Browsing Facebook recently I came across a photo book offer for photographers from SAAL Digital. I applied and they sent me a code for the value of £40, thank you I thought and set to work.
Now, I had an idea in mind to create a photo book of some of my favourite photos from Afghanistan. I did two stints in all, once on the British Combat Camera Team in 2009 and once as the Photographer for Task Force Helmand in 2012.
I built my book with the downloaded interface, which was super intuitive, and was completed in about 90 minutes.
I uploaded on a Saturday night (rock and roll, I know…) and I received my photo book on the Thursday following. Fast? I think so.
What I have received I am pleased with; I went for a matt finish over gloss, as that is generally my printing preference. The pages feel quite luxurious and it handles like a thick, high quality magazine inside. The cover is padded which I feel adds to the overall look and presentation of the book.
It’s a nice addition to my display arsenal, I wont always be in the army so Ill be sure to take this to any job interviews. Also, it’s a lovely one off custom coffee-table book that Id be happy to display if I had my own studio.
In summary, it’s a cracking service overall from SAAL Digital, I am very happy with this product.
The British base at Lashkar Gah has been handed over to Afghan control. I spent a good deal of time at the base myself during my two tours of Afghanistan. Although I think the British Public do not realise that Lashkar Gah is a large City. Its name translated means ‘Soldier’s Place’ and it dates back to the time of Alexander the Great.
It has a hustle and bustle with thousands coming and going. Glimpses of modern technology mix with the traditions of old. It is a beautiful place and is target rich for any budding street photographer.
It is certainly a place that I would one day like to go back to as a civilian.
Most Army Photographers will at some point get tasked with Aerial Photography. Its usually getting shots of a site or Barracks but it may even be a group shot from the air.
The mode of transport may differ too whether it is a Chinook, Lynx or Sea king. Each have their own niche way of shooting. For example, on the Chinook you will either be shooting from the ramp or from the seats, depending on the Loadmaster.
I enjoy Aerial Work, its quite the buzz and usually the person who requests the images will be very happy with the results as they don’t normally get to see that kind of imagery delivered quickly and to a high standard.
The image of the Exercise set up was Exercise ARRCADE FUSION 2013 which took place at RAF St Mawgan near Cornwall. The shot has been published and printed at 43 inches on the shortest edge. It looks great! Customer happy, job done.
My first job with Headquarters Allied Rapid Reaction Corps was one of learning. We were following in the footsteps of the 9th Panzer Division as they pushed towards France at the start of World War 2.
We were visiting a bunker on the Maginot Line, the images above are the photos that I took whilst in the bunker. The place had a quiet cold feel to it. It felt like a Tomb as it turned out to be for its unfortunate French Soldiers, RIP.
Upon returning from Afghanistan I was literally straight into Parade Season with Homecomings, Medals and Freedom Parades I knew I was going to be busy. Some may see them as dull, most of the Army Photographers have done more than their share, even before becoming an Army Photographer.
That said I quite enjoy them, especially Town Parades, as you never quite know what you are going to have on the day. Will it rain? Will the turnout be good? Who knows, it’s just a matter of getting some good solid shots that the Unit can have for their own purposes. Usually, the local Press Photographers are out in force so there isn’t much pressure to get my images out, but I still always make a point of sending them.
I quite like to get the crowd going by encouraging them to applaud and cheer for the lads and lasses marching by. It sometimes brings some funny looks as I found out in London. I also look for popular landmarks that the locals will know and try to include them somewhere in the images.
For me the season was a good one, with the most memorable parade being Widness with The 1st Battalion The Mercian Regiment. It was like the whole town had come out to watch! Schools were lining the routes with banners and drawings showing support for their local Battalion. It really was quite heart warming to see.
Sometimes I liken the town parade to a fitness test we soldiers call ‘the two miler’. Although superseded by newer test the old two miler involved a two mile best effort run carrying 15kg including rifle and helmet. Keeping ahead of the marching group with camera bag can sometimes be quite the effort as I found out in Leeds covering 3 Rifles who march at an increased pace. It was still fun though although I was blowing in the end.
In summary, I like parades as its a chance to get out and about and is usually a good day away from the office. Sometimes you even get the quirky shot.
I write this post as I fly by RAF Voyager A330, speeding towards British Airspace with an excitement I haven’t felt in a while. I long to see my family and to enjoy home comforts such as television and sitting on the couch.
The months ahead will be busy, but I will enjoy them nonetheless. It will be a chance to see faces from the tour of those people I spent time with in their FOBs and PBs as I took their photos and tried to capture the history of the men and women of The Black Rats.
I look forward to seeing the Units parade in their home towns as they are waved and cheered by their family, friends and well-wishers. The soldiers marching with their heads held high.
A new horizon approaches which I have visited before. Sometimes change, even back to that you know can be a good thing. I have big plans for the rest of the year and I hope you will continue to join me in my travels.
Soldiers of Ulster
This summer over twenty men of Ulster met at the Regional Training Centre (RTC) in Ballykinler. The RTC would be their home for the next three weeks whilst while they undergo Basic Territorial Army Training. TA training usually takes place over ten weekends but once a year the RTC sets up EXERCISE SHAMROCK CHALLENGE.
The men themselves came from all over the province and were aged between 17 and 43. Not all of them would complete the training but one thing was certain, they were all there to give it to give it their best shot.
The trainees were fortunate though as the Veterans who came to train them were seasoned men of the 1st and 2nd Battalion the Royal Irish Regiment (R IRISH) some of them fresh from Afghanistan and also an Regular Instructor from the Army Training Regiment Pirbright (ATR(P)).
The soldiers were aiming for the final goal of receiving their Caubeens marking them as Soldiers of 2 R IRISH before flying over to England to complete their Phase 2 training at the Infantry Training Centre in Catterick, North Yorkshire.
During the training the Recruits were trained in a number of topics such as Basic Weapons, Field craft, First Aid, Map Reading and were also tested for their Fitness and Stamina. The exercise also introduced the Recruits to soldiering outdoors on the expansive training area at Ballykinler with a number of overnight excursions to further practice the lessons being taught.
A large majority of those in training have a wish to deploy on operations in Afghanistan upon completion of their training. Many of them were there for various financial reasons such as being made redundant or self-employment was not bringing in enough money so the TA is a good option to top up wages.
Recruit Jonny Wright, 22 from Portadown said of the experience “Shamrock Challenge for me was fantastic, it was the best experience I’ve ever had. It’s a fantastic way to spend a summer time. The friend’s that I have made have been loyal to me and they helped me out during the tasks that we had through our course.”
Recruit Dylan North who at 43 is the oldest of the group. He has transferred from 253 (Irish) Medical Regiment based in Belfast after stating “I’m looking for a challenge like this and want to do it before I get too old”.
Following on from the Royal Irish recruits were those potential soldiers destined for other T.A units with Northern Ireland. Many of which have provided large numbers of soldiers bound for Operational hotspots such as Afghanistan. A full training team from ATR(P) came over to Ballykinler for the five week duration to turn the civilians into part time soldiers.
The group had a different demographic to their Infantry counterparts with an age range from 17 to 45 with a small number of females looking to make their mark.
One of the few females taking part was Recruit Toni Reid, 19 from Antrim. Toni has dreams of one day being an Officer in the Army. “I came on Shamrock Challenge for the experience into army life as I eventually want to become an officer in the full time army. The exercise has been challenging, you know, lack of sleep and getting up, having to do everything in the dark and organising yourself. Also ‘buddying’ up with another person as well and trying to help them out and working together it’s been a struggle, but enjoyable at the end. Especially the girls, because yo we were sharing a room together and doing everything together.”
The course was very much centred on Afghan based operations and even included Bayonet training which the females took part in. Toni said afterwards “I did enjoy the bayonet training, just trying to get it into more of a realistic setting, getting the aggression going. It was really good.”
Their final Passing Off Parade was a proud, joyous moment with families and friends coming to watch the parade held in Ballykinler, in shadow of the Mournes. For the parade both courses came together to become soldiers together.
One of the youngest there was Recruit Stefan Mullen, 17 from Glengormley. “The reason I came to do Shamrock Challenge was for the experience. I wasn’t getting enough in mechanics, I’m studying mechanics in Tech but I’m not in a Mechanics Garage and I want a bit more experience so I joined 591 (TA) Royal Engineers in Bangor.
It has certainly been challenging but interesting and the friends I’ve made, most of them, they’re all good lads and I’ll keep in touch with a good lot of them. I’d recommend it to anyone.”
For most of these men and women especially the younger ones, it was certainly a life changing experience, with many of them wishing to deploy in the next few years, they will certainly add their weight to the numbers of Ulster TA soldiers standing up to do their bit year after year alongside their full time counterparts.
I was there to capture their moments of pain, laughter and comradeship as they underwent one of the toughest tests of their lives.