Capturing the essence of life in Afghanistan

Capturing the essence of life in Afghanistan

Me in the middle of a sandstorm. Image by Cpl Ross Fernie

Me in the middle of a sandstorm. Image by Cpl Ross Fernie

I’m Sergeant Paul Shaw. I’m 28 and having served 11 years in the British Army I have now been one of its professional photographers for over a year and have enjoyed every minute of it. The very day I passed my Defence Photographers course I volunteered for a tour in Afghanistan as part of the Combat Camera Team in the Electronic News Gatherer ENG role (The Video Guy). It is my job to collect moving footage for the media and have also filmed for other productions such as The One Show, Gary Barlow: Journey to Afghanistan and Top Gear.

During my time here I have seen some amazing sights and had the opportunity to visit a variety of areas including Kajaki dam and Kabul, the country’s capital city. It has been a fantastic journey so far and although my job is moving pictures, my true passion lies with photography and I have been trying to capture ‘my world’ for the last six months as often as possible.

Geography and the weather

Sunset over Camp Bastion

Sunset over Camp Bastion

Most of my time has been spent in and around Helmand, one of the country’s largest provinces. For those who don’t know, it is an arid region in the south of Afghanistan covering 22,619 square miles, half the size of England and it is believed that civilization may have begun in the area as early as 3,000 BC. Being such a dry region it is often subject to sandstorms and even rainstorms, during the winter months. I am however still waiting for my thunderstorm.

Sandstorm over Camp Bastion

Sandstorm over Camp Bastion

A cyclist during a sandstorm at Camp Bastion.

A cyclist during a sandstorm at Camp Bastion.

Always on the move, one of my first major trips out of Helmand was a job in Kabul. 3,500 years old Kabul is situated in the North East of the country. It is one of the fastest growing cities in the world and is home to over 3 million people. It is also home to the Afghan National Army Officer Academy ANAOA, the Afghan equivalent of our own Sandhurst. The academy is surrounded by Western Kabul and sports some amazing view points on its southern side, which is lined by high peaks and mountains.

Kabul at dawn from the ANAOA site.

Kabul at dawn from the ANAOA site.

Modern-day life

In the present day, compared to that of our own, the people of Afghanistan lead a relatively simple life. They are generous and honourable and although not possessing all the technology that more developed countries may have, they have ingenuity and a way of making things work. They do things their way and in their own time and for them, it works.

Afghan workers

Afghan workers

It is quite easy for the western world to judge the Middle East and especially Afghanistan as it has played such a big part in our British Military life over the past decade. It is easy to think of a war torn sand pit whose people care little for their neighbour or their country and simply allow themselves to be overrun by extremists. I think you would be amazed if you ever have the opportunity to pass through its streets. Granted, it does seem like there are two worlds colliding but that is the Afghan culture, their way, not ours.

High rise flats dot the skyline, electricity pylons, cars… as many cars as any busy city centre, even billboards advertising broadband internet. Ironic when our own country still sports areas out of reach of ultra-fast fibre optics.

Kabul City and a broadband internet billboard

Kabul City and a broadband internet billboard

The Burka and the modern headscarf meet in Kabul

The Burka and the modern headscarf meet in Kabul

School children in uniform on their way to school.

School children in uniform on their way to school.

Packing up and moving out

Back in Helmand the British Army are well under way with their redeployment of kit to the UK. We are no longer actively conducting offensive operations within the province. To the north at the Afghan National Army Academy we mentor officers who will lead the fight against the insurgent and are proud to be doing so.

An American Osprey gunner on a flight to Kajaki, which sports some beautiful scenery

An American Osprey gunner on a flight to Kajaki, which sports some beautiful scenery

A sketch I did of British Forward Operating Base Price

A sketch I did of British Forward Operating Base Price

I am now nearing my six-month mark and it will soon be time to leave a remarkable country, one that has seen so much turmoil. Until we come to leave we will support the Afghan forces as much as we can. Before I go, I leave you with a video I have filmed and produced of the Apache Longbow Attack Helicopter entitled ‘The Shout’.

Thanks for reading. 

Images © MOD/Crown Copyright

Photography: Sergeant Paul Shaw RLC (Phot)

Video: Sergeant Paul Shaw RLC (Phot)

Musicians Mobilise in the Metrocentre

LCpl Damian Dunphy

LCpl Damian Dunphy

Lance Corporal Damian Dunphy is a trombonist with the Heavy Cavalry and Cambrai Band (HC&C Band) based in Catterick. Having served such a length of time in Yorkshire Damian’s roots are well and truly established. He plays for a number of orchestras in the North East in addition to a number of brass bands, he is also the Musical Director of a local brass band and has conducted a number of other bands in the area.

The threat of a visit to Gateshead’s Metrocentre will invariably either fill your heart with joy or fill it dread, depending on your attitude to shopping and more than probably your gender.  Add to the threat the fact that the visit is in December on a Saturday and you are likely either to jump for joy or tremble in trepidation with the thoughts of the impending crowds and crushes at the tills. But……

On Saturday 7 December musicians from the Heavy Cavalry and Cambrai Band, the Band of The Royal Regiment of Fusiliers and the Royal Signals (Northern) Band were tasked to visit the Metrocentre for something far less mundane than assembling this year’s Christmas presents, this was the Corps of Army Music’s third flashmob event.

For those unfamiliar with the concept the dictionary definition for the term flashmob is as follows: “A group of people mobilized by social media to meet in a public place for the purpose of doing an unusual or entertaining activity of short duration”

Okay, granted you cannot assemble 60 musicians spontaneously via social media, indeed the events take a great deal of choreographing, but the result has the appearance of spontaneity about it.

Festive mob

Festive mob

Rehearsals

The sixty musicians, regular and reserve, met for the first time at 8am on the morning of the event. Any thoughts of grabbing a bacon butty were quickly put aside as it became clear that time was to be a bit of an issue, with the mall opening to the public at 9am. The Director of Music and Drum Major met with the film director to discuss camera angles, choreography and the overall look of the film, whilst the Band found their positions on the floor.

Drum Major Smith heads up the performance

Drum Major Smith heads up the performance

The overall shape of the Band once assembled was to be that of a Christmas tree and the best way to rehearse creating formations like this is to work backwards from the finish position.  To that end musicians were herded into position, given a marker and in some cases tape-markings were placed on the floor.

The show was to start with a soprano saxophone ‘busker’ being joined by a brass ensemble and then musicians were to emerge from various parts of the mall in an apparently random fashion before forming our Christmas tree shaped marching band.

After half an hour or so a crowd of curious and bemused Metrocentre workers had gathered to see what all the commotion was about, their elated reaction to the first run through verified that we had chosen a popular programme for the event!

The massed bands then returned to the St George’s Army Reserve Centre, in Newcastle, for a musical rehearsal and some well earned pastry based confectionery, courtesy of the Band of The Royal Regiment of Fusiliers.

Performance time

The performance was scheduled for peak shopping time (1pm) in an atrium in the mall. Musicians gathered together in various service bays and fire escapes out of sight of the crowds waiting for their musical cue, which was to be Lance Corporal  Andy Lightfoot on soprano saxophone playing the introduction of ‘A Winter’s Tale’.

For the occasion Lance Corporal Lightfoot was dressed as an Elf, and prior to the flashmob he was to be busking next to a Christmas tree.  Nobody had quite expected him to look so adorable, and combined with his excellent busking skills, the public were donating money quite quickly, which caught him somewhat by surprise, he hadn’t planned for that element of the event. The money will be donated to Help for Heroes the next time the Heavy Cavalry and Cambrai Band perform for the Pheonix House Recovery Centre in Catterick Garrison, North Yorkshire.

With the predictability of the rising sun the cleaners had removed the tape markings from the floor and the fact that the mall was now full of people made finding visual references a tad more difficult. It all went as planned though, and the sight of military musicians playing whilst descending an escalator will no doubt live in people’s memories for a long time.

Cpl Brown meets surprised children.

Cpl Brown meets surprised children.

Christmas

The Band performed ‘A Winter’s Tale’ and ‘Santa Claus is Coming to Town’ both from Ian McElligot’s excellent selection simply entitled “Christmas”, to a warm and appreciative audience.  The feeling from the ‘shop floor’ was that this crowd really enjoyed the performance.

The Band left the atrium to Rodney Bashford’s march Wassail and the music and the performers disappeared as swiftly as they had arrived. They say it’s always good to leave the audience wanting more and that was definitely the case with this performance.

Following the flashmob on Saturday the Heavy Cavalry and Cambrai Band stopped at the Metrocentre to entertain the crowds with some more music.  Whilst we performed to the public, the Army Media Team were editing the video ready for distribution.  By the time the bands had got changed and boarded the transport for home the video was already online and had already generated thousands of hits both on Facebook and YouTube. By the time the bus arrived back at Catterick the event had been shown on the local news.

Good news does indeed travel fast.

Lastly we would like to wish you all a Merry Christmas from all members of the Corps of Army Music and Army Reserve Bands.

Watch the action unfold in this video of the event: 

Visit The Corps of Army Music and learn about its role within the British Army

The Halfway Point

Lt Claire Jackson, OC CCT Herrick 19

Lt Claire Jackson, OC CCT Herrick 19

Lieutenant Claire Jackson is team leader for the British Army’s combat camera team for Herrick 19. She works alongside Sgt Dan Bardsley (photographer) and Sgt Paul Shaw (video cameraman). They are based in Afghanistan and will be covering the work of the Armed forces, in particular 7th Armoured Brigade – the Desert Rats, throughout the winter.  They capture moving and still imagery from events out on the ground that national broadcasters don’t have access to.

Like a scene out of Top Gun

12 weeks in and we’ve reached the halfway point of our H19 tour. It only seems like yesterday when we arrived a bit dazed and tired in the middle of the night into Camp Bastion. I still have to keep reminding myself at times of how lucky we are to be doing this job, with such a diverse range of taskings. And for me being a Reservist, and this my first tour, it’s a real privilege.

As I’m writing this I’m sat in front of a Tornado GR4 watching pilots and crewmen doing their various pre-flight checks, the huge ‘Three Mile Mountain’ in the background towering over Kandahar airfield. A bit different to the view outside the office window in the UK that I’m used, and more like a scene from Top Gun. We’re here to capture some footage with 617 Sqn, part of 904 Expeditionary Air Wing (EAW), known as the ‘Dambusters’.

Three Mile Mountain towers over Kandahar Airfield as we carry out the filming

Three Mile Mountain towers over Kandahar Airfield as we carry out the filming

“Take my breath away…” Just like a scene out of Top Gun!

“Take my breath away…” Just like a scene out of Top Gun!

This is our second trip to Kandahar. We were here only a few weeks ago to capture HRH, the Duke of York at a Remembrance Service. I got very excited as I was told that there might be an opportunity for us to interview him. So with questions already prepped and signed off, we waited patiently at the flight line for him to arrive only to be told that he wasn’t doing any more interviews as he’d already done a fair few in Bastion earlier that day. Oh well, next time I might be more lucky to get a VIP interview.

HRH, the Duke of York visits Kandahar for a Remembrance Service

HRH, the Duke of York visits Kandahar for a Remembrance Service

Could it be magic?

The Duke of York isn’t the first VIP visit that we have covered on this tour. We were very lucky to be involved in an ITV production, which was hosted by Take That’s Gary Barlow. For two weeks we had a large TV crew living with us. A great bunch of people from the world of tv production and one that I’m very familiar with, so great for a bit of networking. I’m going to need to start looking for a job once this tour is over! And, another VIP visit last month when Katherine Jenkins came out to sing to the troops.

A photogenic Katherine Jenkins puts a smile on troops faces

A photogenic Katherine Jenkins puts a smile on troops faces

An unforgettable trip to Kajaki

One memory that I will definitely be taking back with me from this tour is a recent trip to Kajaki, a tasking for the Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT). Not only is the place breathtaking, but we arrived in a V-22 Osprey. For those of you who haven’t heard of this aircraft, it’s a tilt-rotor aircraft that takes off and lands like a helicopter but once airborne its engines rotate to convert the aircraft into a turboprop plane capable of high-speed, high altitude flight. It looks just like an aircraft from the set of Avatar!

This wouldn’t look out of place in the Avatar movie

This wouldn’t look out of place in the Avatar movie

We took off in the pitch black early hours of the morning with the rear ramp open just like in a Chinook. A very strange feeling once the aircraft has taken off vertically like a helicopter only to then switch into plane mode and shoot up into the sky at an angle, with the rear ramp still open, and the gunner sitting very comfortably on the back. All I’ll say is just hold on to your bags!

Just another average view for this gunner on the back ramp of an Osprey

Just another average view for this gunner on the back ramp of an Osprey

The picturesque sights of Kajaki

The picturesque sights of Kajaki

The PRT has been responsible for a number of development projects in Helmand Province. Afghan contractors have carried out construction work on Route 611 which has been routinely monitored by a team of Royal Engineers from the PRT. We were out filming with the Engineers on the ground, which prompted interest from the local Helmandi population. We were greeted by loads of happy and curious children and adults eager to see what we were doing.

Three Mile Mountain towers over Kandahar Airfield as we carry out the filming

The CCT at work

The curious locals eager to see what we were doing

The curious locals eager to see what we were doing

Locals continue on with their daily chores as the engineers carry out their work

Locals continue on with their daily chores as the engineers carry out their work

An amazing few days in Kajaki. Just seeing how the work on this route has improved the lives of the locals is such a great feeling. The smiles on the kids’ faces say it all. This is one trip that will stay with me for a very long time.

Images were taken by Sgt Dan Bardsley and Sgt Paul Shaw

View Claire’s page

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

Getting into the swing of things pt2

Lt Claire Jackson, OC CCT Herrick 19

Lt Claire Jackson, OC CCT Herrick 19

Lieutenant Claire Jackson is team leader for the British Army’s combat camera team for Herrick 19. She works alongside Sgt Dan Bardsley (photographer) and Sgt Paul Shaw (video cameraman). They are based in Afghanistan and will be covering the work of the Armed forces, in particular 7th Armoured Brigade – the Desert Rats, throughout the winter.  They capture moving and still imagery from events out on the ground that national broadcasters don’t have access to.

From one dust storm to another

Back in Bastion, media edited and released for public consumption, it was time to set to work on clearing up a backlog of articles and stories, and set up the next jobs, one of them being a footage request from the BBC for a future TV programme. They required a shot of a Chinook carrying an under-slung load (a large net used to transport cargo). So having tracked down the relevant contact and found a day suitable for all parties, we headed down to the JAG (which is another MOD abbreviation and nothing to do with the car – Joint Aviation Group) to capture the required footage.

We were given an initial briefing, told where to stand and how close we could get to the helicopter as the load was being lifted.  Then it was time to head out to the HLS (helicopter landing site) to await it’s arrival, kitted out in full PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) which consists of body armour, helmet, gloves, ear protection (ballistic knickers and a nappy type contraption if you are going out on the ground).  The body armour alone weighs approx 35lb so for a petite lady like myself it has been a bit gruelling at times carrying all the kit and I’ve had to learn to man up!

The power and energy from this aircraft is immense!

The power and energy from this aircraft is immense!

Within minutes the beast was flying above our heads. The sheer noise and power from its rotor blades is immense. The main issue though is the amount of dust it kicks up and the sheer force it generates, it can literally blow you right over.  Paul and Dan got into action pretty quickly and captured the required footage and images from various angles. Job done!

A few days later we experienced our own natural dust storm which swept through Bastion at some speed creating devastation in camps where doors and windows had been left opened. Normally we are given prior warnings but on this occasion there was none and within minutes the sky had turned a dusty orange colour.  It was just like something out of the movies, with a dirty orange cloud of dust all around us.  The safety glasses came in very useful for once.  And I’m sure the layer of dust worked well as a substitute exfoliator in the absence of the usual beauty products!

A dust storm sweeps through Bastion

A dust storm sweeps through Bastion

The photographers are in their element amidst the storm

The photographers are in their element amidst the storm

Paul and Dan took this as a perfect opportunity to put their photographic skills to the test.

The taskings continue to flow in. They may not be as ‘war-focussed’ as the team would like but as the Afghan National Army (ANA) takes the lead in Helmand, British and ISAF troops are stepping back into a more of mentoring and training role which opens up opportunities of a different nature, and a variety of internal stories from the remaining patrol bases and within Bastion as troops draw back.

FOB Price at night

FOB Price at night

A soldier takes cover during RSOI training

A soldier takes cover during RSOI training

Animal withdrawal symptoms

Being out here away from all the usual creature comforts, as well as missing family and friends, I’ve been missing my pets and any sort of interaction with fluffy animals being very much a cat and dog lover.  The wildlife in Bastion consists of the odd fox or rodent, a breed of enormous ants that can be found swarming around the camp, and in the smaller patrol bases you get the occasional stray cat or dog.  My parents will be glad to know that I haven’t adopted any of the fluffy variety yet using my tour bonus to fly them back to the UK!

So when the lads stumbled across an injured bird (or deformed, not quite sure if it was born this way), my maternal instincts kicked in.  Unfortunately there wasn’t much to be done for this creature and rescuing the local wildlife doesn’t fit into our job spec.  The bird seemed happy enough though and has found a temporary home outside the Media compound. So my quest to rescue a stray animal continues….!

Not sure if he is injured or born this way?

Not sure if he is injured or born this way?

Have you ever seen ants this size before?

Have you ever seen ants this size before?

Images were taken by Sgt Dan Bardsley and Sgt Paul Shaw

View Claire’s page

Getting into the swing of things pt1

Lt Claire Jackson, OC CCT Herrick 19

Lt Claire Jackson, OC CCT Herrick 19

Lieutenant Claire Jackson is team leader for the British Army’s combat camera team for H19. She works alongside Sgt Dan Bardsley (photographer) and Sgt Paul Shaw (video cameraman). They are based in Afghanistan and will be covering the work of the Armed forces, in particular 7th Armoured Brigade – the Desert Rats, throughout the winter.  They capture moving and still imagery from events out on the ground that national broadcasters don’t have access to.

Just go with the flow

I’m currently sitting in Forward Operating Base (FOB) Lashkar Gah waiting for a flight back to Bastion. We came out here for a tasking near Kajaki but unfortunately it’s been put on hold for the day and we are required back at base for another job.  We’ve been out here two months now and have had a reasonably busy tour so far with lots of taskings and last-minute changes which send all plans into disarray.

Those of you who know me, know that I am ‘Little Miss Organised’ to the degree of putting Excel spreadsheets together for past holidays (something my boyfriend and family will agree proved very useful in terms of being able to fit in as much as possible into our trips!!) Therefore it’s been quite hard for me at times to adapt and just go with the flow when plans do get changed.  It’s doing me good though.

CCT at work filming 4 SCOTS during RSOI

CCT at work filming 4 SCOTS during RSOI

Paul makes the most of his artistic skills during some downtime

Paul makes the most of his artistic skills during some downtime

Living and learning Army jargon

Before I go any further I must apologise for the use of military acronyms or jargon throughout this blog.  When I first enlisted I was completely shell shocked by the amount of TLAs (they even have a name for them – Three Letter Abbreviations!!) the MOD uses in its everyday language and thought I would never understand what people were talking about.

I can just about get by on most days now without having to use Google or the Army Arrse (Army Rumour Service) website to find out what certain abbreviations mean.  My parents have insisted though that on my return to the UK, I’m only allowed to visit on the condition that I revert back to using the full English language and stop using military jargon!  But for the rest of this tour, I’m sorry but I can’t avoid the use of it.

A salute marks the start of the ceremony

A salute marks the start of the ceremony

Lots of firsts

Our first tasking was a low key government video project that was cancelled at the last minute. Feeling very sorry for ourselves and with all our kit packed and ready to go for the first trip out, we jumped for joy when we heard that we were being re-routed to Patrol Base (PB) Ouellette to cover the base handover to the Afghan National Civil Order Police (ANCOP). So having been in Theatre for only six days, suddenly we find ourselves outside the wire and at the flight line about to catch a Chinook out to Ouellette.

I don’t have the best of ‘sea/air’ legs so was slightly apprehensive as we boarded the aircraft and didn’t really know what to expect.  I just prayed I didn’t feel too sick as I didn’t want to look like a feeble woman out here on her first tasking with the team.  But I had nothing to fear, the flight was awesome with some amazing views looking out of the back ramp, and I felt great! The ramp stays slightly open for the gunner to provide protection if necessary. We have been using the Chinooks regularly to fly in and out of bases, so much so that to me it’s almost like hailing a cab now.  I feel right at home.

View of the back ramp of the Chinook and beyond

View of the back ramp of the Chinook and beyond

Our stay at Ouellette continued to be a string of new experiences for me – the first one being told what a ‘desert rose’ is…..and it’s not a flower.  Let’s just say this sort of rose was designed with male soldiers in mind. But with the invention of a female ‘She Wee’ (for those of you that don’t know what that is, it’s basically a funnel and a tube and I’ll leave the rest to your imagination) and me having been issued a nato green one prior to deploying (I had a test run in the shower before using it for real!), I could now also use the desert rose if I so wished.  But with the lack of a corrugated metal sheet which normally provides a small amount of privacy, I declined during daylight hours and opted for a wooden cubicle and a ‘john bag’ and then waited until darkness fell to put the plastic pipe to the test!

Making use of a ‘desert rose’

Making use of a ‘desert rose’

PB Ouellette was a fascinating experience seeing how the soldiers outside the wire live, and inside this particular patrol base, how they provide security over Route 611 – a route I became fairly familiar with that first night when asked if we would help out on stag duty by keeping watch on a sentry post (sangar) for any activity beyond the base.  The last time I did something similar was at Sandhurst during my Officer training when the only real threat was being attacked by the instructors.  And now it was for real!

Waiting for dinner to cook

Waiting for dinner to cook

Sangar duty at PB Ouellette

Sangar duty at PB Ouellette

View Claire’s page

New tour, new team

Lt Claire Jackson, OC CCT Herrick 19

Lt Claire Jackson, OC CCT Herrick 19

Lieutenant Claire Jackson is team leader for the British Army’s combat camera team for H19. She works alongside Sgt Dan Bardsley (photographer) and Sgt Paul Shaw (video cameraman). They are based in Afghanistan and will be covering the work of the Armed forces, in particular 7th Armoured Brigade – the Desert Rats, throughout the winter.  They capture moving and still imagery from events out on the ground that national broadcasters don’t have access to.

From a different viewpoint

Well, four weeks in and I finally feel like I’m getting the hang of things out here in the desert. I’ve taken over from Capt Mau Gris who was the team leader for the H18 combat camera team (CCT).  Mau had gathered a large fan base through his blog, and I’m hoping to continue the story, but this time telling the story through the eyes of a female, a relative newcomer to the Army, a first tour, and a Reservist.

The beginning

My journey started in May 2013 when I worked my last day in the office of my civilian job and the following day rocked up to the Reinforcements Training Mobilisation Centre (RTMC), Chilwell, to sign on the dotted line. What was I doing?  Second thoughts rushing through my mind.  Was I mad?  Did I realise what I was giving up – the warmth and cleanliness of an office in Warwickshire in exchange for a portacabin and tent in the middle of the desert?

Our workplace – the Media Operations portacabin

Our workplace – the Media Operations portacabin

Home sweet home – my tented bedroom

Home sweet home – my tented bedroom

I have worked as a TV Production Manager for a small independent company in Barford, Warwickshire, called X2 Productions Ltd for the last four years, having finished a short-term contract at the BBC in Birmingham.  It’s down to X2 that I joined the Territorial Army (TA / the Army Reserves as they are now called) because of the first TV series that I worked on where we sent a crew to Afghanistan and embedded them for six weeks with the Army.  There wasn’t a budget to send me along so I manned the phones from the UK and organised the trip for them, wishing I was out there with them.

My first real experience of Army life – passing out as a Private soldier

My first real experience of Army life – passing out as a Private soldier

From Private to Combat Camera Team Leader

I joined the TA in 2009, went through basic training as a private soldier, then went down the Officer path and commissioned in October 2011 into the RLC.  After a stint of troop commanding with 243 HQ Squadron, 159 Supply Regiment, Canley, I made the decision to transfer into the Media Operations Group (MOG), mainly because of work commitments and not being able to dedicate enough time to my supply troop.

A year and a half on and a commissioned officer – Sandhurst Commissioning Parade

A year and a half on and a commissioned officer – Sandhurst Commissioning Parade

The MOG is a national unit for personnel with specialist media skills and has a lower level of commitment which suited me.  Having passed the selection day with the group, I soon discovered the role of the CCT having listened to a presentation from a team who had just returned from a six-month tour.  It had me hooked and I immediately decided that was going to be my goal. And here I am now a year-and-a-half later, sitting in Helmand Province leading a combat camera team.

The team

Sgt Shaw and Sgt Bardsley hard at work

Sgt Shaw and Sgt Bardsley hard at work

The team consists of Sgt Paul Shaw and Sgt Dan Bardsley. Both originally trained as photographers with Paul branching off into the role of Electronic News Gatherer (ENG) / video operator for this tour, whilst Dan is responsible for taking the photos.  My job is to pull the team together, organise and set up the jobs, direct and produce, and write up the stories.  I ensure that all jobs are completed and pushed out to various media outlets where possible.

All three of us play very different roles within the team.  Myself and Paul work closely together as I have to act as his force protection when out on the ground when he’s got his head behind the camera (it’s a good job I had that bit of extra training before I deployed).  Whereas Dan works a bit more independently and can be tasked on jobs by himself if needs be.

I met Paul and Dan for the first time in July when we did a two week CCT course. We’re going to be spending the next six months together working and living in a very close-knit environment, and one that is very different from my life back in the UK.  No make-up, no jewellery, no civilian clothes, a military green wardrobe and a whole new world in the desert.

There’s no going back now……

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