Returning to civilian life: Back in basic

Captain Mau Gris began this blog when he was team leader for the British Army’s Combat Camera Team (CCT) based in Afghanistan throughout the summer 2013 as part of 1st Mechanized Brigade on Op Herrick 18. 

Captain Mau Gris on the road to civilian life

Captain Mau Gris on the road to civilian life

Mau returned to the UK at the end of September 2013. The rest of his blog will focus on leaving the Army and going back to the life of a civilian. For Mau, this includes going back to university – trading his helmet and combats for a mortar board and gown.

Transition angst

I can only imagine the kind of angst and worry those with a family to support must experience as they go through the transition to civilian life.  For me with no dependents or mortgage there is a low level buzz of anxiety, drawn from looming unemployment and being out of my Army comfort blanket.

Also being back at school on the wrong side of 30 was never something I planned. In reality my TV Journalism MA is more like being back in basic training. Which isn’t a pleasant idea, I didn’t make a great start in training. I turned up with long hair on the first day, which was a massive error.

A lot of people resettling won’t have to do what I am doing. For most, the CTP package which I also did, should be good enough to launch them into a job provided they do the leg work. Failing that, there are loads of people who can help. The key is knowing what you want to do.

Know the area you want to be in

I know the area I want to be in, which has lead me to where I am now.

Fortunately like most Forces personnel resettling, I am not quite at square one. My job as a Combat Camera Team leader has given me practical understanding, experience and transferable skills. The problem is knowing how valuable they are, where to apply them and how much they are worth. If anyone knows please tweet me!

For now, the course gives me purpose, and I am in the right place. The shared interest and passion makes journalists more like the soldiers then either would like to admit; once you get past the stubble and dress state. These would have any RSM howling at the moon and lashing out with pace stick in hand.

Army vs civilian life

Never having worked in the real world, unless you count a summer as an Punter in Cambridge, I increasingly find myself using the Army to make sense of the new civilian environment. In my MA, my lecturers are the DS (Directing Staff). Experienced practitioners in the industry who will teach me the ways of the job. The only differences are physical and environmental.

My first Army DS was a 6ft 4 Yorkshire man with a shorn head, who’d deliver ‘instructions’ and ‘encouragement’ like enemy machine gun fire and with similar effect. Often peppering the platoon with wisdom when we were up to our webbing in water in some godforsaken Welsh ditch.

My Masters Directing Staff is a 5ft something and a former BBC journalist. From a cosy lecture theatre, she delivers her wisdom couched in amongst anecdotes. They are different, but they are teaching you what to expect in the job. And like basic, this is the start of the job as I see it.

Jack Nicholson.

Jack Nicholson. ‘You can’t handle the truth’!

The difference is in the principles

For all the similarities the two jobs are very different at their core. The core of any profession is in the principles and doctrine they teach. Army principles are different from journalistic principles. It is here that the problem lies for service leavers as they resettle.

Army leavers often feel themselves to be the only ones in the workplace applying principles to their work, other than the ‘look after number one’ principle. For me it hasn’t reached this yet – my problem is one of ‘openness’ versus ‘need to know.’ That classic argument summed up by Jack Nicholson – ‘You can’t handle the truth.’ An issue that has gotten me in a little bit of trouble before.

In truth I am still trying to resolved this as I want to hold on to some of the stuff the Army instils; but not at all costs. Just because there is truth in the saying ‘you can take the boy out of the Army but not the Army out of the boy,’ I think you can choose what part stays.

Next time… Out into the real world -understanding BBC Newsnight through the Army.

The BBC Newsnight studio

The BBC Newsnight studio

Read Mau’s other blogs here: Capt Mau Gris

Follow Mau on Twitter: @mau_gris

Bittersweet return: Helmand to home, soldier to student

Capt Mau Gris. Sgt Barry Pope RLC (Phot)

Capt Mau Gris. Sgt Barry Pope RLC (Phot)

Captain Mau Gris is team leader for the British Army’s Combat Camera Team (CCT) based in Afghanistan throughout the summer 2013 as part of 1 Mechanized Brigade. Op Herrick 18′s CCT also includes Sergeant Barry Lloyd – video cameraman – and Sergeant Barry Pope – photographer.

For us it is the end of the end

For me it really is. Our new team had arrived, our kit was handed over and the requisite briefs were completed. Our job here was over. For me it is the last post I will hold as  a British Army officer. It’s weird even writing it. Believe it or not I have even delayed writing this, because it feels that once I do it is real.

We were some of the first to leave as 1 Mech slowly transforms into 7 Armoured. It happens in parts. A new fresh face untouched by six months in the Afghan desert here; a new tactical recognition flash there. There is always a bit of teasing as soldiers hand over. You see the guys on their reception briefings in their fresh kit, and mutter ‘crowbags’, and they just tell you to ‘get the hell out of my seat.’ This time there is a bit more sympathy – nine months is a long old time.

Then before you know it with the regulation RAF faff, you are on the plane home. A pit-stop in Cyprus is the only thing between you and the rest of your life. From my previous experience it’s at this point you have a peak inside that mental box, into which you put all that stuff you said you’d deal with later. This tour has thankfully left that box empty as far as I can tell. But there are those initial fingers of worry poking me about what the hell I am going to do when I leave the Army. As the C-17 rumbled on I looked around the plane and wondered what the rest were thinking.

The journey home begins

The journey home begins

Decompression, beer and a show

Fifty tired soldiers got blinking off the plane, and were told to get into ‘civvies’ ready for the organised fun, something the Army loves. It was odd seeing the boys out of camouflage. His Holiness (Sgt Pope) had gone for a glaring yellow tee shirt, Lloydie for some functional sports gear. Then it was down to the beach, a bit like any at a moderately successful holiday resort, except quieter. No one is trying to sell you some moody ‘Ray-Bans’, and there is a priest cutting around trying to ‘chat’ to you. Me and the boys steered clear, opting for some competitive inflatable wrestling instead.

Cyprus stop-over

Cyprus stop-over

Here is where the proper decompression starts, on the oversized inflatables in the sea. But not before your annoying mandatory swim test which everyone gets a little bit competitive about. Then after a few hours, it’s on to the equally isolated Bloodhound Camp for mandatory briefs, followed by strictly four beers and a CSE entertainment show.

This bit was very different from my first experience of decompression. First time round the ‘4 can’ rule was more like guidance, so we all got drunk. This time, however, we were a small group, compared to the 200 that normally go through. So we consumed our first beers in a large draughty hall, playing pool whilst the friendly mental health nurse and the padre wandered around chatting to people.

It was at this point that I got a subtle hint at how padres go about taking a peek in that mental box to see if their help is required. I had just been crowned Pool champion of the CCT, much to Lloydie’s and His Holinesses’s annoyance. When I got challenged by the Padre, he kicked my arse with a bit of divine intervention. In the process we got to chatting about the tour. Naturally he wanted to know what I had found tough. So I told him and slowly I realised he was probing to see if I would hold anything back.

Pretty clever,  generally nothing clams someone in the armed forces up quicker than being asked what scared / disturbed them. But what was tough? I would say that 99 per cent of all Army stories are based on toughness or tough situations. We can chat about those forever. It was only a small thing, but I think it is symptomatic of a growing awareness of the mental health side within the Army and how to deal with it. It gives me hope one day all those who suffer will be treated in time.

Sgt Barry Pope and Sgt Barry Lloyd

Sgt Barry Pope and Sgt Barry Lloyd

Goodbye boys

For me, this tour will leave only good memories, unlike others. Be it at the sharp end with the boys from the Brigade Reconnaissance Force or sitting quietly on the HLS with the boys, telling some ‘dits’ and killing some time, it’s been incredible. There was a little anxiousness there because of the imminent career change, and really I guess I am slightly nervous that once you leave that extend family of the Army, who understand what you’ve done / seen etc, then the issues arise. I have seen it in some of my friends.

These worries chattered away in the back of my head, but didn’t affect what turned out to be a really entertaining evening provide by the CSE guys. All the officers were singled out for derision by the comedian (standard) and the music was excellent. The four beers were consumed without any drunkenness ensuing. Everyone went to bed in that kind of cloud of happy tipsiness that was no doubt intentional by the staff of Decompression.

We woke up with just a hilly bus ride and an aeroplane journey standing between us, our loved ones and the rest of our lives. We arrived at 3 o’clock on a Friday, and I was then ‘in my own time.’ I collected my bags and with more than a little sadness, said goodbye to the boys. For the past six months had never been more than three metres away from them. And, I am proud to have serve alongside them.

I am now officially ‘resettling.’ To compound the strangeness I am starting a Masters course in TV journalism. So that I can keep doing what I am doing at the moment. I am going to keep writing about it but it is going to be weird jump. I hope you stay with me. Soldier to student…. hmmm.

Decompression starts here

Decompression starts here

Read Mau’s other blogs here: Capt Mau Gris

Follow Mau on Twitter: @mau_gris