Professional Wedding, Portrait and Event Photography

Total Pageviews

Friday, 17 February 2012

Operation Horhari Afghan

Over the last couple of weeks the CCT have been over run with job requests. So much so, that the team had to split down in order to cover two concurrent operations.

Sgt Mark Nesbit deployed with Maj Mark Scadden on Operation Kapcha Zhrandagaray (KZ), leaving me to cover Operation Horhari Afghan. Surprisingly, Op KZ didn't require any video footage, so Mark Nesbit was let loose with his stills camera. Something he got a little excited about to say the least!

With me originally packed for Op KZ, the last minute call for Op Horhari Afghan coverage didn't cause a problem. With the weather here still hitting the minus degrees at night, this Op, in the middle of nowhere was no doubt going to be a cold one.

This particular Op was arranged by Brigadier General Sheren Shah, Commander of 3/215 Brigade, Afghan National Army, with the Brigade Advisory Group (BAG), made up of 2nd Battalion The Rifles, on hand.

The main aim was to clear insurgents from an area close to a bustling town in Helmand province. 

Around 1,000 soldiers and police from the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) were to clear an area known as the Bowri Dashte, situated to the west of the bustling town of Gereshk in Nahr-e Saraj district. On top of this, were about 250 British soldiers from the BAG, along with small elements of other units who acted, purely, in an advisory role as the operation progressed.

Early morning start

The first day of the Op was an early one. After waking up at 0400hrs, I did some final admin, before hitting the road, in a Jackal! The temperature must have still been below zero, and their I was, in an open top vehicle!

The ANA prepare their vehicles

So, we left Patrol Base (PB) Hayatullah, heading to the nearby Afghan Check Point (CP), Spin Majed. The journey was fairly short, however, I was pretty numb by the time I arrived, and still had a full day ahead of me.

An Afghan Warrior

Once we arrived, the small CP was almost full. Soldiers from various Tolays (Companys) were getting their kit ready to deploy out on the ground. For the Afghans, this was a crucial operation. Nahr-e Saraj is the last district within Helmand that is still secured predominantly by ISAF troops, unlike Nad-e Ali and Lashkar Gah, which have recently handed over security to the Afghan forces.

Weapons at the ready

With the hustle and bustle of radios being checked, weapons loaded and vehicles mounted, I was quick to work. Despite not having an interpreter, and knowing only 'Hello' and 'How are you?' in Pashtu, my universal sign language came into play. Simple points at the camera, and a clicking gesture gets the point across. Occasionally having to pose the weapons where I wanted them, and turning the subject to the right angle is all part of the fun too. Once you take the first shot and show them the picture, they get the idea, and shout all their mates to line up for a picture too! You are never short of Afghan portraits out here, they love it, some even pull some amazing poses.

Sunrise at last

After an hour or two, the sun started to rise, and what an a amazing sky we had. I just had to get some silhouettes. Within what seemed like minutes, the stunning orange glow of the sky went, turning a nice pale blue. By this point, half of the Tolays had lined the route ready to proceed across the desert.

Patrolling commences out of the CP

Following on behind, as mentoring was the role of the BAG during this Op, we only managed to race ahead once or twice on the road to get a few shots. The whole Operation was planned and executed by Brigadier General Sheren Shah and his operations officer. Something that has only happened a few times recently with the greater push towards transition.

Desert bound

The operation was split into sections, covering various bits each day. The part in which I was tasked to cover was the initial start, and the clearance of the first 5 kilometres or so. Following men on foot, by vehicle, was a long process. We managed to stop several times, often in good locations for photos. 

Overwatch by CP Seraj Ulhaq

Towards the end of day one, we headed to a nearby CP, Seraj Ulhaq, to watch the ANA cover the ground to our front. The overwatch was provided by soldiers from 1st Battalion The Yorkshire Regiment. With the sun starting to set, I had to grab one last silhouette before heading back to Hayatullah for the night.

We covered a little more of the Op on day two before heading back to the office to edit, and push the story out to press. With only one day before my next trip to Gereshk, I had a very quick turnaround of kit, washing and the usual admin tasks to do. 

All in all this was quite a good operation to view. The Afghans are becoming more and more competent by the day, with the incentive of taking over security for this last district of Helmand in sight. 

My next blog post will cover our trip to Loy Mandeh Kalay, and hopefully a few other good jobs which I can't tell you about just yet. I will have to leave you in suspense for now.

Friday, 3 February 2012

First drink on leave - Peppermint Tea!!

Well, what an outstanding RnR that was!

I managed to get home a day early, which was a great bonus to start my leave off. My leave was to be a fun packed one, which started off the day after I landed. My wife had previously booked a 5* Spa Day, at the Hilton in Heathrow, as a treat for her and a close friend, and as I got back early I tagged along. What a day! It was probably the most relaxing day I have had in a long time. Such a nice change from the dust, cold and rain of Afghan. I soon forgot about it all while I enjoyed the hydrotherapy pool, sauna, steam room and a water massage bed! Pure bliss! Sadly they didn't have beer at the health spa, so peppermint tea was all I got! ha

The next day was Christmas Day! Yep, on January 17th we had Christmas in our house! Seemed so weird, but so nice that my wife had organised this for me. Wine, Turkey, presents, more wine and maybe a bit more wine. The weirdest thing about it all was using real cutlery, plates and glasses as opposed to paper and plastic in Afghan. Really freaked me out! Stainless steel cutlery seems so heavy after 4 months using plastic.

 Christmas day was followed by a packing/admin day. I was off on a surprise overseas trip. Mrs B had arranged a nice relaxing break in the sun for the two of us, but where were we going? Everyone knew apart from me! 

After a night in a Gatwick hotel we were Benidorm bound. Brilliant, some sunshine at last. We had a fantastic four day trip there, which was just what the doctor ordered. We were met at the airport by my parents, who are currently on a nine week holiday there. The joys of being retired eh? Then it was sun sun sun. Oh.........and lots of beer too!!

No sooner had we got back from Benidorm, we were packing another bag for an overnight stay in East Sussex, where I would be collecting my Son for a long weekend. My little boy, who isn't really that little anymore, was ecstatic to see me. Along with my wife, we had a 'sleepover' with him, I got to see him open his christmas presents from me, and see the look on his face when I gave him a dead Afghan Scorpion paper weight!! Hilarious!

Well the travelling continued............

After driving home from collecting my son, I unpacked and repacked! For about the 4th time. This time we were Newcastle bound for my Step-Daughter's wedding. The drive up was a slightly emotional six hour journey. Most of the family and friends had arrived by the time we got their, so we all went off to dinner together to catch up before the 'Big Day.'

It was great to see everyone, and everything for the wedding seemed to be going to plan. Being the step-father of the bride, and also a photographer, I spent the day capturing images of the happy occasion for them as a bit of a gift. No pressure then! Gladly, they both love the pictures.

The day started off with a bit of a hitch, luckily it was the only one all day. That was when the fire alarm at the hotel went off, just as my step-daughter had got out of the shower, prior to getting her hair and make-up done! Needless to say we were all in hysterics seeing her outside, with a towel wrapped around her body, one on her head, and a fag in her mouth, in -2 degrees! Brilliant!

The rest of the day was fantastic, cracking service and an amazing reception. I don't think my son left the dancefloor all night, after declaring that "the sitting down bit was boring dad!"

Then that was it, RnR was almost done. An eight hour trip back home, dropping my son on the way, then uniform ironed and prep for the flight back the next day!

Phew, busy two weeks, but loved every minute! Got to see my amazing wife, kids, dogs and close friends and family. 

As expected, it's been hectic since we arrived back in theatre, but unfortunately I can't share anything about that with you at this point.

I will leave you with some images of a heavy weapons range day that I shot prior to leave.

Until next time..............