Capturing Force Protection activity in Kabul

Corporal Mike Hubbard - video operator CCT H17

Corporal Mike Hubbard – video operator CCT H17

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

Layer of snow

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

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

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

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

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

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

Morale is high

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Patrolling in vehicles. Image by Cpl Jamie Peters

Patrolling in vehicles. Image by Cpl Jamie Peters

Patrolling in vehicles. Image by Cpl Jamie Peters

Patrolling in vehicles. Image by Cpl Jamie Peters

 

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

Bagpipes and dancing girls

Corporal Mike Hubbard - video operator CCT H17

Corporal Mike Hubbard – video operator CCT H17

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

‘Cut and thrust of news media’

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

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

Me and the boss interviewing.

Me and the boss interviewing.

Remembrance Day. Cpl Jamie Peters (Army Photographer)

Remembrance Day. Cpl Jamie Peters (Army Photographer)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Freezing in the desert

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A day in the life

Lieutenant Colonel David Eastman blogs about a typical day in the life of the spokesman for Task Force Helmand.

At my desk!

At my desk!

This week I thought I would give you an insight into a typical day for me here in Task Force Helmand Headquarters, when I am not gallivanting around the country impersonating a journalist.

Most days start at 0600hrs (there are no weekends here!), with my deep sleep rudely interrupted by the rather loud iTouch that serves as my constant companion (it’s that or you get woken by the world’s most expensive alarm clock as a Merlin or Chinook helicopter comes in to land!) I then spend 30 minutes running, rowing or cycling to get the blood flowing; this is the best time of day for exercise because it doesn’t feel as though you are running under a sun-lamp.

After a quick breakfast I hurry over to the headquarters to prepare for the morning brief. Every morning Commander Task Force Helmand, Brigadier James Chiswell MC, gathers together his staff heads and we go through the previous evening’s activities – Taliban attacks, Battle Group operations etc, as well as discussing the coming 24 hours. My part is to keep the team updated on what is happening in the UK and International media, as well as what the local Afghan media is reporting. I also make sure that I keep everyone apprised of important sports scores, or bizarre stories from The Sun just to keep the team’s morale up.

Following the update, my team of 8 comes together and I brief any important information; we also discuss the next 24 hours and the rest of the week. Today I spent most of the morning briefing an ITV News team on the background to what is happening in Helmand. On other days I will edit our press releases or clear copy, photographs or video footage from journalists or our units. My main task here, apart from being the spokesman for the force, is to make sure that nothing gets published that might compromise the operational security of our soldiers, so everything that leaves theatre has to go through me for clearance (this can be very monotonous if it is for a documentary, which can mean hours of video!)

We are 4½ hours ahead of the UK, so by lunchtime the phone calls and emails from the UK start arriving. Usually it is journalists requesting information, or our superior headquarters in the UK, the Permanent Joint Headquarters (PJHQ) in Northwood, or the Ministry of Defence with whom we are in daily (often hourly) contact. We have lunch at 1300hrs – the food here is particularly good, hence having to exercise so much, and then after lunch, if we are not out hosting an embedded journalist, covering an operation, or planning the next operation, we will deal with the various email requests from the UK, and then take turns to do some more exercise for half an hour.

In the late afternoon I start preparing for the evening update, which is a formal brief to the Commander and staff about the events that have occurred during the day. It is a bit of a powerpoint frenzy – a bad habit that we seem to have picked up from the US Army – but it allows me to show some of the articles that have been published about the Task Force in the UK press that day.

After dinner, I return to the office to clear more copy, prepare the daily update which is distributed to all our superior HQs in Afghanistan and the UK, and get ready for the following day. I leave the office at 2300hrs most days, and, after half an hour reading my new toy – a Kindle – or writing home, am back in a deep slumber by midnight… only 6 hours until the dreaded alarm interrupts my dreams of home again!

Out on the ground in Afghanistan

Captain Leanne Christmas is the Media Officer for 21 Engineer Regiment, part of Task Force Helmand for Operation HERRICK 12. She writes about going patrol base hopping in southern Helmand.

I have spent the past two weeks in a forward operating base (FOB) and on the forward line of enemy troops (FLET) which has been a welcome change to the constraints of Camp Bastion.

I went to cover an Operation, from a Royal Engineer perspective, and so spent my time out on the ground with 2 Troop, 1st Armoured Engineer Squadron. So thank you to them for hosting me – I had a great time.

I went to a FOB via Merlin helicopter which was a great little flight. Flying over the green zone was surreal – a belt of green in the middle of a desert. I staggered off under the weight of my kit and was greeted by two girls who I had only met once before on the pre-deployment training. It was really nice of them. I spent a couple of days in that forward operating base to gather thoughts and find out what was going on before heading out the gate in a convoy to a PB (patrol base) where the troop was waiting to be given the green light.  They had commandeered a corner of the PB, pulled the Engineer vehicles around it and set up a decent “home”.

A few hours later and all the activity started. The troop was moved down to the next patrol base by “Titanium Taxis” the name given to the Mastiffs that transport personnel around theatre, when a sandstorm swept in leaving half the troop at the old PB. There was no warning but it was really quite remarkable – the sky went from blue to black in seconds.

Once the troop were again reunited they set about getting ready for the task – a temporary build of another PB but further south designed to hold the ground just won by the infantry.

The troop spent just over 24 hours making the compound secure and habitable by building sangars, firing points and installing ablutions. They worked through the night with rounds being fired overhead – at one point, an attack on the compound was imminent but all the troop could do was sit there and wait, leaving the Infantry to deal with the threat. In the end, nothing happened.

The troop then extracted, exhausted, but having successfully completed one task before moving on to another.

When I got back in from that operation I stayed to help cover the Ministers’ visit. It was good to see the newly elected  in person and speak with them, if not a little daunting walking through a district centre with no helmet on. Nonetheless, seeing the local nationals and meeting the district community council was encouraging – there are good, well meaning and helpful people here.

I thoroughly enjoyed my time with 2 Troop – hopefully I will get to repeat it.

The busy, busy world of the media cell

Captain Leanne Christmas of 21 Engineer Regiment (21 Engr Regt) writes about media operations for Task Force Helmand, Afghanistan.

Captain Leanne Christmas

Captain Leanne Christmas

This week has been quite an emotional week and one full of changes. The Regiment lost two soldiers from two different squadrons in two separate accidents.

For me personally, I have moved across to work out of the Media Operations Cell. So, whilst I am still the media ops officer for 7 HQ & Sp Squadron I am going to be better utilised by working with the Brigade. Less free time is good and bad. The days themselves go much quicker but I am studying for a Master whilst I am here which means doing this at night instead of chilling out for an hour.

I have also visited Lashkar Gah, where the Brigade HQ is, for a UPO (Unit Press Officer) conference. It was great to see people that I haven’t seen since January when we all trained together and we had quite a laugh. Just getting out to see something other than the dusty building site that is Camp Bastion improves morale hugely. Not to mention that each time I get on a helicopter it is always something different. So far I have broadened my helicopter flying experience by flying in a Hercules, Chinook, Merlin and some American thing! Just a Lynx to go and I will be complete!

Work back in the media cell has involved writing and editing articles, arranging interviews and being interviewed and writing the Regimental newsletter which goes back to the families and friends back home. I even interviewed a family of three who are all serving out here in Afghanistan. They are the Littmoden family – father, son and daughter-in-law.

The nice thing about this week is that I have been working with a lot of different people and of all ranks. Sappers come and tell me about their week and have their photo taken for home town stories, Sergeant Majors are giving me knowledge on what is coming up and what needs to be covered and two Officers are putting me through my paces in the gym!

Yesterday I went across to the camp where we have a troop of soldiers who are mentoring the ANA. They got on with the training with enthusiasm and dedication. Well, that was after they got over the amazement that there was a girl there!

Last night we ventured over to the American camp to watch country and western singer, Toby Keith. The Americans loved him and I have to say that whilst not my cup of tea, it was great to get out, see something different and to hear some live music!

All in all, quite an eventful week and hopefully more to come!