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Monday, 31 October 2011

The Nad-e-Ali Bazaar

The last week for the Combat Camera Team has been extremely eventful. 

We paid our final respects to Rifleman Vijay Rai of 2nd Battalion The Royal Gurkha Rifles 2(RGR), who made his final journey home last Thursday morning. 

The whole of Camp Bastion, came to a stand still as the bugler played the last post and the artillery gun fired, signifying the start of the minutes silence. The padre, and members of 2RGR, then read eulogies prior to the sun setting. After this sombre occasion, it was down to the Gurkhas to give him their own private send off, as they carried his union jack draped coffin onto a C-17 during the early hours, where he would be flown back to the UK, to be reunited with his family at the Repatriation Ceremony in Brize Norton.

 On a lighter note, our photojournalist embed Martin Middlebrook arrived from Kabul, full of beans and ready to get working. At this point, several jobs were looming in the diary, but in Afghanistan, things can change very quickly, as they soon did.

We got Martin settled before taking him on a days mandatory training. This is where he gets taught the basics of first aid, the application of morphine, and general DO's and DON'T's on patrolling etc. This training ended by going into the Mastiff simulator, which turns you upside down, and you have to escape, in the dark. Funny to watch I can tell you!

We were then all set for a trip out with the Estonian Army in a Patrol Base close to Bastion. Flights were booked and things were going to plan for us to leave that night, but then the phone rang! All change! We were then given 10 minutes notice to check in at the Helicopter Landing Site (HLS), where we would be travelling by Chinook to Forward Operating Base (FOB) Shawqat. From there we were to take a road move to Patrol Base (PB) Kalang in the Nad-e-Ali South district.


Weapons out of the armoury, collect technical kit out of office, grab our bags........

Helmets - check
Weapons - check
Ear Defence - check
Ballistic Glasses - check
Ballistic Pants on - check
Knee Pads - check
Gloves - check
Burgen - check
Washkit - check
Cameras - check

Finally made it to the HLS 20 minutes before our flight, not bad going if I do say myself! Then we were loaded and off. 

The ride out was awesome! FOB Shawqat is not far from Bastion, and we flew nice and low, but very fast the whole way, weaving in and out of contours in the ground for the duration. Buzzing!

As we leave the aircraft, others are ready to board

We arrived in Shawqat, and with a few hours to spare, so it was picture time. As we only had a short while in Shawqat, I quickly ran around camp just shooting a bit of FOB life while I could. 

The first thing we did on arrival, unload our weapons

The local barber shop

As the sun set and we were awaiting transport to Kalang, things changed again. The transport could only take two of us, so Martin & I had a night in Shawqat, not knowing at this point if we would ever get to Kalang. Luckily the Regimental Sergeant Major (RSM) for the Blackwatch took pity on us and rallied the Ridgebacks for us first thing the next day, making sure we got to our patrol on time.

On arriving at Kalang, we met with Mark and the OC, who had a bit of a saga with a bat in his tent the night before! He was a little miffed at getting bit by the bat too! Not a good start to his day! ha

Within minutes of arriving we were ready, weapons loaded, and out of the front gate we went. The patrol was heading for the bazaar, which was only 100 metres from the gate to Kalang. The area was quiet, but soon got busier when we arrived. Everyone wanted to say hello to us, give us the thumbs up, or in the case of the kids, they just wanted sweets and chocolate!

 A local shopkeeper talks to the patrol

After talking to all the shopkeepers and locals at the bazaar, the patrol was ready to move on. The route back was like a maze. We went through several residential areas (compounds), across fields, jumped over ditches, waved to the farmers and shook hands with everyone we came across. Seemed slightly surreal, that in Afghan, normality does occur.

Locals shake hands with the lads

Always time for a few close ups

Another open field to cross

A little girl laughs at us as we approach the well

After we got back from the patrol it was brunch time! What a nice treat that was. So after some serious re-hydration, we got some well deserved scoff (food).

The temperature was hot that day, and we had been out on the ground for nearly 3 hours. We were sweaty to say the least. But the food made us soon forget about our sore shoulders and aching feet.

As we were only on a flying visit, we had one more thing to attend before our road move out, and subsequent flight back to Bastion.

The Officer Commanding (OC) of A Company, 3 Scots, was attending a briefing with an Afghan National Army (ANA) Commander, discussing their next joint patrol. So off we went, into the ANA compound.

The compound was basic, but the men were happy. They had Chai (tea), and fresh naan bread on the stove, and soon took us in to the brief. 

The room was very dark, and was in actual fact, the commanders accommodation. It was hard work, but some nice images were had, using the one small light fixed to the roof. It must have only had a 10 watt bulb in it, which pushed my cameras limits a bit.

An ANA Sergeant sits in on the brief

So, briefing done, it was time for the off. Mastiffs loaded and onboard we went. After a short trip we were back at Shawqat awaiting our flight back to Bastion. 

Martin enjoy his road move 

The Merlins arrived in the pitch black, with flares going up to mark the HLS. After a quick rush, we loaded, the lights went off, and we were away. We had a nice ride back, despite the pilots nose dive as we approached Bastion. I am sure there is a smoother way to reduce your altitude!

So back in camp now, but not for long. We have had a frantic day editing and sending our material out, before packing for our next job. 

Never a dull moment here in Media Operations!

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Combat Camera Team - Afghanistan

As most of you that read my blog know, I am currently serving a six month tour of Afghanistan, as the photographer within the Combat Camera Team.

The team comprises of three people. I am the photographer, along with Mark Nesbit who is the video cameraman, and the other Mark who is our team leader.

Both Mark N and I are professional Army Photographers, that through the powers of deduction, got chosen to be on Op Herrick 15. After several weeks of training, and lots of new kit being issued, we were ready for the off! The journey here was an epic one, which had us delayed at almost every point of the journey, thankyou RAF! ha

Having already been to Afghan 3 times in the last 18months, I thought I would be sorted. I know the layout of camp so i could show the others, who have not been here before, where everything is . How wrong was I!! This place has changed massively since my last trip. By this place I mean Camp Bastion. Everything has extended, offices moved and even new roads created. This was apparent even in the dark, from the bus window, as we start our journey from aircraft to terminal.

We are based out of Camp Bastion for the entire six months, however, we wont be seeing much of it. We just live and work here when not out on the ground.

This is my accommodation. Basic, but cosy. I quite like it. Could be a lot worse!

Within our first few days, we had been given a handover from the previous team, before embarking on our mandatory 'arrival' training package, which spans over a five day period for us.

The Media Operations Centre that we work from is somewhat of a Travelodge. We have journalists passing through constantly all year round, as well as the odd celebrity. Just after we arrived, Ross Kemp came out to do some filming for a new documentary on the frontline of Afghanistan. Not a bad bloke, and he has done some pretty amazing stuff out here.

Ross Kemp and I outside the office - by Mark Nesbit

Afghan, for a photographer, is like a giant playground. Obviously there are some pretty scary places out here, and not everyone you meet is a genuinely nice person, but the imagery you can get here, you can't get anywhere else in the world.

Throughout our first six weeks here, we have covered a wide variety of stories. We have had some good jobs, some bad. We have had the odd row, and even an occasional tantrum! But thats what we do.

I honestly think, I have one of the best jobs in the Army. I can generate my own work, and even take loads of portraits in my own time, something I like doing. This also helps to keep the 'groundhog day' effect at bay.

This place can get boring sometimes. I only have to walk five metres from my bunk, to my desk, and sometimes, despite living in such a large camp, you just feel the need to escape!

Photography for me is not just a job, it's a hobby and a passion. I carry my camera almost everywhere and wait for something to happen in front of me, hoping to get a great shot. Others happen on my doorstep, as the office has inherited a ginger Afghan cat. Luckily for us, the team that originally adopted this stray, had it fully vaccinated, so Shawqat is now a member of the team. She is great for catching rats, and this morning even brought us a half eaten bird. A bit like my cats at home!

Shawqat asleep on the sofa. Such a hard life eh?

Another 'adopted' cat. This one lives at the dog section believe it or not. 

So anyway, enough rambling, back to the team. 

As I said, we are a team of three. We have all come from various backgrounds, but work out here for the same goal. While Mark and I are gathering our material, we have our team leader, Mark, beavering away booking our next flights, organising our next jobs, but also providing us with protection when we are tunnelled into the viewfinder. Basically, Mark gets run ragged doing all our admin while we are editing and doing other tasks.

Both Mark N and I, trained for eight months at the Defence School of Photography, to become professional photographers. Between us, we have seen and done some pretty amazing stuff. We have seen our photographs published in both regional and national press. We have worked with Royalty and Celebrities alike. Damn our job is good!!

So the Combat Camera Team. What do we do?

Well, we are here to provide a media effect. We produce high quality imagery and video for the regional and national press, as well as provide written words and audio. Any form of media, be it paper print or social sites like facebook, we have stuff on it. We are here to not only record the progression in Afghanistan, but to also get still and moving imagery that due to security and safety reasons, cannot be gained by civilian journalists themselves. Did I mention that we have an amazing job!!??

Mark & Mark doing a bit of patrol training

The three amigos! I won't tell you our 'Team Name' haha

A portrait of me - by Mark Nesbit

Another of me - by Mark Nesbit

So what lies ahead for the CCT? Sadly I cant say too much.

We are getting very busy indeed. We have more work requests than we have time in which to do them. 

I am excited about a little upcoming project that will start this week. A photojournalist mate of mine, Martin Middlebrook, who wrote an article about me last year for Turning Pro Magazine, is coming to work with us for a while. Martin is currently up in Kabul where he himself is working for six months. No doubt this won't be the last time we see each other! We have lots planned, which will be good for him to experience prior to writing his article. The piece will be about us as a team. What we do, how we do it etc! You get the idea! It should be a great few weeks ahead.

Anyway, I think that's enough babbling from me for now!

Until next time


Monday, 10 October 2011


Here is a small selection of images that I have taken over my last month in Afghanistan.

I hope you like them