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…

Life changing experiences in Malawi, Botswana and South Africa

Corps of Army Music

Corporal Simon Lindley, Corps of Army Music Short Term training team member

Corporal Simon Lindley is a trombonist and singer in the Corps of Army Music. His current role is Force Development Assistant at the HQ of Army Music.  He and a number of other members of the Corps of Army Music recently went to Malawi, Botswana and South Africa as part of a short term training team to help develop the musical capabilities of  the Armed Forces in those countries.

Army Music training team visits Malawi, Botswana and South Africa

Malawi

The Corps of Army Music Short Term Training Team (STTT) led by Warrant Officer Class One Shane O’Neill arrived in Lilongwe, Malawi after a 14-hour flight via Johannesburg. With lots of queuing in airports in between, we finally arrived at the Sunbird Hotel, where the team relaxed and prepared for a rewarding 2 days work with The Malawi Defence Force Band (MDF Band). The team arrived at the 2nd Battalion Malawi Defence Force camp in Lilongwe, home of the MDF band and were introduced by their Director of Music, Captain Levison Chisambi, himself a graduate of the Royal Military School of Music Bandmasters course.

The team quickly became acquainted with members of the Band and sat down to join in with their full band rehearsal. Part way through the morning the OCs of both our team and the MDF Band left to go on a recce for a joint engagement for a charity golf event for the Malawi War Veterans charity. Rehearsals for the engagement continued under the direction of Sergeant John Storey and myself.  After lunch we each took sectional rehearsals of the MDF Band working on music for the engagement, as well as covering some basic musicianship skills, and answering questions on a variety of subjects. After a hard day’s work we returned to the hotel for a well-earned rest.

With part of the day free before the engagement at the British High Commissioner’s residence the we took the opportunity to visit Lake Malawi, which was an amazing site and also visited a local village community market and saw first-hand the talented people had carved wooden gifts to sell for their community. After returning to Lilongwe the team headed to work where both the brass quintet and the wind quartet provided musical entertainment to all the guests as well as performing the all important national anthems of Malawi and Great Britain. We were then invited to enjoy some fish and chips and chatted with various guests before retiring to the hotel. A second day of training with the MDF band went ahead, with final preparations for Saturday’s joint engagement being the focus. After a full band rehearsal the team again took sectional rehearsals continuing to work with the MDF Band on music as well as covering instrumental maintenance. At the end of the day the team all had photos with our new friends in the MDF Band.

The War Veterans Commemoration Event at Lilongwe golf club, which was attended by many senior MDF officers as well as the British High Commissioner and the newly elected Vice President of Malawi, was a great success. The band provided musical entertainment all morning on the 18th green and then further music was provided during dinner by the wind quartet. At the end of this joint engagement with the MDF Band, the team said fond farewells to our new friends in the MDF band and returned to the hotel to pack for the drive to Blantyre in southern Malawi. Next day we  packed up and headed off in our two trusty vehicles fully loaded with bags and instruments on the six-hour drive to Blantyre… After some excellent navigation, we arrived 9 hours later with 4 tired drivers who had to show their off road skills on multiple occasions and good use of the emergency stop to avoid goats that appeared to have suicidal tendencies as we travelled through the country. After checking in to our second hotel, the team settled for the evening. On the 9th June we went to Blantyre hospital to work with the Sound Seekers Charity providing music for the event and working with hearing impaired people helping them to have fun and express themselves with various musical instruments, a very worthwhile cause and a satisfying day was had by all.

Corps of Army Music training team

Training by the Corps of Army Music short term training team

Johannesburg

Arriving safely in Johannesburg after flying from Blantyre, the wind quartet were straight out on an engagement, at the British High Commissioner’s residence in Pretoria whilst the rest of the team enjoyed their new surroundings. The team met with the South African National Defence Force Ceremonial Guards Band based in Pretoria for a day of training. After watching the Band perform a marching display and small ensemble performance we and the SANDF CG Band joined up for full band rehearsal under the direction of our Bandmaster and enjoyed another successful day. There is a high degree of satisfaction when both the training and rehearsals go so well.

On 12th June  the brass quintet performed at the British High Commission in Pretoria over lunch before the whole team headed to the Soweto Theatre to spend the afternoon working with local musicians. Next day, with part of the day free, the team took the opportunity to take in some of the recent history of South Africa visiting the Constitution Hill Museum and Court  and learning much about the country’s transition from apartheid to democracy. Later that evening we supported another Dinner Night before retiring for the evening.

The next day we began the drive north towards Botswana stopping en route to spend part of the day with Modderspruit Sunrise Hospice who work with children and families living with HIV and Aids. This was without doubt the most harrowing and moving part of the whole trip, but it was a privilege to be able to provide a little entertainment and ‘musical therapy’ for the children and families living with this disease.  The end of the visit culminated in the performance of the British and South African National Anthems, the children gathered together and sang their anthem as we played. Having performed anthems at both Wembley and Twickenham, I can guarantee that these pale in comparison to the passion and energy for life that the children sang with. Very moving.

Community engagement by the Corps of Army Music

Modderspruit Sunrise Hospice

Before continuing on to Botswana, the team took the chance to go on an early-morning game drive taking in some of the wildlife of South Africa in their own environment. After enjoying the spectacular sights and sounds, the team continued the journey to Garbarone in Botswana, arriving at the hotel late in the afternoon.

On the 16th June the team spent the day with the Botswana Defence Force (BDF) Band Garbarone, after introductions the team assisted with an Officer Commissioning Parade rehearsal and provided feedback to the band afterwards. In the afternoon the bandmaster took a full band rehearsal of the parade music, then later in the evening the team joined with the BDF Band performing a concert for the Officer Cadets.

Next day it was the turn of  the brass quintet who performed at a Queen’s Birthday Party at the British High Commission enjoying some traditional British food and providing background music. Our final day of training with the BDF Band proved to be an interesting one, despite major issues with a power cut the team still managed to provide some tuition to the various sections of the band. The team were later taken on a tour of the BDF zoo where they keep animals for the purposes of training and educating their soldiers about wildlife they may encounter in the field.

The team with a statue of Nelson Mandela in Johannesburg

The team with a statue of Nelson Mandela in Johannesburg

After leaving presentations and photos with the BDF Band the team headed back to the hotel for a final meal and to pack for the journey home. The team packed up the vehicles and drove from Botswana back to Johannesburg for the flight back to the UK. The team arrived home full of amazing memories, life-changing events and feeling thoroughly satisfied that we had completed the trip and leaving the musicians we trained with plenty of new skills and things to think about over the coming months.

 

Read more CAMUS blogs

Find out more about the Corps of Army Music

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…

Army Rock and Pop music mixes with Monster Trucks

 

Singer Corps of Army Music

Lance Corporal Suzy Pearce Corps of Army Music a singer in the Band of the Army Air Corps

Lance Corporal Suzy Pearce is a singer in the Band of the Army Air Corps, one of the newly formed Rock and Pop Bands of the Corps of Army Music. The Band were recently centre stage along with the monster trucks at this year’s TRUCKMANIA at Beaulieu, where the Army was also showing off some of its vehicles to the public.

TRUCKMANIA! With the Band of the Army Air Corps

Setting up

On Saturday 24 May the Band of the Army Air Corps (Corps of Army Music) travelled down to Beaulieu Motor Museum in Hampshire in order to provide musical support to “Truckmania” alongside other Army recruiting agencies.

The weekend had been long awaited by those drawn to monster trucks, and once we arrived our two vans were dwarfed by these huge vehicles and the deep tyre marks stamped into the ground. But for once it was nice to see these tyres actually on the trucks they were intended for, rather than watching them being flipped and pushed around by the Parachute Regiment during PT back in Colchester…

We were appointed a troop carrying vehicle which was parked on a grassy bank facing the main arena alongside the rest of the Army trucks, and there we began unloading.

Bands are often faced with problems when it comes to outside engagements, the weather being the most obvious, but today the sun was on our side, however, the lack of power was not. The question “Do you need power?” which came as the PA, amps, monitors, drum kit, guitars and keyboards got hauled onto the truck did cause a heavy silence and disbelieving glances throughout the band, but in true Army style a generator was produced from somewhere and we were able to continue unfazed. With the sound check complete we retired back to barracks to relax before the main event.

Band of the Army Air Corps

The Rock and Pop Band of the Army Air Corps, Corps of Army Music, entertaining the crowds at Truckmania 2014

In comes the public

The gates opened at 10am on Sunday and the first truck the public encountered as they walked in was Optimus Prime from Transformers. Although it may not transform, it brought a smile to many an adult and childs face, as did the fancy dress Bubblebee happily posing with families. Even our Band Sergeant Major was eager to get his picture taken in Optimus Prime’s driver’s seat.

Optimus Prime

The Band Sergeant Major with Optimus Prime from The Transformers movie

 

Back in the Army area, people enjoyed looking at the various trucks and rocket launcher, although a clear favourite was the inflatable assault course which attracted quite a few excitable children…and dads.

One of the main events of the day was the awesome ‘Big Foot’, whose massive tyres effortlessly crushed the scrap cars which had been lined up for sacrifice. The crowd cheered enthusiastically every time Big Foot trampled them further into the ground, although there was a chuckle when one of the (now flat) estate car boot’s slowly opened in an act of defiance towards the end.

 

Big Foot

Big Foot entertains the crowd at Truckmania 2014

Throughout the day our musical sets were accompanied by revving engines, air horns and the hum of generators around us. The only unwanted sound was the silence of our own power supply when it inconveniently decided to take a break just before our last set. Luckily an engineer was on hand to help us and we began for the final time that day, much to the relief of our Bandmaster and the crowd that had stopped to sit on the grass and listen to us. It was particularly rousing to see the other members of the Army climb on top of their trucks and take a break for a little while to enjoy the music and clap along.

The weather turns nasty

Bank holiday Monday began with high morale at breakfast as the band assessed each others windburn from the day before. Unfortunately, the weather was too bad to play our first set of the day, so we took the time to visit the National Motor Museum which holds over 250 motor vehicles, reflecting the history of the car on the roads and circuits of Britain. One car which particularly caught the eye of visitors was “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” from Ian Fleming’s classic children’s book, complete with the wings folded underneath.

Spectators armed with multi-coloured waterproofs seemed undeterred by the rain and continued to enjoy the activities available. These ranged from Mini Truck World in the Grand Marquee where remote controlled vehicles could be seen in action, to the free dodgems which were also a highlight.

By lunchtime the rain had permanently set in, so the sponsors decided that due to health and safety reasons we were best to pack down and get on our way before the ground became too churned up to leave.

It was unfortunate that we were unable to give further musical support to the other Army stands who were continuing to work hard in Gortex, but we were still pleased with the response we had gained the day before.

The future

It was a great opportunity to participate in such an enthusiastically received event. We were able to demonstrate the new capabilities of the Corps of Army Music to both public and Army alike and we look forward to continuing this at similar events in the future.

Read more CAMUS blogs

Find out more about the Corps of Army Music

 

Female bandmaster swaps music for mentoring in Kabul

Female bandmaster swaps music for mentoring in Kabul

Bandmaster in Afghanistan

Warrant Officer Class One Esther Freeborn, Bandmaster from the Corps of Army Music

Part 2

Warrant Officer Class One Esther Freeborn is a Bandmaster in the Corps of Army Music. She has performed music at venues around the world and in front of Royalty on many occasions. She is now assigned to work with the Afghan National Army at their Officers’ Academy in Kabul.

International World Women’s Day at the Afghan National Army Officer Academy

Two months in – five to go

Well, I am in my second month at Camp Qargha and everything is going well. My fears of coping in this small vicinity and with a small amount of comforts have been allayed. We are very lucky to be able to receive post from friends and family, and from internet companies that will deliver to a British Forces Post Office. Receiving post generates enormous morale for everyone here, whether you have received a letter from a loved one, or a box full of toiletries from your mum. It’s amazing how grateful you can be for a nice bottle of shower gel!

Women’s Day

At the beginning of March, I was very honoured to represent our site at the Afghan National Army celebrations for International Women’s Day. It was amazing to see how many women were involved in the Afghan Armed Forces, including the first Afghan female pilot. The Afghans are obviously very passionate about Women’s rights and quite insistent on developing roles for women in all services.

Generating lesson plans in multiple dialects

I have many responsibilities here at Qargha, but mainly deal with the production and development of lessons for the Afghan National Army Officer Academy. As you can imagine the lessons for its 42-week course consist of anything from Foot Drill to Afghan Military Tactics. The British Army and partner nation forces mentors immerse themselves in the Afghan doctrine (policy) and write the lessons. Obviously, the lessons are written in English, and, although the Officer Cadets learn English as part of their course, all lessons have to be translated. The Afghanistan population speaks many different dialects, often depending on what part of the country they are from. Dari and Pashto are the two most spoken dialects, but the Academy has chosen for all lessons to be in Dari. Although I cannot speak Dari (apart from ‘hello’ and ‘how are you’), I find that I can recognize certain words and I have even learnt how to write ‘hello’ – سلام.

Command tasks at the Afghan National Army Officer Academy

Command tasks at the Afghan National Army Officer Academy

Small location could drive you mad

It is amazing how many different people you meet whilst on operations, in a camp that is only the size of a few football pitches. As I mentioned previously, there are partner nations here, such as Australian, New Zealand, Norwegian, Danish and American who perform many different roles.

I have to say, my favourite section is the dog section. I have a Springer Spaniel called Tyler and I miss him very much; fortunately I am able to visit the dog compound and give all the dogs a fuss.

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Kenzie the Springer Spaniel who used to visit me. He has now gone back to Camp Bastion

I think the most interesting part of the job is being able to talk to the Afghans, both military and civilian, learn about their families, what type of house they have, and even the type of cars they drive (usually a Toyota!) It is only unfortunate that we are unable to explore the surrounding areas a bit more, and see life on the streets of Kabul for ourselves. Nevertheless, I am content with my surroundings and the beautiful view of the Kabul mountains as the snow slowly melts in the gradually warming spring weather. The job is not too bad either!

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Army music making in Ethiopia

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Lance Corporal Kayleigh Compson, Corps of Army Music

Lance Corporal Kayleigh Compson is currently assigned to the Band of the Scots Guards, part of the Corps of Army Music. She is normally seen in red tunic and bearskin on major ceremonial events around London but volunteered to go to Ethiopia with a Corps of Army Music Short Term Training Team.

Week 1

What we did for music in Ethiopia

On day one the Ethiopian National Defence Force Band (ENDFB) were on the parade square demonstrating their marching band and Corps of Drums. This helped establish a starting point for training and areas that we could develop and expand upon. We were very impressed with their marching and how they played together as a band. The Corps of Drums was very polished and impressive. This led us to break down into smaller groups for sectional rehearsals. Instrument maintenance is very basic within the band, so we also each gave a lesson on how to clean and look after instruments correctly, and to make best use of equipment they have within their stores.

On the second day our Bandmaster Warrant Officer Class Justin Teggarty gave the ENDF Band a Power Point presentation on CAMUS, our role and the effect of Western military music. They were all interested in learning about our bands and asked lots of questions afterwards about the different groups which the army has and were very pleased to see that the British army had pop groups. We then all came together and had our first full band rehearsal. We had brought along the hymn Abide With Me the band played this extremely well. Their own conductor conducted this piece and the Bandmaster would give useful points how to rehearse a band to get the best out of the musicians.

Next day arrived and we could hear all the sections practising the warm-ups we had gone through with them on the Tuesday. This was very pleasing to hear. The morning was spent with the BM giving them an insight into Western music. They enjoyed learning out how our music had evolved and they liked listening to our music over the years. We then went out on the parade square and the Lance Sergeant took them through some drill. This included slow marching and breaking into quick time, without any instruments.

Week 2

Solos were outstanding

On the following Monday morning we were introduced to their Big Band. The Ethiopian band has a great passion for jazz and big band music so we thought we would give them In The Mood (Glenn Miller) to learn and work on. After lunch we briefed the band about the ‘Flashmob’ idea (Something CAMUS has successfully delivered across the UK in 2013) and they were all really keen to do it. Their CO Colonel Kilbrom, had the perfect place for them to perform, and everyone including the staff were excited The big band were putting their final touches to In The Mood. They clearly had been practising as the piece sounded great and the solos were outstanding. We then took the Big band outside and they performed it to the remainder of the band. This was the first time they had performed a new ensemble to their peers and it went down a storm.

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ENDFB Big Band rehearsing Glenn Miller’s In The Mood.

During the trip the ENDF Band made history, and performed their flashmob at the Ethiopian National Defence Force Army Ground Force Headquarters. Once we arrived at the camp the band got into their positions and hid from the rest of the camp. I started off with a ‘drummers call’ to sound that something was happening. People came out of their offices, out of the coffee shop and surrounded the parade square. One off the Ethiopian Band drummers came to the centre of the parade square to play the solo at the start of Highland Cathedral. Section by section the band came out until eventually the whole band was there. The flashmob was a great success and the band said they would do this again around the city.

Three miles to get to school

On one of our days off we travelled to the Menagesha Suba National Forest Park. This forest was the first National Park in Africa and dates back to the 15th century. After almost three hours of travelling in our 4×4, we finally got to the forest. We then travelled a further 5kms through the forest by vehicle and then walked the rest of the way through the forest and up the mountains. The views were breathtaking from 3080m above sea level. The air was very thin and we all admitted we found it harder to breath. Along the way we managed to get talking to some children who lived up in the mountains.

They were more than happy showing us around, telling us about their lives in the mountains and how they have to walk three miles to get to school each day. On the way back from the mountains we travelled through vast areas where transport was horse and cart, children were carrying wood for fires, women and children were walking for miles to get to the water pumps, carrying at least 3 water containers each. We all were extremely shocked, and the mood changed in the vehicle to be more subdued. We had only seen city life in Ethiopia so far, but today we saw what living in Africa is really like.

Week 3

We were now on our final week of the three-week tour this week was all about putting the final touches on to the performance that will be shown on Friday morning. We started off with full band where we were working on the Mask of Zorro. The band was only used to marching so all their music is played at the same tempo and in a similar style. For the parade on Friday we wanted to start the marching display off with a fanfare. The fanfare we chose was from the opening of Olympiada by Samuel Hazo.

The afternoon was spent with some new recruits from the Somali region of Ethiopia. These recruits are based at the camp for two years to learn how to play an instrument, read music and march. The Bandmaster gave them a presentation on ‘Practice and Performance’. All the information was completely new to them but it was a presentation that will be a great help to them in the future. This morning started off with a session of full band where we worked on the fanfare from the day before. This will be played outside on marching band so the percussion were trying to learn it off by heart.

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ENDFB Marching band rehearsal

We then went outside and Lance Sergeant Vertigan took us through his ideas for the marching display. The band hadn’t really done any complex moves before so this was exciting for them. The Drum Majorettes had a lot of pressure on them for this display as they were leading the band.

We had a recommendation from the embassy to go to an Ethiopian restaurant. We were not disappointed when we got there. The food was amazing and an Ethiopian band and dancers performed all night, even when the power went out. We were all shocked at how energetic their dancing is and even a couple of us got up to have a go. Our dancing didn’t last very long as we soon realised we weren’t very good at it. We all went home feeling extremely full and had a great evening. On our final day we all had mixed emotions. We were all looking forward to the final ceremony but also knew that this was the end of a fantastic three weeks.

Emotional goodbyes

We had grown close to the band and were sad to be leaving them. We got to the camp and did a rehearsal of the ensemble pieces and the marching band. The band then put on their extremely bright green and red uniforms and started warming up before the guests arrived. Lots of guests were coming to the show, including the Defence Attaché of the British Embassy, Colonel Mike Scott. The Commanding Officer of the camp Colonel Kilbrom, all the training instructors of the band and all of the Somali Police recruits were there to watch.

The ensembles were played perfectly, we all couldn’t have been more proud of them. The guests then had some traditional coffee while the band got ready for marching band. The marching band was a great success they had remembered everything we had taught them. Their marching and the music were faultless. As the parade came to a close the Defence Attaché presented some of the seniors of the band with some certificates we had made for the band. We then all went up one by one and got presented a traditional Ethiopian shirt, and the women also got a scarf. We all were extremely grateful and humbled to be receiving gifts. The guests left and we were told to put on our gifts as we presented the band with our presentation. We had got them a CAMUS plaque and we had made a picture collage of photos we had taken throughout the three weeks. They like the photos and were all keen to find themselves on it.

It was then time to leave; we packed up our office and said some very emotional goodbyes. The STTT have had an amazing three weeks here in Ethiopia and we have all said we could come back here in a heartbeat. Not only have we given our knowledge and experience to the band, we have made some great friends here. We all are looking forward to returning to the UK but secretly wish we were staying for longer.

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The Corps of Army Music Short Term Training Team Ethiopia 2014

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Female bandmaster swaps music for mentoring in Kabul

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Warrant Officer Class One Esther Freeborn

Warrant Officer Class One Esther Freeborn is a Bandmaster in the Corps of Army Music. She has performed music at venues around the world and in front of Royalty on many occasions. She is now assigned to work with the Afghan National Army at their Officers’ Academy in Kabul.

What is a military musician doing in Kabul?

British military body armour, carrying two different types of weapons, travelling through the busy and often volatile streets of Kabul.  Yes, I am a member of the Armed forces.  I have served as a musician and more recently as Bandmaster in the Corps of Army Music (CAMUS) for the last 16 years.  I have performed all round the world for different Regiments, charities and civilian organisations.  So, you may ask, ‘what is a military musician doing in Kabul?’.  In short, I have been given the fantastic opportunity to serve with the Afghan National Army at what will be their flagship Officer Academy (ANAOA).

The UK agreed some two years ago to support Afghanistan in creating this Academy using the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst in Camberley as a model.  It has resulted with more than 100 British Army and Partner Nation Officers and soldiers, mentoring Afghanistan’s instructors and staff in fulfilling this aspiration.  The first Kandak (Battalion) to go through is now on its second term.  Next term they will have a female Tolay (company) starting, a very exciting prospect for the ANAOA team; I can’t wait to meet the female cadets and instructors and exchange stories about our respective armies.

Now, why does the Academy need a musician?  It doesn’t. So, why am I here?  I will be maintaining the Officer Academy Course Administration.  This is not a glamorous job by any stretch of the imagination, but a much needed role. Just because I am a musician, it does not mean I can’t turn my hand to other roles.  Indeed, I am not the only musician here at Camp Qargha, it is also the home for Drum Major Jason Bates of the Army Air Corps Band, and Musn Pete Noble of the Scots Guards Band.  Both are Vehicle Driver/Commanders for the Unified Training Advisory Group.  Their duties differ greatly from the day-to-day life of a musician, and can be quite intense.  However, I believe they are enjoying their time here.  Although Musn Noble is intent on getting back in time to take part in this year’s Trooping the Colour at Horse Guards.  Luckily he has his trumpet with him, so he can ‘keep his lip in’!

Me, Drum Major Bates and Musn Noble.

Me, Drum Major Bates and Musician Noble.

I have in total Eight-and-a-half months in this compact location.  I wonder how I will cope in such a small space, the lack of privacy, not being able to take walks in the country and not being able to go shopping for clothes I don’t actually need. I wonder how I’ll cope not seeing my boyfriend, family and friends, and of course my beloved Springer Spaniel. Also, what about my skill fade as a musician! The crux of it is, I could be in a worse place, where conditions are extremely basic, and communications with loved ones are limited.

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