Uncontrolled action

Corporal Si Longworth in Afghanistan

Corporal Si Longworth in Afghanistan

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 is currently in Afghanistan as the Task Force Helmand Photographer on Op HERRICK 18.

“Eyes to me!”…Click

“Smile”…Click

“That’s it, just rotate your left shoulder a little towards me”…Click.

Considered, safe, controllable. Even outdoors in the intense Afghan sunlight I have begun to feel protected in the ‘comfort blanket’ that is portrait photography. When I first arrived out here, I was avoiding the piercing sun at all costs; angling for shade wherever I could. Now, because of a little gadget I was prompted to buy by a friend and expert lighter, Paul Brownbridge I am able to remain creative when lighting subjects even in the brightest of conditions. I will cover how in a future blog.

So back to comfort blankets. Warm, safe environments where a youngster can cuddle up and feel safe in. For some people, portrait photography is that comfort blanket. But is that the type of photography I always want to be doing? Did I transfer from the Army Air Corps to spend my days in photographic ‘Safesville, Tennessee’, where the most exciting thing that could happen is my subject gets grit in their eye from a passing helicopter? No, I did not!

 As it happens, I am quite lucky because the Army didn’t think so either.

‘Uncontrolled action’ is the name that is given at the Defence School of Photography to photography where the shooter doesn’t get a chance to set anything up. Sure, I have been getting out and about on the ground and grabbing images that are well and truly uncontrolled, as the action unfolds. A squint here, a gurn there; it doesn’t really matter to the young lads who are risking their lives. Those type of images tell a story of the ‘here and now’. A good facial expression can make an action-shot. I believe it gives a picture sincerity and allows a viewer to empathise and immerse themselves in the tale.

‘One shot – one kill’

On the other end of the uncontrolled action scale though, and somewhere where squinting and gurning is not what I am looking for from my subjects, is VIP visits. All around the world there are important people; whether it be royalty, religious, ministerial or celebrity who make visits and trips to meet and engage with other people, and there is generally somebody there to record that event be it on film or stills camera. In the Army it’s no different. Recently in Afghanistan, the person recording the event was me.

Over the last three weeks, Helmand has hosted a number of VIP visits and I had the opportunity to capture each one of them. Now I would like to think that somebody at the top knew I was fresh out of photography school and decided to ‘ease me in gently’ because as it panned out, they sent out the VIPs in order of ranking; Chief of the General Staff, Secretary of State for Defence and then finally the Prime Minister. I am sure this was purely coincidental though.

Each of the visits presented a new challenge, some of which I overcame and some of which I can assure you I will do better next time. Of all the pictures I take during a visit I ultimately select ones that portray the subject in the best ‘light’. VIP photography is no different to studio photography in this respect. However, due to the fact that the subject is engaged with other people and not striking a pose for my camera, the ‘one shot-one kill’ theory rarely rings true. If any of you reading out there find it does, then go buy a lottery ticket. For this reason, and obviously many others, Nikon invented ‘Continuous High’ on its cameras at up at speeds of up to11 frames a second on the D4.

Oooh, a comfort blanket then, I hear you say. Well not really, as you would be surprised what facial expressions can be manufactured during a burst of 11 frames.

Blinker

Some other photographers may be too proud to admit this, but I learnt quickly that if you are desperate for useable images then don’t be shy when it comes to converting light into ones and zeros on your memory cards. It costs nothing, and no photographer that ever got published was forced to supply their ‘hit ratio’ detailing the number of useable images vs squidgy, blinky  ‘gurn-a-thons’ along side their credit. This is a great and engaging image, but how many shutter clicks to get it?

CGS talks to the troops – Cpl Si Longworth

CGS talks to the troops – Cpl Si Longworth

Admittedly though, some subjects are harder to photograph than others and this is just a fact of life. I recently did a posed portrait of someone and shot 36 frames. Out of those 36, 4 of them were useable because they were a blinker.

So as the VIP arrives and makes their way through the Province, they meet various military commanders and soldiers and move in and out of vehicles, buildings and camps. They remain very aware of your presence and occasionally you catch their eyes looking at you in a way that possibly would suggest you are becoming an irritant. As long as this isn’t happening too often you can be content that you are not becoming too intrusive.

The Secretary of State is aware of my presence

The Secretary of State is aware of my presence.

I began by carrying two cameras with the trusty 24-70mm on one, and the 70-200mm on the other. I haven’t changed this tactic yet as it seems to work for me. I pop a flash on the body with the smaller lens on just in case I need it. There is so much movement involved in these visits that it really is best to be able to move light and fast, in order to get in front of the VIP with ease.

Royalty and celebrity

One of the other things I have to be aware of when capturing VIPs, who attract a lot of media attention, is the other camera and film crews. In each of the recent visits there have been at least two other sets of reporters and these can range from Capt Mau Gris and the ‘Baz duo’ from the Combat Camera Team to the BBC or Sky news. Wrestling for shooting space is all part of the fun. I haven’t managed to get into an altercation yet whilst angling for the best position, although I have heard of such tales. I always try to introduce myself when I can and ask questions about what they are after so that we can ‘divvy up’ the real estate. Sometimes, it’s just not possible.

Secretary of State with other film crews

Secretary of State with other film crews

I learned the hard way during the recent visit of the Prime Minister that BBC Cameramen do not take it too kindly when you stray into their shot. I wasn’t concentrating on my position and it is an easy mistake to make, but not one I will make again any time soon.

The cameraman spots me, seconds before I am told in no uncertain terms to move

The cameraman spots me, seconds before I am told in no uncertain terms to move.

No matter what my political persuasion, I am happy that I have been given the opportunity to photograph these people, although I am sure in my career as an Army Photographer, the opportunity may well present itself again. Hopefully in sunlight that isn’t so harsh.

So having had a fairly busy three weeks, I just have two more boxes to tick now; royalty and celebrity. We will just have to see which comes first.

It’s time for a little snooze. Where did I put that comfort blanket?

More tc…

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

What’s in the bag?

Corporal Si Longworth in Afghanistan

Corporal Si Longworth in Afghanistan

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 is currently in Afghanistan as the Task Force Helmand Photographer on Op HERRICK 18.

As you all know, this blog isn’t Afghan specific. It’s a blog about life as an Army Photographer. It just so happens that I opened it up in sunny and sandy Helmand Province. So, I am going to take a little break from the routine this time as I have received a number of questions, via email or my new-found friend; twitter, about kit and equipment.

Being employed by Her Majesty has certain benefits and one of which is being ‘issued’ with enough equipment to be able to do your job with. The Army Phots, unlike our Navy or RAF sisters are fortunate enough to be issued with what is known as a ‘Kit for Life’. What happened is this. When I finished my training to become a professional Army Photographer, I headed down to Army Media and Communications in Army Headquarters in Andover and made a very easy trade; my signature for a huge Pelican Case (Peli-Case) full of photographic kit and equipment. More ‘stuff’ than I could carry out to my car in one go. It seemed a pretty fair deal to me.

My kit for life (or the five years I have left to serve) was a one-time issue that is to last me until I leave the Army or photographic trade. As it is one-off, we must care for it as if it was our own. There are limited spares in the system, and so it really is in my best interest to look after it all. As I said before, the Navy and the RAF aren’t so lucky, as they generally have to share cameras and kit. There could be up to five photographers posted into the same unit, so I guess it all make sense.

So for those who are wondering exactly what I am able to use at my disposal, here is an image of most of the items I received on that day. Some of the items were not essential for Afghan so has stayed in my locker back in Tidworth, but this is the bulk of it.

My Issued kit

My Issued kit

Key

Key

 

1. Light stand 13. Manfrotto tripod and head
2. Lastolite dual reflector (gold/white) 14. Nikon 70-200 f2.8
3. Toshiba laptop 15. Nikon 14-24 f2.8
4. Card readers (XQD/SD/CF) 16. Hoya 77mm filters
5. LaCie 1Tb hard drives 17. Lastolite extending handle (small)
6. Memory cards (XQD / CF) 18. Nikon SB900
7. Nikon D3 19. Pocket Wizard II
8. Nikon D4 20. Nikon ML-2
9. Nikon D800 21. Nikon SU-800
10. Fuji S5 Pro (Infra red) 22. Nikon battery chargers and batteries
11. Canon G12 23. CR 123 battery and case
12. Lastolite Ezybox hotshoe (60cm)

Personal ‘goodies’

As I am sure you will agree, this is a formidable bounty. I use my D3 cameras for the majority of work out in Afghanistan, as they are coming to an end of their contract life. I brought my D4 / D800 combo out, but as they have to last me five years, they have spend most of their time sleeping in the locker in my office. The dust and grit out here is brutal so I protect them for their own good.

Having been a keen photographer for years I have also built up a selection of items that I have found useful and some of those bits found their way onto the flight out to Afghan. Here they are:

My personal goodies

My personal goodies

Key

Key

 

1. 7DayShop battery chargers 15. Flash battery packs
2. Manfrotto ‘Justin’ clamp 16. Nikon SC-29
3. Spare clamp 17. Rogue Flashbender large
4. Cokin Z-Pro filters 18. White umbrella
5. Lastolite ‘Joe McNally’ tri-flash bracket 19. Tri-fold light stand
6. Home-made snoots 20. Hard drive carry cases
7. Home-made grids 21. Petzl head torch
8. Cold Shoe brackets 22. LCW Vari-ND filter
9. Dictaphone 23. Tiffen Var-ND Filter
10. 7DayShop 2900mAh Ni-Mh AA batts 24. Tri-fold white brolly
11. Expo disc 25. Sand bags
12. Black tape/self amalg’ tape 26. AstroScope
13. Nikon MC-36 27. Nikon 50mm f1.8
14. BlackRapid connectors 28. Benro ball head

You probably hear me banging on about dirt a lot out here. Sometimes it can be horrendous, and you can be stuck out in it. If you get caught out with your kit in the open in one of these, you had better pray.

“Sand approaches Bastion. Hide your kit quick”

“Sand approaches Bastion. Hide your kit quick”

Cleaning and maintaining my cameras and lenses is an everyday necessity. The Nikon cameras are tough. Very tough, and can take a beating. I have seen press photographers come out to visit with near silver bodies, not because they are after the latest fashionable look, but because all the black plastic has been warn down through hours of hard-core use in harsh environments, and are still going strong. One of these photographers; Ben Birchall was touting a pair of pretty battered D3s.

Self amalgamating

“Ben Birchall’s battered D3 cameras”

“Ben Birchall’s battered D3 cameras”

His cameras may have been worn, but his lenses were covered in what appeared to be tape, and I asked him why. He told me that he had been shooting in sandy environments for many years, and over those years his ‘glass’ (lenses) had taken a beating. In order to prevent this, he had carefully wrapped self-amalgamating tape around each lens, and then topped it off with black insulation tape.

For those who are not in the building or electrical trade, Self-amalgamating tape is: “A very useful derivative of insulating tape which can be used for waterproofing connections. To use, the top protective layer is peeled off and the rubbery self- amalgamating tape underneath is wrapped tightly around the connection to be waterproofed. Eventually, the layers of this tape will merge together and create a waterproof seal. This tape is highly recommended for automotive work and also aerial installations.”

I couldn’t have put it better myself. I set about acquiring some and have since protected my three main lenses out here. (I don’t use the manual focus ring or the Vibration Reduction (VR) facility in Afghanistan, either)

“My 70-200mm lens wrapped up for protection”

“My 70-200mm lens wrapped up for protection”

The other issue I have out here is lens filters. 77-millimetre specials. It doesn’t take long for the abrasive elements in the air to attack them. Helicopters are the worst. When everyone is looking away to protect themselves from the flying debris, there are usually only a few people looking towards the landing area; those with cameras and those who haven’t yet been smacked in the face with a stone from the Chinook downwash. Both types of individual are stupid, but one of them is being paid to look, and knows he has a spare 77mm UV filter in his pocket. Fortunately, I have been lucky so far, but as you can see, my predecessor wasn’t so.

Photo, taken by: Cpl Mike O’Neill RLC,  “Stone damage is a hazard of the job”

“Stone damage is a hazard of the job”, taken by Cpl Mike O’Neill RLC

The team at Army HQ also have a secret locker, which I was once allowed to look inside for approximately a third of a second. It contained 300mm, 600mm and a 105mm lens, Elinchrom Ranger lights and all sorts of desirable items. I am told that should I ever need to borrow something from the locker it’s door can be set to remain open long enough for me to take something off the shelf. I remain hopeful.

So, all in all I am pretty well equipped to take on most situations I come across and with respect to photography, the Army has looked after me well.

If you would like to know more about the kit I use or how I use it, please feel free to leave a message on this blog or tweet me @Si_Army_Phot

More tc…

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

Strap kit down, buckle-up, enjoy… the never ending ride (Pt3)

Corporal Si Longworth in Afghanistan

Corporal Si Longworth in Afghanistan

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 is currently in Afghanistan as the Task Force Helmand Photographer on Op HERRICK 18.

Force protection

So, to re-cap this story; I left Lashkar Gah for a ‘three-day’ outing with the Warthog Group 13 days ago and have spent that time camped up in various locations in the desert with the Fusiliers, the Tankies and most recently the RLC. I have had one shower; pooed in bags, peed in bottles and am wearing clothes that would challenge even the most honking of skunks to a sniff-off. Communications to the outside world are down due to the extreme heat and lack of a working satellite dish, and I now want to buy a dog the minute I step off the aeroplane in Blighty.

My new task is with the Royal Engineers. These guys go out into harm’s way and look for Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs). They provide route assurance to all other troops on the ground, and I am heading out with them. Luckily they are a short drive away from my current location, so I am with their boss in no time at all.

Although I love meeting all the new teams of people doing different things, there is always that awkward moment, which admittedly soon dies away, when troop leaders or squadron commanders size you up. Sometimes, they have been told from ‘higher’ to embed you into their plans. This can have a negative effect, but normally doesn’t. They look at you and in those first few introductory sentences and try work out if you are going to bring anything to the party, or just be a hindrance. I try to keep my chat short and sweet, throw in a few jokes about plastering their faces over soldier magazine (even though I have absolutely nothing to do with it), talk about all the crates of beer they will have to buy when they are seen in publications, and ease their thinking.

I was going to be placed in the Troop commander’s vehicle with a medic and two searchers. The teams split into three groups, two of which were dedicated to searching and one final group providing force protection. In this case, it was guys from the First Fusiliers again. I was given the choice to spend time with either of the search teams. One of which spent most of the day ‘isolating’ the area to the flanks, and the other team searching the route itself. Each had its challenges and photo opportunities, but weighing it up in my head (mentally flipping a coin) I chose the isolation teams.

Out we rolled. I really wasn’t prepared for the journey ahead of me…because it was about 10 minutes long. Seriously, I was the happiest man alive. It was such a change to be not sat in a truck for hour upon hour. When the lads jumped out I waited in the Mastiff for a few minutes for them to set up; just long enough to find out from the medic that she had a brother who was also serving in Afghanistan. Gold dust, I thought, and convinced her allow us to write a story; getting her and her brother together. I took her details and passed them on to my bosses.

Out I jumped and walked the length of the convoy to find the isolation teams. I know I keep saying it, but everywhere I visit, I find more feats of grit and endurance from our soldiers. In the blistering heat, wearing more protection than the average soldier due the risky nature of the job, the searchers painstakingly scour the environment looking for devices planted to do harm to anyone unfortunate enough to meet one under the wrong circumstances. It is a slow and demanding process, both mentally and physically.

Water, chocolate and pen

Part of the process is moving through compounds owned by the locals. Fortunately, each patrol has interpreters and guys from the Afghan Uniformed Police there to assist in this. It was actually great to see how welcoming the locals were to ISAF troops. In several instances, they would invite us in and make Chai (tea) for us, or offer us homemade bread. I am nosey so I revelled in having a glimpse inside their homes; so far away from the comforts that we are used to.

Soldiers climb over compound walls to clear the route

Soldiers climb over compound walls to clear the route

As we moved down the route, children began taking an interest in what we were doing. A few of them came out and hung around the guys. They seemed to have learned a few words in English, such as ‘water’, ‘chocolate’ and most interestingly, ‘pen’. At times, it felt like they were begging, but it clearly paid off as some of the searchers had stashed the boiled sweets we get in the rations, and they seemed to love these. I am glad that somebody does… I tried to grab a few images of the interactions with the children, but they played shy, even though they taunted me to take their picture. They would then do this peek-a-boo style thing, which I found amusing.

Soldier and Child play peek-a-boo

Soldier and Child play peek-a-boo

pretending not to look at his own picture

pretending not to look at his own picture

The clearance was slow and methodical. The isolation teams and the road party worked in unison to clear the way. Sometimes one of the groups would have to wait for the other to catch up. This meant grabbing shade. Any respite from the sun was worth it. Even if it was only five minutes worth.

The lads squeeze under a tree’s shadow for shade

The lads squeeze under a tree’s shadow for shade

Every bit of ground that was used for parking your bum had to be searched thoroughly before hand. As a photographer, I really have to concentrate on where I am standing. There are safe areas that have been searched and it is all too easy for me to get carried away with the image I am trying to build up in my mind and stray outside that area. Luckily most of the teams I have been out with are veterans of Afghanistan and can spot if I am going to make a mistake and usually rein me in pretty sharpish.

After a small rest, we were off again; this time moving into more rural areas. We headed into a cornfield. I was instantly taken back to my childhood. I grew up in a small farming village on the banks of the River Humber and my childhood was spent running through fields such as this, and hiding from friends in the long corn. I don’t remember the beasties that were living in this cornfield though. Swarms of weird flies flew around us. I didn’t take too kindly to that, but plodded on.

Making our way through the corn

Making our way through the corn

A Royal Engineer searcher gives orders in the cornfield

A Royal Engineer searcher gives orders in the cornfield

Half way through the field, we were halted to allow the other teams to catch up with us. This rest wasn’t so much fun, with all the buzzing around. I was separated from the guys in front and behind me by about five metres, but when I sat in the corn, I couldn’t see anyone of them. It was ok staring at a million corn stems for a few minutes, but then I got a little bored. I could hear other guys chatting away, so I crawled over to one of them;  ‘Geordie’, the patrol second in command. He was an extremely keen guy, with a great sense of humour. The sweat was pouring off my brow and he just laughed and said: “It’s fricking hot isn’t it, man?” I was inclined to agree. As I looked up at him to answer, I was met with an offer:

A kind offer in a field of dry corn

A kind offer in a field of dry corn

Politely, I declined. I did however spend half a minute explaining my cameras controls and why I use ‘back-button’ focus. I needed to do this so that Geordie could get a quick snap of me. Most people expect the focus button to be the half-press action of the shutter release button. About a year ago, a friend called Paul Shaw, who had been shooting Nikon for many years, explained the benefits. I trialled it, and liked it. The only problem comes when you hand over your camera to someone, and try explaining it… more often than not I come out blurry. Luckily, Geordie was, as they say in the Army, ‘all over it’.

The author reminiscing in a field of corn. “Geordie” –Engineer Search teams, 22 RE

The author reminiscing in a field of corn. “Geordie” – Engineer Search teams, 22 RE

If you want to know more about ‘back-button focus’ go here

Fifteen days

Once out of the fields, we were back to compounds again, but not for long. At the end of the search, we were invited into the gardens of a Mosque and offered more food and chai. The guys and I were exhausted. It had been a long day in the sun. As we rested, the children gathered again and watched us. I grabbed a few more shots.

Children watch us rest

Children watch us rest

More Afghan children are curious of the camera

More Afghan children are curious of the camera

Before long, we were mounted up back in the vehicles and heading back to our evening retreat. That day I had seen another job role in Afghanistan, and understood a little more, what the searchers go through, and it wasn’t easy. I had it all to look forward to the next day, too, but these guys did it day in, day out.

Once I had finished my time with the search teams, it was time to get home. My boss had been working hard to secure me on a flight out from the nearest base, so long as I could find myself transport to it. As resourceful as ever, I exchanged a staged group shot at dusk with the force protection lads for a lift, threw in an Armed Forces Day flag for good measure and the ‘taxi’ was mine for the taking.

At the camp, I was told my flight was late. No problem for me. But like a protester, I sat in the dark on the HLS with an American contractor and patiently waited for the V-22 Osprey to arrive, and it finally did.

It was 15 days since I had left Lashkar Gah for what was supposed to be a three-day job. I was shattered, and I longed for my three-metre square ‘pod’ back at Lash, but I had to fly via Bastion and spend a night there. As it was around midnight when I got there, I just flopped on the cot bed that awaited me in the transit tent. I couldn’t even be bothered to undress as I knew I was on an early flight out in the morning, and to be perfectly honest, I actually couldn’t be bothered getting out of stinking kit, to just put it back on again a few hours later.

A little after sunrise the next morning I was stepping off a helicopter in Lashkar Gah, a weary but happy man. I burst into my office and dropped my gear. The Air-Con had been switched on for me, so I just sat in my swivel chair and took a few minutes to reflect on the people I had met and the things I had seen in those 16 days. Admittedly, it isn’t a lifetime, but longer than I was expecting and prepared for. I may have ‘bumped my gums’ along the way a little. All soldiers reserve the right to do that. I was glad this journey was over, but to be honest, I probably wouldn’t have had it any other way…

More tc.

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

Follow Si on Twitter: @Si_Army_Phot

Strap kit down, buckle-up, enjoy… the never ending ride (Pt2)

Corporal Si Longworth in Afghanistan

Corporal Si Longworth in Afghanistan

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 is currently in Afghanistan as the Task Force Helmand Photographer on Op HERRICK 18.

Alarm clocks…

…Interesting things that we all rely on a day to day basis to meet our daily schedule. I hadn’t needed one so far. At Lashkar Gah, between all the guys in the morning who rustle around the tented accommodation at ‘sparrow’s fart’, the morning tent-shaking delivery of stores from whatever helicopter passes overhead, or the fact that there are plastic windows that are never closed in our pod, ever, it’s pretty much guaranteed that I will be awake with plenty of time on my hands to get to the gym, have breakfast and walk to work at an unbelievably slow pace.

Annoying as that all is each morning, what it does mean is I don’t have to worry about not waking up or setting an alarm. Ok, the helicopter may change its schedule, but the sun will definitely still rise, and I would risk my house on the fact that somebody will catch some part of their body armour’s male Velcro, on the female Velcro surrounding the tent doorway, and have to prise themselves off it. It’s not that noise that wakes me; it’s the angry vocal expletive that accompanies it that does… but also makes me chuckle.

So there I was at MOB Price having expected to be on a flight home, but instead being told that I was up and out first thing in the morning on another operation. It was around 2000 hrs when I finally got into the transit accommodation, and I was due to be up and out at 0300 hrs. I have no clean clothes, and not really any time to wash them. I had to dig into my kit, re-pack, dust everything off and charge all my camera batteries, which were flat. The unit’s press officer was looking me after. He was gracious enough to loan me a pair of clean socks for the off. I will get them back to him at some point..

I decided to take a chance and swill one set of underwear out in the sinks. I left it hanging outside the tent and hoped for the best.

I turned my camera kit around and re-packed and finally laid down at around 2200 hrs. As I laid there eyelids flickering, it occurred to me that I had absolutely no way of ensuring I was up ready to be out at three. Jumped out of bed, and ran over to the NAAFI. They had sold out of alarm clocks so I ran over to where the press officer worked. He had called it a night and I didn’t know where he lived. There was hardly anyone around camp to even ask, so decided to head back to my room. When I got back, another traveller had slipped in, and was just unpacking his gear. It was a cruel call, but I sweet-talked him into setting an alarm on his iPad to wake me up. Nice one.. Shut eye, at last.

Obsessive neatness

You never really get a good night’s sleep when you know you are up early. This was no different. I engaged autopilot from the second I heard the beep beep. Shower, shave. The usual drill, with eyes wide shut. I grabbed my undies. Yep, they were still damp, but that would be refreshing so on they went.

My transit accommodation was a good 10-minute walk down to the ‘dust bowl’. This was an area where visiting vehicles could leaguer up. It was a fairly enthusiastic walk as I had finally woken up and I knew whom I was going to meet up with. It was 32 Sqn, 3 CLSR and the men and women from the Combat Logistic Patrol I had been out with previously. (If you haven’t read that, I would ready that first, here)

I got down there and ‘tipped my hat’ to the OC, Major Rob Futter, and the Squadron Sergeant Major, WO2 Grant Turley. It was good to see them all again, as we had shared some laughs on the previous trip. This time, I was going to take a seat with the OC in his command vehicle, which was a Mastiff. The crew consisted of Taff, a Welsh Reservist, Britt, a man with obsessive neatness around the vehicle, Tex, the OC’s signaller and a crap-hand at poker (which reminds me of the 20 you owe me..) and the boss. They made me feel as welcome as ever. I was even given a computer to play around with in the back, and shown the text communication systems.

The OC filled me in on all the finer details of the plan. Simple as always. Convoy move to a location, rest up and be prepared to provide logistical support where necessary. As always, I squeezed out the information that was relevant to me. The whole task was going to last between three and nine days. I am sure I made the confirmatory sniff to the armpits of my shirt as subtle as possible when the OC gave me the time-frame. Actually, why was I worried? Even though the convoy was going to top my first bout of 26 hours by nearly another 10, I was in good spirits, because we could wash our gear at our end location; couldn’t we? Well actually, no. There was no room at the inn for the amount of axles we rolled with, so we were going to once again leaguer up in the desert. I even managed to crack a smile.

Once on the road I got down to the usual task of getting what images I could from the top hatch. We were trucking through the desert this time, and the scenery was different from the green zone, but unfortunately a bit bland.

Convoy

Convoy

I got convoy images, but wanted to catch the OC in his top cover duties as that made for a more interesting shot, and wouldn’t be posed. This proved more difficult than you can imagine. As a photographer, I wanted everything to be as ‘perfect’ as it can be, for the picture. Sure there are always outtakes and images that never see the light of day, but as this is a blog about photography, as much as it is about being an Army Photographer I want you to see the differences. During a convoy that is heading in one direction for hours and hours, it’s hard to get the shot you want (if you are only using available light) when the sun is in the wrong place. This is also made worse when you can’t be stood there for hours and hours. I was popping up and down as the patrol moved on and kept on checking on my friend, the sun.

Here is an image that doesn’t make the cut. The light is not that great.

The first go: bad light spoilt play

The first go: bad light spoilt play

However, when the ‘stars align’, in this case, the sun, the whole image can be turned around. I hope you agree, it was worth trying again and again.

Second time lucky: Same angle, different light

Second time lucky: Same angle, different light

Happy with that image, I sat down again in my seat and pondered the mysteries of life for another five or six hours until our first rest stop. I am aware that after my last blog a lot of people are interested in the bodily functions that us guys and girls have to do when we are locked in the back of a moving vehicle for so long, and need to keep hydrated. Let’s just say that as the hours roll on by, the collection of full bottles builds up at the back of the wagon. Fortunately, different manufacturers make bottles with varying opening sizes. Hang on, hang on; before you all run your minds off to the gutter please let me explain. The smaller water bottles are great for the tarmac roads, whilst the energy drink ‘Gatorade’ sized bottles are more your rough-terrain pee-bottle. If you use all your supply of larger bottles up too early in the journey, whilst still on the tarmac, then purging one’s self could become quite interesting when it comes to the uneven ground. Trust me; when the truck is bouncing in every direction, the last thing you want is to do is worry about a ‘rogue stream’.

 Bodo and Onyx

On and on we rolled. Mile after mile. I did laugh at the fact that I had only done a journey like this several weeks earlier and had decided that as good an experience it was; there wasn’t much photographic benefit to it. But, the juice was definitely worth the squeeze on this occasion, because I would be spending time with another group of very different people and getting to know how the CLSR does business in a Leaguer. Tex was good company too. He briefed me up on all the different nets the OC was chatting on, who to send texts to and when. It actually made the time pass by a little quicker being given something to do and not just be a passenger. I thank him for that. (But you still owe me 20)

Luckily for us, the journey was broken up with a five-hour stop over at a military base. In we rolled, parked up close and stretched our legs. I still laugh today as I recall watching a steady stream of people emerging from within the tightly woven vehicles in the general direction of the toilets, each person clutching a collection of bottles. Only the military would find this funny.

Break time for the convoy

Break time for the convoy

The guys got down to administrating their vehicles in all sorts of ways. Dust filters needed cleaning, water stocks had to be updated, and minor repairs had to be made when bit’s had been damaged on the terrain. It was still daylight, but the sun was fading fast. Camp cots were being positioned all around, and once food had been consumed, it was time for shut-eye.

I busied myself grabbing pictures, and managed to snap Taff in front of a setting sun.

LCpl ‘Taff’ Davies

LCpl ‘Taff’ Davies

During our short stay, I met another two dogs. One was a protection dog, Bodo a Malin-cross, pictured below, who was handled by Private Chris Jones Royal Army Veterinary Corps and the other was a black Lab called Onyx, a search dog handled by Trooper Jordan Davies. (A ‘Tankie) Bodo took an instant like to me. Or was it the other way around? I have always loved dogs and always wanted one, but couldn’t justify it whilst in the Army. I am away too much to stress about keeping it exercised. One day maybe.

A ball for Bodo, a military protection dog

A toy for Bodo the military protection dog

After a few hours shut-eye, we rolled out. Thankfully it was only another three-hour sprint to our final destination. In the words of the fantastic Tina Turner; “Big wheels keep on rollin’”.

As we pulled into our intended leaguer area, the Danes where pitched up beside us, and behind them as if by magic were the Warthog Group; they had pipped us to the post. I smiled, as I know I would have had a much comfier ride than the guys on tracks. There is always somebody worse-off. I went and said hello to the guys. It had been little under 48 hours since I saw them last, but it was like a year break, and the catch-up banter was cruel, in a way I believe only soldiers understand.

Back over at the CLP leaguer area, everyone was starting to pitch camp, and find his or her little spots for the coming days. I was met by a frustrated looking Britt, who had shoe horned himself out of the driver’s position only to find the rear of his truck had been messed up by yours truly. He quickly got on with re-administering it. I joked he would make a good house-husband and his frown deepened. As I came to realise over the time I spent living with this truck full of guys is that having someone who takes great pride in making sure that every detail is ‘squared-away’ is a real god-send. To Britt, this mastiff was his baby, and he looked after it, and thus, looked after us. So thank you, man.

My bed, bottom right. The wind and sand was unforgiving.

My bed, bottom right. The wind and sand was unforgiving.

One of the first things I noticed was how fine the desert sand was. It actually was more like dust, and there seemed to be a constant wind whipping up everywhere. Dust and sand got everywhere. There was no stopping it, and quite frankly, it was brutal. Nowhere was safe, less in a sealed wagon. It was a massive effort to keep all my kit and equipment clean and dust free. My two cameras took an intense beating whilst living here, but they still pulled through.

I set up my little living area. It wasn’t much. I hoisted up the satellite dish on to the roof and made a little working area. I thought this was going to be my office, but I hadn’t really thought it all through. I was hit with so many problems that I couldn’t have imagined. Up until now, I hadn’t really needed to communicate with the outside world, but I wanted to start sending updates back to HQ. For starters there was nowhere to charge my laptop and satellite. Thankfully, the ‘big-wheelers’ (Tank transporters) had a little gadget that converted 24v DC to a useable output. Next there was the sheer heat. At 42-45 in the shade, the computer does not do well. In fact, it doesn’t really ‘do’ at all. The trackpad does not sense your finger and the CPU overheats; probably from ingesting so much sand. Finally the battery power is greatly reduced. I am talking about a 30 minute window, if I could get the battery fully charged at all. The only charging window was when the trucks started up, and that was only twice daily, so I never really hit full charge. In reality, I managed to connect to the Internet for about 10-15 minutes daily. This was just enough to send an essential update to the real world. That was, until this happened…

Oops!

Oops!

Someone had accidentally broken the main cable that gave me precious contact. So everyone can blame the sun, the sand and whoever snapped my cable, as these are the reasons why the latest blog has taken so long to get to you.

The Littlest Hobo

Over the next few days I spent time capturing different parts of the day; morning routine, exercise and the dogs. I kept wandering over to see Bodo, who always greeted me with a smile. (You haven’t seen the last of him)

Me and Bodo

Me and Bodo

Cpl Gethin Hiscocks, 3 CLSR

The sand engrains itself into your skin throughout the day. Cpl Gethin Hiscocks, 3CLSR.

The Brits make use of the wind and a poncho, to pass the time. The Danish vehicles leaguered up in the background.

The Brits make use of the wind and a poncho, to pass the time. The Danish vehicles leaguered up in the background.

The Brits make use of the wind and a poncho, to pass the time. The Danish vehicles leaguered up in the background.

The Oscar Charlie prepares for the future.

I found a way to contact my boss using the text system in the vehicle. I had left a message and it had finally been received. I had been there a total of four days and had eaten far too much sand. My kit stunk. I had tried rinsing clothes through but only to have it dry stiff with infused sand. I was all pictured out. It was time to leave.

I managed to formulate an extraction plan, as I knew there was a resupply going to happen by helicopter. I was keen to get on a radio to my boss. Through the magic of radio satellite communications, Tex made it happen. I explained what I had done, and what my plan was to get out. My boss however, had different ideas. What he had found out was that there was another Op going on relatively close to where we were. Images were required, and unfortunately I was just too close to miss this opportunity. It was time to pack my bags. The ‘Littlest Hobo’ was on the move again. Just enough time to say my goodbyes and smash one last picture of Bodo and Private Chris Jones.

Bodo and Private Chris Jones

Bodo and Private Chris Jones

One last thing… Tex; you owe me 20!

To be continued…

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

Follow Si on Twitter: @Si_Army_Phot

Strap kit down, buckle-up, enjoy… the never ending ride (Pt1)

Corporal Si Longworth in Afghanistan

Corporal Si Longworth in Afghanistan

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 is currently in Afghanistan as the Task Force Helmand Photographer on Op HERRICK 18.

When three days turns into sixteen!

Okay Okay, so I haven’t been around in a while.. I do have an excuse though. A little thing called an ‘Operational Tour’, but if you are not convinced about that, then maybe this, and this series of blogs will help convince you.

A little over three weeks ago I was briefed to pack my bags, because I was heading out. I am sure you can imagine the look of glee written all over my face. I get a little stir crazy in my office, and as you all know. The pictures I need are not in here. The men and women of the British Army are not doing amazing things day to day just outside my office door. It’s in the field where it’s all happening so I need to get out of camp to see it all for myself.

This time I was heading out for two to three days with the Warthog Group of 2nd Royal Tank Regiment. I had to jump on a flight to MOB Price to hook up with them, as they were heading out the next day, so back to the room I dashed, loaded my bags with enough supplies for the duration, plus a few extras, as I know how these things can turn out, and headed down to the flight line.

At Price, I ‘touched base’ with the commander of the Warthog Group I would be attached to. It turned out I wasn’t the only one hitching a ride. There were a section of guys from the First Fusiliers heading out too. I hadn’t spent much time in the back of a Warthog, so I got straight down to the usual safety briefs. All vehicles have a running theme: ‘strap kit down, buckle-up, enjoy the ride’ – well that was easier said than done. I know I don’t get an easy time whenever I am in the back of a vehicle and this one was no different.

A Warthog is like a reverse Dr Who Tardis. With seven of us in there, let’s just say it was less than cosy. As always, there is a top-cover man to provide essential protection to our tracked convoy. It’s a shame though, on this occasion that I happened to be sat next to top cover man, as it seemed someone was getting his or her own back on me after the Combat Logistics Patrol. Here is my view for about five hours. Pleasant, I am sure you will agree:

Combat codpiece

View of Top Cover Man’s combat codpiece… The real safety briefs.

The other thing about tracked vehicles is that they love to be off road. Off road in Afghanistan means sand…hang on, I’ll make a correction here because I know you are all reminiscing about the best sunny beach you have ever laid on.. I mean dust! The dust that is spat out by these little terriers is beyond belief. I am going to have a hard time trying to explain it, however here a couple of pictures to try…

Op Daas Zeer Zamin

Warthogs whip up a dust storm.

Op Daas Zeer Zamin

Sand gets everywhere.

For some reason, the dust doesn’t want to drift away from the convoy with the breeze as we roll through the desert. No no; it circulates straight into the open top cover hatch. At times I couldn’t see the groin that was 6 inches from my head (not such a bad thing really), or anyone else in the back. I was choking on the stuff. It was in my eyes. I was giving my teeth a great exfoliation with it. It was very unpleasant. The shards of sunlight penetrated the dust and at times I could see the Afghan interpreter opposite me. Well, I say I could see him. He was engulfed in a shemagh. He knew the score. Good old Shemagh filtering out those tiny dust particles. Must pack that next time.

‘Trackpin’ and ‘Diesel’

Op Daas Zeer Zamin

Shemagh – protection from the sand.

So on we rolled to our first destination. We were going to be in this location for approximately two days before heading off to complete our mission.

“HANG ON”, I thought when this information was innocently imparted to me. I was only coming out for 2-3 days. Something smells a bit fishy, so I approached the Platoon commander from the First Fusiliers. His brief was ever-so-slightly different to mine. Five to nine days. I better start a rationing regime for my ‘skiddies’ (underwear).

So there we were, leaguered up in the desert. Not my first ‘camping’ experience but the first laid-up in the desert next to 10-plus tracked vehicles providing all-round protection. I felt safe. I loved spending time with both the fusiliers and the ‘tankies’. I got to know most of them, how they worked together and I felt like part of the team. They even let me borrow the radio headset so I could get a picture looking like I was chipping in with the routine work. That was good of them.

Op Daas Zeer Zamin

Part of the team.

There were some real characters among them, and some of them had great nicknames such as ‘Trackpin’ and ‘Diesel’. The sort of old-school nickname you acquire because you made some terrible mistake in your early career and the name just stuck. Another real salt-of-the-earth guy I had a lot of admiration for had recently come into a large some of money. Six figures-plus, to be more precise, and he had had every opportunity to not come to Afghan on his third tour, but felt it was his duty to the younger lads, whom he had trained and nurtured through pre-deployment training. He has every intention on moving on from the Army after this tour, and I wish him all the best of luck. Don’t spend it all at once!

Arriving in style

So it wasn’t just a big ging-gang-goolie out there in the desert. Everyone had a role. The ‘Tankies’ were providing a home and security for the Fusiliers, who were in turn providing security for the Royal Engineers who were doing what Engineers do best; building ‘stuff’. While they built, the Commander of Task Force Helmand popped-in for a visit with an Afghanistan counterpart. He always arrives in style.

Op Daas Zeer Zamin

Commander Task Force Helmand arrives in style.

Once he left, we settled back down into routine. It was at this point that my body decided it wanted to off-load some of the waste it had been very daringly storing up over the past four days. We have disposable ‘jon-bags’ for such things. They are great. They come neatly packed up with toilet tissue and a hand wipe, and once you’ve done what you need to do, you seal it up. Store it for 24 hours and then burn it. All very civilized…unless the temperature is 43 degrees. Then it becomes a challenge to prevent the plastic sticking to all sorts of things that are hot and sweaty, and I am not talking solely about the dangly bits us men are born with, either. The bag is like the proverbial Moth to a flame. One’s bum being that flame. A sort of halfway-house fix is to wrap the bag around a loo seat. It even says that on the wrapping. Unfortunately, as there was nothing but desert around for miles, other solutions become more attractive. Take your body armour for instance:

Op Daas Zeer Zamin

Novel use for body armour

I am going to admit, this did not work for me, and I will save you the detail..

‘Going home’ socks

As the days rolled by, and my sock spares dwindled, I thought I would cheer myself up by trying to catch the stars rotating around our Warthog harbour, and here is the result of 293 individual 30 second pictures stitched together. The lights in the background are the headlights of the engineer vehicles working.

The sky at night.

The sky at night.

On day 5 of my outing I was finally given news I would be extracted the next day. I was so happy, that I dug deep into my bergan (rucksack) and pulled out the last spare pair of socks I had. These were my ‘going-home’ socks. I was happy, and so were my feet. My underwear had stood the test of time however. It is difficult to wash clothing in the desert, especially without wash powder, and when the wind whips-up sand and dust just adding an unwanted texture to drying clothes.

Anyway, I was happy. I was on transport back to a base location. I made my way to the nearest phone and just like E.T, I phoned home.

“Hi Cpl L, how are you doing? About your flight out. It’s cancelled as there is another Op leaving your location tomorrow. Don’t worry; it will only be a few more days.” My boss said. Heard that before I thought. I was in good spirits though, having spent time with great guys.

It was 1800 hrs, and I was due to leave on the next Op at 0430 hrs the next day. Shower; Yes!  Clean clothes: No!..

Best I get my head down then…

To be continued…

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

Follow Si on Twitter: @Si_Army_Phot

Road moves and ricochets

Corporal Si Longworth in Afghanistan

Corporal Si Longworth in Afghanistan

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 is currently in Afghanistan as the Task Force Helmand Photographer on Op HERRICK 18.

A Combat Logistic Patrol

So hello again. It’s good to know you guys and girls are still reading about life as a British Army Photographer, five blogs in. I have had really positive feedback from you all and for that, I thank you.

Just when I thought I was getting ‘into the groove’ of things out here, what with portraits, group-shots, training budding photographers and the occasional walk-on-the-wild-side, the powers that be decided to mix things up a little, and here’s how.

As some of you may know, my trade is lovingly nestled deep in the bosom of the Royal Logistic Corps (RLC), the largest corps within the British Army. I wear that cap-badge along with over 16,000 other officers and soldiers. The trade groups within the RLC are vast, and include Air Despatcher, Chef, Ammunition Technician, Supply Specialist, Movement Coordinator and Boat Crewman. However, there is another group of fellow RLC soldiers that probably make up one of the largest trade groups, but maybe don’t get enough recognition or praise. (Well not from me in the past, anyway) These are the humble Drivers.

Being a driver in the Army may well appeal to the young guys at school whose dreams are filled with tearing up the road in a huge military truck or tank, but it has never flicked my switch. So, when I was approached by the adjutant of 3 Combat Logistic Support Regiment and asked if I wanted to come out with them ‘for a drive’, my heart didn’t exactly skip a beat.

Not wanting to disappoint and having a slight curiosity of what life was like on a Combat Logistic Patrol, I checked my diary and pencilled it in.

My first of several mistakes was to assume that I would be out with these guys for a few hours. I should have remembered flying around those patrols, providing valuable top-cover from a Lynx helicopter two years ago. Even more importantly, I should have remembered that we used to be out for hours and hours whilst the patrol made its way through the Helmand River Valley.

Anyway, having a terrible memory, lets just say I was more than a little shocked when attending the orders for the patrol, and discovered I would be out for over 24 hours. Nice!

Once I had recovered from my initial shock I was hit with mistake number two; photographers, as it happens, don’t get the comfy ride.

Top-cover man

In order for me to get on the patrol I had to take somebody else’s place on it. On this occasion I was heading to the heights of the EPLS (Enhanced Palletised Loading System) as the gunner / top-cover man. An EPLS only caries a two-man crew, and as I don’t have a HGV licence, yep, you guessed it, I was ‘stagging’ (On duty/sentry at a post) on the top. I could almost feel my bladder strain as I re-checked my notes from patrol orders to discover that the journey would take around eight hours.

Okay, so this was going to be a challenge for me, but one I relished. First thing to do was brush up on a few key skills that would be required such as: Patrol SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures), GPMG (The big machine gun on top) refresher training, and most importantly, ‘drop-down drills’, should we inadvertently roll over whilst out and about.

At this point I was introduced to my driver (drives), a 43-year-old Army reservist named Ian. Ian was a steady hand, and through his very broad ‘geordie’ accent he guided me through the basics and the essentials of the EPLS cab.

The Enhanced Palletised Load Platform

The Enhanced Palletised Load Platform

My ‘steady hand’ driver, Private Ian Coulthard

My ‘steady hand’ driver, Private Ian Coulthard.

The plan was relatively simple. My vehicle joined by another 30 or so would make their way from Camp Bastion, down Highway 1 and through the green-zone, stopping off at each of the main locations along the way. At each location a smaller vehicle packet would break away and deliver its stores, whilst the larger packet moved on. The main convoy would remain outside the wire the whole time, so there was no rest for the top-cover man.

Checks, checks, checks

With all the necessary familiarisation and refresher training complete I hit the sack. It was only 1600 hrs the day before the patrol, but I was due to be up and parading in the CMA, (Convoy Marshalling Area) that’s a vehicle park to you and I, for 0200 hrs.

Beep Beep Beep… “Oh my god. What am I doing?” I asked myself as I clambered out of my pit (bed). It took me a full half an hour to wake up, just as I joined my fellow dreary-eyed men and women in the CMA. We were quickly put to work as there were more preparations to be made; final kit checks, communications checks, weapons checks, vehicle checks, checks, checks and some more checks. To be honest, I was impressed by how professional the whole thing was.

It was reassuring to see the Squadron Sergeant Major, WO2 Turley, conducting random checks on individuals’ kit and equipment, including their clothing. All the personal protective equipment that we are issued in the Army is state of the art, so there really isn’t any point in leaving it in your bed space.

Before moving off around 0530 hrs, there was just enough time for a sausage bap, delivered to us from the kitchen by some RLC guys from another well-known trade group – the chefs.

Ian and I mounted up, and away we went. We were positioned around two-thirds the way into the patrol. The sun was breaking so I managed to grab a quick shot before heading out of camp.

Combat Logistics Patrols continue accross Helmand Province

Sunrise in the Convoy Marshalling Area.

Almost immediately I realised that the journey was not going to be a particularly pleasant one. The road surfaces were dusty gravel tracks for around 70 per cent of the journey, and when you are 13 feet up and standing on your feet, boy do you feel it! Side to side you’re thrown constantly, bouncing left, right, up and down. CRACK goes your elbows as they smash into another piece of metal in the turret. I never expected it to be so rough. I stupidly assumed that big tyres meant smooth sailing. Well, there you have big mistake number three.

Travelling along Highway 1 gave me a brief reprise, but watching all the other traffic squeeze every inch out of the tarmac was equally unnerving.

Combat Logistics Patrols continue accross Helmand Province

The Afghan Highway Code isn’t quite the same as the UK’s.

‘Twang’

By the time we had arrived at our first destination to drop off a few vehicles, two hours had passed. My knees and feet were fully aware I was carrying an extra 20 kgs in body armour and had also cottoned-on to the fact I hadn’t sat down in a while, so they were politely asking me to take a rest. As I was standing there observing my arcs of fire, I declined gracefully.

I remember Ian looking at me whilst I performed weird ankle rotating exercises to try and sooth the discomfort, and quipping: “That was the easy part of the journey”. Well, unfortunately, he wasn’t wrong.

As we progressed, uneven track became potholes, which became bigger holes, and then finally what felt like full-on rocky outcrops. We forded fast flowing waddies, threaded huge lorries over bridges with little room to spare on either side and inched our way along the side of huge canals. The camber of which constantly fought against our high centre of gravity, trying to get us wet.

My feet, knees and elbows felt every single pebble until I was given a small blessing at the six-hour point, when everything went numb!

The journey down through the Helmand River Valley was otherwise a pleasant one. The landscape was beautiful, the adults and the children constantly waved and shouted hello. Sometimes the children would playfully throw stones at the vehicles in order to hear the ricochet “twang” off the armour. I could see them all laughing amongst themselves as it made the noise. Watching life carry on as normal from 13 feet up was fantastic, and everything from my chest upwards was thankful for the experience.

A child shows interest in the Combat Logistic Patrol.

Afghan children laugh and joke as the convoy rolls by.

(I am going to save you the detailed account of how one goes to the loo whilst on the move, and stood right next to your driver’s head. Needless to say it becomes a very personal experience for both of you)

Vehicles make their way through Helmand Province.

Winding our way through the Afghan countryside.

Vehicles make their way through Helmand Province.

The Neb Canal.

Vehicles make their way through Helmand Province.

The route is slow-going due to the state of the roads.

On the road again…

At the seven hours and fifteen minutes point, we rolled into PB Folad.  Once stopped, I cautiously jumped down from the cab. My legs had never been so happy to see terra firma and they showed their love for it by embracing it horizontally, for about 10 minutes.

Lying on the ground gave me time to reflect on what was happening around me. There was no time to rest for the guys who were carrying essential loads. I watched vehicles being guided carefully into position and dropping off stores, then picking up new loads. This was all done with the slickest of efficiency, as no doubt the Patrol Base commander had been eagerly awaiting this logistics patrol resupply for some time.

The occupants from other vehicles, which weren’t carrying loads, helped where they could and then laid in the shade of their vehicles. Almost every person who was resting took off his or her boots and socks, and I didn’t need to be told. The relief was instantaneous, and in a cruel way, so was the respite, as in no time at all we were loading up again.

In the small space of time at Folad, I had managed to force-feed myself a whole tube of Pringles (Salt and Vinegar, in case you were wondering), a Mars bar and a Twix, flushed down with a can of Mountain Dew. I thought I would need the energy for the return journey, but the sun was shining on me that afternoon as I was offered a swap into the Mastiff command vehicle. I am not even sure the officer had finished the sentence, and I had thrown my bag in the back and jumped on a seat. Not the comfiest of seats in the world, but I certainly wasn’t going to be complaining.

I said farewell to Ian and wished my replacement luck. We were on the road again. The journey home was pretty uneventful. There isn’t much to look at from the back of a Mastiff vehicle. For safety reasons you are strapped very tightly into a four-point harness, and it feels like being in an inverting roller coaster safety seat, only without as much fun, screaming or somebody throwing up next to you. I did manage to grab this very quick shot of our resident top-cover woman, Cpl Sheridan Lucas.

Cpl Sheridan Lucas (27) occupies the Cupola

Cpl Lucas keeping a keen eye out on her arcs in the Mastiff.

We had a slightly longer break at one of the locations on the way back, so that the drivers could have some enforced rest and possibly a bit of shut-eye. I didn’t sleep for the two hours, but spent the time trying to convince the occupants of my vehicle (not the driver, who was flat-out) that it would be a great idea to let me experiment with some lighting techniques I had been mulling over during the last five-hour ‘roller coaster ride’.

Here are the results. I am reasonably content with the outcome considering how long I had been awake.

Extremely robust individuals

Three soldiers relax at dusk during a break in a Combat Logistic Patrol

The other soldiers from my Mastiff chill and chat at dusk during enforced rest on the return journey.

WO2 Grant Turley (41), Squadron Sergeant Major of 32 Squadron, Combat Logistic Support Regiment  relaxes on the steps of his Mastiff vehicle during a break in the Combat Logistic Patrol.

WO2 Grant Turley poses for one of my lighting set-ups.

Corporal Sheridan Lucas (27), part of 3 Combat Support Logistic Regiment prepares to wake soldiers who have been given a two hour enforced rest during a Combat Logistic Patrol.

Corporal Lucas posing for a long exposure before waking troops from enforced rest.

When we finally rolled through the gates of Camp Bastion it was 0200 hrs. 25 hrs after my stupid alarm clock forced me out of bed. I sighed in relief to the Squadron Sergeant Major and made some dribbly comment about being happy it was all over. He laughed at me, and then educated me that every one of the 30-odd vehicles needed to be refuelled, which took time from two petrol pumps, and then all kit had to be ‘squared away’, weapons handed back, cabs cleaned out, only after dropping the loads. I felt pretty humbled at the time. I am not ashamed to say that I was, how we say, ‘baggage’.

I left the crews and headed back to my bed. Having spoken to the adjutant the next day, I am reliably informed the last person made it to their bed two hours after we breached the gates of Bastion. That’s some going as far as I am concerned.

I now believe that being invited out with the Combat Logistic Support Regiment on a Combat Logistic Patrol was a real privilege. Being out with 32 Squadron for over 24 hours has smashed any misconception about what these extremely robust individuals do for a living. It is an unpleasant job due to the sheer time involved in moving tons of kit around a battlefield, all the time under threat and needing to be that little extra bit alert to your surroundings, when fatigue may well be knocking at your door.

32 Squadron, 3 Combat Logistic Support Regiment, and the rest of the driver trade in the RLC, I wholeheartedly take my hat off to you…My eyes have been opened.

More tc.

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

Follow Si on Twitter: @Si_Army_Phot