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Monday, 12 December 2011

Operation Come Dine With Me

Over the past week, the Combat Camera Team have been out on a job with a difference. 

We were recently approached by Warrant Officer Class 2 (WO2) Simon Macey, the Forward Operating Base Catering Warrant Officer (FOBCWO), from the Bastion Kitchen regarding a front line feeding story.

WO2 Macey is responsible for the feeding of all troops in forward locations from Bastion. This comprises of nearly 6,000 troops. It is his job to ensure enough ration packs are sent to even the remotest of locations within Helmand. 

As I am sure you can appreciate, transporting fresh food to these remote Checkpoints (CP's) can be quite tricky, therefore, most of the lads don't receive a vast amount of fresh, but appreciate the little things they do manage to get.

So, with a plan in mind, WO2 Macey and WO2 Medlock proposed a plan, fully endorsed by the Brigade Commander, Brigadier Patrick Sanders, that they would fly to as many CP's as possible within their six month tour to cook fresh food for the blokes, and intend to spend at least 24hrs in each location. 

The main aim for the Operation was to boost moral, but to also provide some hands on training to those in the CP's responsible for cooking. A booklet written by WO2 Macey would also be handed out with basic kitchen hygiene rules in, and some menu options using the 10 man ration pack, just to vary there diets with the food they had. 

WO2 Macey prepares the food

With everything in place, we headed to the kitchen to watch WO2 Macey prepare his food boxes before the off. The preparation that goes into a five day Op, feeding blokes at three different CP's was immense, but needless to say, carried out with true Military precision. WO2 Macey flew about the store with his boxes, filling them to the brim, this was all before any fresh was included.

That night we met at the flight line, with our kit, which weighed a fair bit as it was, only to meet WO2 Macey with his 750kg of freight!! Luckily there were only seven of us on the Merlin flight, but with all this freight it was still packed, and boy did it take some loading! There were about six large boxes, a field cookset and a portable refrigeration unit full of fresh chicken and fillet steaks, then all of our personal kit and cameras.

After an arduous 20 minutes of packing the aircraft, we were off, heading for Patrol Base (PB) 5 in the Nad-e-Ali South region. We were to spend a night there before our road moves to the CP's, where he will be feeding personnel from 2nd Battalion The Rifles.

Final preparations on the cookset

The next morning we had time after breakfast for some final prep, and loading of stores before we headed out to CP Sarhad. The cooker also got tested and run up before that got delivered to CP Seka prior to our arrival the next day.

Lunch is served

On arrival at CP Sarhad, it was time to get straight to work. WO2 Macey quickly blitzed the kitchen area, with our help, before starting lunch. Anyone would have thought all these blokes christmas' had come at once, they were ecstatic. They had been on ration packs for three months, and rarely got any fresh. This was a real treat for them.

In the party mood

Having got all excited over the amount of fresh food they were about to consume, they decided to treat it like christmas day, and get dressed up. God knows where they got some of there outfits from, but this was the most viewer friendly image I have to show you. The rest of the outfits showed quite a bit of flesh, need I say more!!!???

No rest for the wicked

No sooner was lunch over, and the lads got cracking with the pan bashing (Military term for cleaning the pots), WO2 Macey was preparing a chicken curry and fillet steak for the evening meal. The last meal to be cooked at Sarhad would be breakfast. The lads were out of an Op that morning, so breakfast was a very early start prior to them all heading out. I think heading out on an Op after bacon baps, porridge and  danish pastries was a good start to the day for them!

Back on the road

After breakfast, the Mastiff's arrived and we were off again. By this point, we finally had the feeling back in our feet after a freezing night sleeping on the floor in their compound.

Next stop, CP Seka.

WO2 Macey gets to work on the new cookset

The cookset had arrived safely at CP Seka the day before, although everyone was scared to touch it until we arrived incase they broke it, knowing they would get three freshly cooked meals from it!  

About an hour or so before lunch, one of the patrols arrived back at the CP. They had just got in from an Op, one that they had got contacted on, resulting in one of the lads being shot in the leg. Those of you that know what Squaddies are like, will know we have weird senses of humour. Needless to say, once they found out he had only got shot in the leg, the jokes started. Most of them evolving around the fact that he had only been in Afghan for 10 days, and gets to go home already! So, in a weird way, moral was already high, but would get higher when lunch arrived!

Spicy chicken pittas for lunch

Yet again, the blokes were amazed with this experience! The thought of fresh food, cooked by a professional chef was the talk of the CP. Not one bloke went passed the kitchen without making comment about how 'amazing' it was, and how they were 'proper chuffed.' For us, this was a great story to cover, with such a positive reason for doing it. Plus, we knew we'd get fed well for the five days we were out! ha

Flambeed fillet steak for dinner

Again, WO2 Macey set straight to work on the evening meal as soon as lunch was finished. I'll give him credit where credit's due, he worked bloody hard, as do all chef's.

Dinner is served

As with the last CP, Seka had 3 fresh meals cooked for them before we left for CP Chabaak. On arrival at Chabaak, we were pleasantly surprised by its size in comparison to Seka and Sarhad. Chabaak is the only out of the three that has been almost 100% purpose built. The others are old Afghan compounds that are rented by ISAF, and probably older than all the blokes in it put together.

Lunch in CP Chabaak

Chabaak was quite a chilled day for the CCT. We had all the footage we needed in both stills and video from the last two CP's, so we spent most of the day helping in the kitchen. 

More fillet steak

Loads of the blokes had heard about the visit, but didn't quite know what to expect. When they saw they would have fillet steak, spicy savoury rice, spicy potato wedges, carrots, homemade garlic and chilli bread, chocolate cake and homemade raspberry cheesecake for there evening meal, reality soon sunk in. They were ecstatic. It was the talk of the CP for the whole time we were there. They couldn't thank WO2 Macey enough.

Fill your plates lads

Smiles all round

As it was the last CP to be covered, and the Brigade Commander had given the Op such a well known title, we thought it only right to get some scoring done, in true 'Come Dine With Me' fashion. What a laugh. The lads sat and gave a proper critique on camera, obviously lots of humour was involved, but it worked well. It was really good to see them happy, although their moral seemed high anyway, this Op just boosted it off the radar!

Lieutenant Jack Hartley gives top scores

With WO2 Macey's work done, it was back to PB5 for our flight home. The trip had gone extremely well, despite me putting my back out on day one, but things soon changed. CP Sarhad, our first location, came under fire about 10 minutes before our flight was due. The next thing you know, there are two apache attack helicopters orbiting the area, the mortar lines at PB5 and the surrounding PB's were loaded and ready. The whole time this is going on our chinook and merlin that would take us back to Bastion, were sent away, temporarily. There was talk that once the heavy gunfire stopped, and we were able to land the helicopter to collect us, we would move over to the area to give fire support from the air. Quite an exciting thing to photograph, however, due to the delay of the aircraft, it was now dark, so pictures would be practically impossible. Luckily, after 20 minutes, the gunfire stopped, the mortars were disarmed, everyone was safe and we could fly back.

All in all a cracking job. The Chef's here do an amazing job, often for no gratitude at all. To travel down to the remotest CP's in Helmand, and cook three fresh meals is something everyone appreciated during the trip, and that was great to see!

WO2 Macey and WO2 Medlock are currently planning there Christmas dinner delivery Op next, which if it all goes to plan, every soldier within a CP in Helmand will get a freshly cooked christmas dinner, on christmas day. Quite a task, but with helicopters and armoured vehicles in the planning process, they hope to achieve their aim.


  1. Absolutely amazing images Mark! Considering that they were taken in a war zone! Apart from those images of soldiers on duty, focusing on the task at hand, they all look so cheerful; their sense of humour just shines through each image! I applaud you as you have managed to capture the very essence of war in a non-invasive/explicit way, that for all those concerned loved ones at home, is very 'easy on the eye'. I love how you exaggerate the the smallest of detail for effect and what a wonderful end result that is! The lads look so comfortable and relaxed having their photos taken by you. This is a testament to you as a person, a soldier and a photographer! I would imagine it is not always easy to take photos at times, particularly when the soldiers are tired, cold and miserable; missing their loved ones back home! We can all smile for a camera, when in reality, we just want to curl up and cry! But these images do not portray this at all! It is heart warming to see that their laughter and smiles are genuine! They are fully at ease with you behind the camera and these everything looks so natural and spontaneous! It is like we are there with them! I'm a very proud Army mum, altho I would be lying if I said this came 'naturally' to me! It is probably one of the hardest things I have ever had to do in my life, let go of my apron strings, that is! My son chose this career and I am backing him all the way! His Dad and I would be proud of him whatever he chose to do with his life, as we are with our other 'kids', but the fact that he is fighting for this country and enduring prolonged freezing conditions, on top of every other challenge he has to face out there, fills me with a profound sense of pride! Because I 'know' how he will 'hate' those freezing temperatures and I 'know' how fatigued he will be! Tho, he would never admit it anyone! He 'is' a Rifleman, afterall! 'Swift & Bold' and all that! I am just a typical mum and no matter what age my kids are, they will always be my babies! His being out there and my not being able to contact him by phone or internet has been the most painfully frustrating part of all, but to have been blessed with images of him while he is out there, after all these months, is the most precious gift anyone has ever given to me! A most heartfelt 'Thank You' to you, Steve, from a very proud and honoured Riflemum x

  2. amazing comments, thankyou so much! It is my job to capture the realities of being here, no matter how good or bad. Interacting with the lads is a key part of my job, and as a people person, this is very key for me.

    Thankyou again


  3. Deborah Mincher (Riflemum Clark)16 December 2011 at 00:02

    Steve, this is a fab blog and amazing photos a real insight. Looks like you made many a Rifleman happy and gave them a much deserved break from the realities of life in a CP. Thanks so much to you and the chefs for making the 'come dine with me' happen and letting the loved ones back home share this.

  4. Thanks for your kind words Deborah. The lads certainly enjoyed our brief visit to them.

    All the best


  5. Blown away by these photos. They are amazing. Would have loved to see my son somewhere amongst them, but they've put a smile on my face anyway. It's great to think that there are people out there trying to help add some normality to their lives, and that there is someone to record for us in such a wonderful way. These pictures make them feel that little bit closer... Thanks