Culinary delights and Warthogs

Cpl Georgina Coupe

Cpl Georgina Coupe

Corporal Georgina Coupe is the video camerawoman for the British Army’s Combat Camera Team (CCT) based in Afghanistan throughout summer 2012 as part of 12th Mechanized Brigade

Since we left Bastion just over week ago the CCT have covered a lot of miles both in vehicle and by foot.

We flew into Main Operating Base Price in good time for us to sample the culinary delights of “MOB Nice” as it’s commonly known and also to meet up with the Warthog Group formed by The Kings Royal Hussars. It was an eventful few days spent in some sweltering temperatures in the back of the heavily armoured tracked vehicles whose task, whilst we were there, was to provide a security screen for the largest Afghan operation of the year so far.

Variety adds spice

On the first evening I had a chance to put my night vision capabilities through its paces with the 26 Engineer Regiment whilst they reinforced a steel girder bridge in anticipation of the heavy access that would be required over the coming days.

The Afghan ground troops were inserted by helicopter in the early hours of the following morning and began clearing the heavily contested area. Because the area was heavily seeded with Improvised Explosive Devices (IED)s it was a slow and deliberate process.

During our time spent with the Warthogs we saw the impressive manoeuvrability of the vehicles, and saw firsthand their ability to cover a variety of terrain, with the help of the Engineers bridging the gaps over canals and wadis.

Warthog Crossing

Warthog Crossing

I think the most memorable part that will stay with me was filming with Andy out of the top hatch as we crossed through the Helmand River. A few minutes later we were filming the Warthogs mid- recovery of a vehicle from along its banks when they came under fire. Although the contact was fairly short lived and no one was injured, the recovery and the subsequent maintenance took the guys’ hours of physical and mental work, but the sense of humour and camaraderie never failed them.

The Green Zone

After leaving them we have spent the rest of the time between Patrol Bases Rahim and Clifton, both in the Upper Gereshk Valley, in the Green Zone.

During this period we spent some time out with the Grenadier Guards and the Afghan Local Police. Due to a dose of luck and good timing we also happened to be there at the same time as the 12 Mechanized Brigade Commander Brigadier Doug Chalmers, so we were able to move out on a foot patrol with him along with various heads of the Afghan security forces.

Turning up the heat

Patrol Base (PB) Clifton has been a really nice place to spend time at. Although facilities would be deemed as basic back home, out here it’s a well set up with a really good atmosphere. Andy and I got stuck into documenting life at Clifton pretty much straight away, with my first stop being the kitchen, eating being one of my favourite pastimes. Rob and Martin, the chefs here, serve up some pretty impressive meals with a lovely roast dinner one day, and cake and steak, another. Depending on the deliveries, they serve a mix of fresh and frozen food, and also a mix of composite rations. The temperatures that they have to work in far exceed the ones outside, hitting the 70s for them on a regular basis. The kitchen and the food is an important source of morale for everyone at Clifton, and there is always lots of banter and laughter going on in the cookhouse.

Chef turns up the heat

Chef turns up the heat

'Dhobi' - Washing Machine

‘Dhobi’ – Washing Machine

The washing facilities (known as ‘dhobi’) consisted of a washing machine cunningly disguised as a cement mixer and a welfare room which had a ping pong table, internet access and a TV and DVD player, and a makeshift outdoor gym.

Just in case people back home think that the guys and girls out here have got it easy though, you only have to watch the patrols coming back in, with some of them going out 2 or three times a day, and some for two or three days at a time. You can hear the gunfire and explosions going off in the surrounding areas, so it’s never too far from anyone’s mind here that we’re still in Afghanistan. Culinary delights and Warthogs – Cpl Coupe Blogg – British Army

School Curriculum

Captain Harriet Church, a Veterinary liaison Officer for the Provincial Reconstruction Team happened to be here whilst I was at PB Clifton, so I jumped at the opportunity to get out with her and her Afghan counterpart, a civilian who is known as a ‘Paravet’. Their role is to move around Helmand Province setting up short lessons for the local communities teaching them basic farming hygiene and feeding skills.

Watch Video here

Because many of the children here are the primary carers for the herds of cattle Capt Church is in the process of trying to implement this into the local curriculum, following the success of a similar process for IED awareness for the youngsters.

Being out in the Kalays (villages) with all the children is always quite uplifting but it also makes me think about my nephews as well and how glad I am that they are lucky enough to be able to go to school, and not have to have lessons on how to recognise pressure plates and bombs. It definitely makes you appreciate what you would take for granted back home.

Whilst you’re out here living in such close quarters to others, the heat and the physical exertion can take its toll. Some days you would just like a day off and it can be hard to muster enthusiasm for work, but then you come across stories like this and you see how little things like this can make such a massive difference to the next generations of Afghanistan, and it re-inspires and motivates you.

A real mix of experience

We have only got a few more weeks here until our R and R (Rest and Recuperation) which we are all looking forward to. Before then we are in the process of trying to plan and fit in several jobs ahead of our R and R, including;  Afghans training their Heavy Weapons, Counter IED Training as well as some electrical and driver training. I think it’s going to be a real mix of stuff going on and will certainly keep us busy before we get a chance for some much needed down time.

Engineering a way to success

Corporal Georgina Coupe

Corporal Georgina Coupe

Corporal Georgina Coupe is the video camerawoman for the British Army’s Combat Camera Team (CCT) based in Afghanistan throughout summer 2012 as part of 12th Mechanized Brigade.

The last couple of weeks have been eventful for us all out here in Afghanistan, starting with the filming and photographing of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee message. This turned out to be a four-man job: my photographer colleague Sergeant Andy Reddy and I were joined by Corporal Barry Lloyd, who has come out from the UK for a short time, and Corporal Paul Morrison, the 12 Mechanized Brigade photographer based out here. While Barry filmed and photographed from a cherry picker above the parade, Paul took photos on the ground, and Andy had a chance to turn his hand to video for the day with me.

Insurgents melted away

Andy went out with the Brigade Reconnaissance Force on a short operation, which meant that Barry joined team leader Captain Will Campbell Ricketts and I for a few days out on the ground. After a vehicle move into Patrol Base Sparta, we were transported into Checkpoint Khobahn so we could start out early the following day as part of a clearance operation led by the Afghan National Army (ANA).

The purpose of the operation was to clear a previous insurgent stronghold, and allow the ANA to cross over a canal into what used to be a heavily contested area. This got off to a feisty start, initially with a lot of resistance from the insurgents. Once the ANA started to move across the ground, the insurgents soon melted away and the search phase of the operation began, resulting in several arrests.

The ANA engineers constructed an infantry assault bridge across the canal. Once they had completed their task, the bridge allowed us to safely cross the waterway to clear the area.

Over the last couple of weeks, I have been putting together a series of short web videos entitled ‘My Job in Afghanistan’. This series is proving to be quite popular and is a good opportunity for everyone back in the UK to see exactly what the variety of soldiers are doing out here. This operation in particular was a great opportunity for me to focus on Staff Sergeant Chris Leid, of 26 Engineer Regiment, who is acting as an advisor for the specialist Afghan Engineer unit.

Watch my Engineering Advisor video.

Back to Bastion

It was a fairly swift exit for us as a team. We got back to Camp Bastion to meet back up with Andy, where after a quick turnaround we are about to head out again to do some more work with the Brigade Advisory Group, who at the moment are advising and mentoring both the Afghan Police and the ANA.

This group is based in Forward Operating Base Shawqat, where Andy and I both spent some time last summer, and is built on the remains of an old British fort. It’s one of our favourite bases, so we’re looking forward to getting back down there and seeing how much it’s changed in the last few months.

Clearing the editing decks

Corporal Georgina Coupe

Corporal Georgina Coupe

Corporal Georgina Coupe is the video camerawoman for the British Army’s Combat Camera Team (CCT) based in Afghanistan throughout summer 2012 as part of 12th Mechanized Brigade.

Since we got back off the ground after Op Shafuq, the team have spent quite a few days back in Camp Bastion clearing the editing decks.  For me, my main effort was putting together a three-minute edited web piece as well as a couple of shorter pieces, which took me quite some time; I didn’t realise just quite how much footage I’d accumulated!

As soon as this was all cleared we were off again, this time over to the Lashkar Gah Training Centre (LTC) which is the home of training for the various Afghan police departments. It’s an impressive facility with a selection of training areas including a mock police station, firing ranges, drill squares and classrooms.

Whilst we were there, three separate Tolays (the Afghan equivalent of a company)  were in various stages of training. The Afghan Border Police course are about to graduate so there were lots of drill for the students around the centre whereas the emphasis was upon fire and manoeuvre tactics for the Afghan Uniform Police.

Although there are literacy classes which form a crucial element of the training, Andy and I both prefer to photograph and film the more physical aspects, which included self defence training and patrolling. We were also fortunate enough to be able to meet a couple of the female police officers going through the training, which was great for us. It’s not often that we get the opportunity to film and photograph Afghan women here.

When we haven’t been out at LTC we have certainly had lots of other smaller scale jobs to keep us busy with Trooping of the Colour messages from the Welsh Guards out here for their colleagues back home, International Firefighter Day as well as an Afghan Combat Medic Course.

Although over the last couple of weeks we have been focused very much on the Afghan training elements that is going on out here, the diary is starting to look pretty full for the next few weeks with lots of opportunities for us to get out with the Afghan Security Forces in their operational role which we’re all very much looking forward to, as well as the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Parade.

Medical mentoring of the ANA - photo by Sergeant Andy Reddy RLC

Medical mentoring of the ANA – photo by Sergeant Andy Reddy RLC

Capturing the essence of the battlefield

Corporal Georgina Coupe

Corporal Georgina Coupe

Corporal Georgina Coupe is the video camerawoman for the British Army’s Combat Camera Team (CCT) based in Afghanistan throughout summer 2012 as part of 12th Mechanized Brigade.

The current CCT includes me Corporal Georgina Coupe, camerawoman, Sergeant Andy Reddy, photographer, and our team leader Captain Will Campbell Ricketts. Over the next six months we will be providing video, photographs and news articles telling the story of British troops in Afghanistan as we continue to mentor the Afghan security forces.

Operation Shafuq

The last few days for the CCT have been epic. We have just come back from Operation Shafuq meaning ‘Dawn’. It was an Afghan National Army (ANA) planned and led operation, to clear a previous insurgent stronghold. The role of ISAF was very much to provide advice. Over the operation, we covered a massive 45 km across a variety of terrain.

Afghanistan is made up of picturesque landscape, which rapidly lost its appeal when finding ourselves chest deep fighting our way through fields in a sea of mud, carrying full kit. The weight of the Osprey body armour, helmet, weapon, water and food alone weighs a minimum of 25 kilos (if you think that the average weight of suitcase at check in for your trips abroad weights about 20), add to this specialist radio and electronic equipment, ladders or in our case cameras and satellites it can total up to 50 kilos.

Walking through a poppy field with a ladder. Photo: Sergeant Andy Reddy

Walking through a poppy field with a ladder. Photo: Sergeant Andy Reddy

Working alongside the ANA made for interesting times. Spirits were high as we crossed paths time and time again, there were many smiles and jokes to be shared between the two forces by way of hand signals , gestures and body language, the way that people who couldn’t speak each other’s language could. We shared cigarettes and food with each other whilst commanders poured over maps and plans for the next phase.

After filming the initial planning  phase, we were lifted by Chinook into Patrol Base Pimon where we met up with the troops  and our Afghan counterparts who we would be spending the next few days with. We left early the next morning in sunshine and a nice cool wind, which dissolved over the next few hours into wind and rain more common to Salisbury Plain than Helmand Province.

Watch the video at this link

Ring of steel

As our call sign made its way into our resting area late that evening  Will quickly dug out a poncho, which he held over me and the computer, battling  to keep us dry whilst editing our first package,  desperately trying to outpace the rapidly depleting laptop  battery, only to be beaten at the last hurdle by an electrical storm which didn’t allow us to send our footage. This set the scene for the next few evenings as power and signal strength became our biggest challenges, along with desperately trying to keep cameras free from mud, dust and rain.

These evenings were spent in a ‘ring of steel’ formed by Warthogs, heavily armoured tracked vehicles able to cross even the harshest of terrain. They provided us not only with re- supply of food, water, batteries and all round protection whilst we slept, but in my case a dry make shift office in the back and some desperately needed coffee.

The operation was a massive success for the ANA who led and cleared the way through minefields, searched compounds and fought back against the insurgents. Throughout the op Andy and I had been working with different groups, but when Will had to make his way back to a nearby base to get a better signal, we were back to working together. He took over from Will as the interviewer and we finished off the op with a final interview and cup of chai with the Afghan Colonel, which was a great opportunity to find out how well he felt it had gone.

Over the last few days we have met an amazing array of people, for some, it was the last and apparently toughest op of the tour and for others like us it is only the beginning. Myself and Andy will be busy for the next few days editing the stills and video footage for everyone back home to show what the guys out on the ground have been doing and what else they’ve got coming up.

Planning the next move. Photo: Sergeant Andy Reddy

Planning the next move. Photo: Sergeant Andy Reddy

All images are Crown/MOD Copyright