Tag Archives: British Army

3 PARA – ‘Airborne in Africa’ is finally on your screens!

Well it’s finally gone to air, our documentary following the men of A Company, 3rd Battalion The Parachute Regiment in Kenya is now being shown on Forces TV. You can watch the channel of Sky 299, Virgin 244 and Freesat 652. If you missed any of the four episodes then go to the Forces TV website to catch up with them online.

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3 PARA – Airborne in Africa

3 PARA web

At the end of October 2013 myself and my colleague Charlotte Cross flew to Kenya to join 3rd Battalion, The Parachute Regiment as they began one of the British Army’s toughest exercises. Over the next 6 weeks we would live amongst the Paras of A Company, filming every aspect of there lives.

Our home!

Our mission was to produce a 4 part documentary for BFBS on what it takes to be a Para, hopefully revealing what its like to be a soldier in one of the Army’s most elite units.

Interview using Canon 60DFilming on Sony HDR-AX2000’s and CANON DSLR we filmed the soldiers as they trained and bonded as a unit. I’d arrived with a preconception that majority of the lads would be hardened veterans of Afghanistan, but that simply wasn’t the case. Over half of A Company were more or less straight out of basic training. This was a new generation of Paras, a generation who it likely will never travel to Helmand. We watched them develop from fresh faced, recently qualified recruits into established members of a Battalion.

During our time in Kenya, we would from time to time (when a break in the training allowed) send back news reports for Forces News on the progress. Focussing on the main events of the exercise, these reports can be seen below.

This was the first time that either of us had filmed a documentary, and the learning curve was immense (something we’re only truly starting to grasp now we’re in the edit). Returning in early December we set about logging almost forty hours of rushes in preparation for entering the edit suite at the start of 2014.

Progress at the moment is slow but steady, we’ve almost finished three episodes (rough cut) and we think it seems to make sense. As of yet we’re not sure when the series will go to air but it looks like it will tie in with the launch of BFBS’s new channel which is scheduled to be launched around Easter.

The evolution of armoured vehicles in Afghanistan

Armoured vehicles can be the difference between life or death for service personnel on the roads in Afghanistan. Acting Corporal Martin Wotjak died in Afghanistan in 2009 after the Vector he was travelling in hit an IED.  An inquest into his death was critical of the vehicle and it has been claimed that if he had been in a more heavily protected vehicle he may have survived the blast. Since then, vehicles used by our troops have developed. I looked at what has changed in Helmand since 2009 and spoke to one soldier who had recently tested his vehicle to the very limit.

US Marines expand the security bubble around Musa Qala

The US Marine Corps in Afghanistan is pushing out the security bubble around Musa Qala, as it prepares to hand over to the Afghan National Army.

Has Wikileaks caused Red Faces in Whitehall?

The latest US Diplomatic cables to be released by whistle blowing website Wikileaks centre around criticism of UK forces deployed in Helmand Province.  The comments were made by both US and Afghan officials over the period 2007-2009.  They criticise the ability of UK forces to cope with the security within the district of Sangin, and their approach to anti-narctotics operations.

In mid 2007, General Dan McNeil Commander of NATO forces, criticised the British Forces failure to deal decisively with the drugs trade in Helmand.  He claimed that the British had made of a mess of things and that our tactics were wrong.

Then in January 2009.  Gulab Mangal, the Governor of Helmand province told the American Vice President, Joe Biden that American Forces were urgently needed as the British security in Sangin was inadequate.

“I do not have anything against them (the British) but they must leave their bases and engage with the people.” Gov Mangal

These new revelations are clearly a dent in the ego of the Ministry of Defence, but on reflection, are the really saying anything we didn’t already know?

At the beginning of 2007 the number of British Forces deployed on OP HERRICK consisted of around 6,500 troops.  Whose area of operations was the size of Wales and with a population similar to that of Liverpool and Birmingham combined (around 1.4 Million).  Over the next four years this increased to closer to 10,000.  Still not a particularly large force, not when you consider that this figure includes a large number of supporting troops that will not leave the main base, Camp Bastion.

Around the Forward Operating Bases such as FOB Jackson on the edge of Sangin, the local population tend to live in a maze of small streets and small settlements.  Soldiers regularly leave these bases to conduct security patrols, counter IED (Improvised Explosive Devices) operations and to re-assure the local community.  But we cannot have a soldier standing on each street corner for 24hours of the day.  When we return to the FOB we essentially lose direct control of the all of the ground except for that we dominate i.e. have eyes on.

More troops and more patrols gives us a greater chance of securing an area, but ultimately we can only achieve our goal through gaining the trust of the local community and this takes time.  Governor Mangal is quite right to request for more troops, if I was the Governor of Helmand then I too would want as many troops as possible in order to achieve stability.  Although the American Forces have now taken over Sangin District the British Forces did make huge progress despite Governor Mangal’s words and despite large British casualties.  When I was first in Afghanistan in 2007 driving though Sangin was like driving through a ghost town.  But when I returned to Helmand in 2009 it was clear to see that the town had made great progress and once again it had vibrant market and community.  Far from job done, but progress none the less.

As for comments concerning our counter-narcotics operations, the British have never focussed as heavily on this area as the Americans have.  Although whilst on our operations the British Forces will confiscate and destroy drugs that are found in large enough quantities.  We have never claimed to have the same approach as the US and as organisations such as the Poppy Eradication Force.

The one thing that all of the compromising cables have in common is that they are all conversational comments made in diplomatic circles, that were never intended to reach their subjects ears.  I’m in no doubt that the majority of international diplomats and politicians have at some point bent the truth or exposed another nations weaknesses, just to ensure their own countries best interests are maintained.  As for the men and women in Whitehall, I would hope that none of them would be naive enough to not realise this.  But what  I think it does bring home is that whilst I’m in no doubt that we have a fantastic and extremely capable Armed Forces.  We have once again been shown that we are not the force that we once were, and that we must not bite off more than we can chew in an attempt to prove otherwise.

How common is bullying in the British Armed Forces?

The BBC tonight will broadcast a new controversial drama highlighting bullying amongst British Troops in Afghanistan.  The drama stars Mackenzie Crook as a Lance Corporal who bullies the men under his command.

Senior Officers in the British Army have criticized the BBC, claiming that the drama is ‘deeply offensive’ and ‘distasteful’ to serving soldiers.

Whilst the BBC has been quick to defend the new fictional drama, an Army spokesman said “There are fears that those watching it will believe this is what happened to their loved ones.  We asked the BBC to make clear that this is a fictitious programme, it is not accurate and that the Army has nothing to do with making it.”

But how far from the truth is it?  Have you ever been bullied whilst serving in the Armed Forces?  Please complete the anonymous poll below, and if you watch the programme tonight please let me know what you thought.

‘Accused’ is shown on Monday 22nd November 9pm BBC One.

Wooly hats for the heroes who are spending this Christmas in Afghanistan



A woman from Penarth is fighting the latest defence cuts by knitting for our troops on the frontline.

The temperatures in southern Afghanistan during the summer months may regularly reach 50 Degrees.  But the men and women of 16 Air Assault Brigade who are currently on OP HERRICK 13 are experiencing the other extreme of the country’s weather.  To help keep our troops warm this winter Tina Selby and her army of knitters will be making wooly hats for our soldiers depolyed in Afghanistan.  

Tina got the idea after seeing similar schemes in the United States.  She always knew that she wanted to do her bit for the deployed soldiers and has in the past sent welfare parcels.  But when she stumbled on the idea of making wooly hats for them, she realised that this was a way of adding her own personal touch.

spoke to Tina and asked her how her campaign was evolving? She told me that she had recuited a small number of fellow knitters from her line dancing class but that she was looking for more willing volunteers.  She has also recieved gifts of money and wool after people saw the article in the local Penarth Times but she still keen for any more donations.

Anyone who thinks they can help Tina with her knitting campaign should get in touch via the email address below:

tinas.selby@ntlworld.com

She’s also looking for orders from Soldiers who are currently deployed.  So if you have a Son or Daughter whose away this Christmas, email Tina with their Operational Address and their favourite colour and she’ll see what she can do.

Strategic Defence and Security Review 2010

Mr Cameron today set out his Governments plans for the future of UK Defence policy.  It has been twelve years since our Government has addressed the issue of Defence in such a dramatic manner.  Since the last review we have been involved in conflicts in Kosovo, Sierra Leone, Iraq and Afghanistan.   Not to mention the enduring issues of Northern Ireland and the continued presence of our forces in Cyprus and Germany.  In my opinion this review is more than a little over due.

Throughout the build up to the announcements made this afternoon we have been subjected to rumours concerning troop cuts and the slashing of budgets.  Commentators have been quick to pass this review off as a cost cutting exercise rather than a strategic exercise and to a certain extent I agree with them.  But a review was needed, and in these times of financial troubles decisions must be made!

I’m not going to go into detail of what the Prime Minister announced today as it will be all over the press by now anyway, but I would like to pick out a few choice phrases.

“The MOD must become Smaller, Smarter and more responsible in its spending.” The way we currently procure our equipment has to change.  How can an organisation such as the MOD get itself into such a muddle again and again when it comes to procuring new kit for our Armed Forces?  When I joined the Army in 1999 as a naive 18 year old, I was already aware of the farce that had been the procurement of the BOWMAN communications system and we were all fully aware that we had a rifle that didn’t work properly.  These issues have now been resolved, but what is it about the MOD that makes contractors rub their hands together with glee? 

The Prime Minister also announced today the importance of maintaining our Special Forces and keeping them at the leading edge of the world’s elite force, and I couldn’t agree more.  But what we must remember is that Special Forces soldiers don’t walk straight into a recruiting office with a copy of Bravo Two Zero under one arm and ask to join the SAS.  They have to cut their teeth in the regular Army first.  So in order to maintain a globally respected Special Forces capability we must support our regular green troops as well.

Today’s announcements will I am sure will be remembered as cost cutting announcements, but a review was needed and a review we got.  I only hope that this time we actually improve on the efficiency of the MOD and especially its procurement cycle.  Many of the promises made today concerning a more efficient organisation sounded very familiar to the ones made in 1998.

One last point if I may, Politicians.  Please don’t feel you need to start every sentence concerning defence with the phrase; “I would like to at this point say how deeply I respect the men and women of our armed forces etc…” It sounds patronising, false and it’s clearly said just to put a tick in a box, please stop it.

Please feel free to browse the documents in question and give me your feedback.

1998 Strategic Defence Review

2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review