sandstorm at Camp Bastion.

A cyclist during a sandstorm at Camp Bastion.

Always on the move, one of my first major trips out of Helmand was a job in Kabul. 3,500 years old Kabul is situated in the North East of the country. It is one of the fastest growing cities in the world and is home to over 3 million people. It is also home to the Afghan National Army Officer Academy ANAOA, the Afghan equivalent of our own Sandhurst. The academy is surrounded by Western Kabul and sports some amazing view points on its southern side, which is lined by high peaks and mountains.

Kabul at dawn from the ANAOA site.

Kabul at dawn from the ANAOA site.

Modern-day life

In the present day, compared to that of our own, the people of Afghanistan lead a relatively simple life. They are generous and honourable and although not possessing all the technology that more developed countries may have, they have ingenuity and a way of making things work. They do things their way and in their own time and for them, it works.

Afghan workers

Afghan workers

It is quite easy for the western world to judge the Middle East and especially Afghanistan as it has played such a big part in our British Military life over the past decade. It is easy to think of a war torn sand pit whose people care little for their neighbour or their country and simply allow themselves to be overrun by extremists. I think you would be amazed if you ever have the opportunity to pass through its streets. Granted, it does seem like there are two worlds colliding but that is the Afghan culture, their way, not ours.

High rise flats dot the skyline, electricity pylons, cars… as many cars as any busy city centre, even billboards advertising broadband internet. Ironic when our own country still sports areas out of reach of ultra-fast fibre optics.

Kabul City and a broadband internet billboard

Kabul City and a broadband internet billboard

The Burka and the modern headscarf meet in Kabul

The Burka and the modern headscarf meet in Kabul

School children in uniform on their way to school.

School children in uniform on their way to school.

Packing up and moving out

Back in Helmand the British Army are well under way with their redeployment of kit to the UK. We are no longer actively conducting offensive operations within the province. To the north at the Afghan National Army Academy we mentor officers who will lead the fight against the insurgent and are proud to be doing so.

An American Osprey gunner on a flight to Kajaki, which sports some beautiful scenery

An American Osprey gunner on a flight to Kajaki, which sports some beautiful scenery

A sketch I did of British Forward Operating Base Price

A sketch I did of British Forward Operating Base Price

I am now nearing my six-month mark and it will soon be time to leave a remarkable country, one that has seen so much turmoil. Until we come to leave we will support the Afghan forces as much as we can. Before I go, I leave you with a video I have filmed and produced of the Apache Longbow Attack Helicopter entitled ‘The Shout’.

Thanks for reading. 

Images © MOD/Crown Copyright

Photography: Sergeant Paul Shaw RLC (Phot)

Video: Sergeant Paul Shaw RLC (Phot)

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?