Archive | September 2013

Falkland Islands Defence Force new recruits start training

On our second day in the Falklands we jumped straight in and did what I was hoping to do at some point – film the military. Fellow colleague Caroline decided that it could be a great documentary project to follow the new Falkland Island Defence Force (FIDF) recruits through their 12 week training program, so we set off with them on their journey with our cameras close by.

Falkland Islands Defence Force new recruits in their first week of training

Falkland Islands Defence Force new recruits in their first week of training

Journalists tend to work out of hours a lot of the time because you have to go where the story is and that can be anywhere at any time. So on our second evening here, after a gorgeous meal from the Malvina House Hotel (the nicest restaurant in town) we made our way to the FIDF hall where we caught up with two new recruits Jacob and Marcus.

Recruit Marcus Morrison spoke to us for the first time as one of our main characters for our documentary

Recruit Marcus Morrison spoke to us for the first time as one of our main characters for our documentary

Upon arrival it was hard to know how these recruits would react to the cameras but they went about their training whilst we eagerly filmed them rifle training and warming up. Having never filmed the military before, I was pleasantly surprised at how friendly they were afterwards when we interviewed Jacob and Marcus. Marcus being a Falkland Islander with family here and more senior recruit, with Jacob being a younger contractor over from the UK. We chose these two contrasting recruits to be the main characters of our documentary, who we would later follow through the training process. We left with plenty of shots for our stock footage – to save up for our edit at a later date and were told about the FIDF recruits first exercise the next weekend.IMG_0236 First recruit training weekend I really didn’t want to get up this morning. But in the spirit of FIDF we trekked out to Mount William in the early hours of Saturday morning and headed up the cold mountain with the  troops. Josh and I had drawn straws with Caroline, who ended up in the beautiful Sea Lion Island lodge, filming all kinds of wildlife, whilst Josh and I roughed it in the wild. But what an experience. We had been briefed by Colour Sergeant Trev Law, who had told us that the highlight of this first training weekend with the new recruits was to conduct a surprise attack on the group in the middle of the night. Slightly concerned, we cautiously continued to film the new recruits learn about camouflage and field exercises.

FIDF new recruits out on their first exercise in the field atop of Mt. William

FIDF new recruits out on their first exercise in the field atop of Mt. William

As the sun set we were tasked to put up our tent in the dark, to which we set about enthusiastically. Quickly, Colour Sergeant Law realised we had missed out on training of our own and decided to do us the honour. A few minutes later and we were cosying up in our nice North Face tent and toasty FIDF sleeping bags. Under the stars, alongside the military, I fell into a deep sleep, until I was woken up by the sound of gunfire.

Under the stars, alongside the military, I fell into a deep sleep, until I was woken up by the sound of gunfire.

https://youtu.be/eSWRv-hYFjM

Suddenly, Josh and I realised this was the chance we had been waiting for – to get out there and film the men in action. Using all blank rounds, to our relief – we stepped into the line of fire into what was effectively no mans land with our camera to catch the fire fight on tape. Both sides were doing surprisingly well in the dark as the new recruits defended their side of the mountain, the older FIDF members played the enemy, who were carefully closing in on their position. IMG_0616 Soon one of the men approached us and “updated” us on their situation. Two of the enemy had been captured and one was shot dead but the allies were regaining ground and taking back the mountain. Although a simulated exercise, I couldn’t help think how real this all felt and how similar things might have been just thirty years ago out here on Mt. William during the Falklands conflict. I suddenly had a new appreciation for the conditions those men had to fight through – the bitter cold and wind relentlessly wearing down morale. IMG_0646 But here we were, and morale was high as the new recruits acted out their first proper exercise in the field.  After more machine gun fire and as the last flares were set off to light up the night sky, we realised that we weren’t going to get much more on camera in the pitch black of midnight, so with one last breathtaking gaze at the stars, the gunfire died down and we headed back to our tent. IMG_0656 The next morning, we caught up with Marcus and Jacob who had endured a sleepless night and were looking a little worse for wear, but didn’t want to show it. Marcus talked us through their tactics in response to the surprise attack and we bagged our last interview of the day as a tired and weary Joshua Saunders attempted a final piece to camera to sum up our piece. During a rather proud stroll down the mountain, we reflected on our first FIDF experience filming out in the field. It was, to say the least, quite thrilling. Check out our piece online that went out on Falklands In Focus

Jet escorts, bitter winds and puffing pig dolphins

After only a week and five days of being on these islands they call British overseas territory, it really does feel like a home from home. The Falkland islands are still hotly contested isles in a historical foreign affairs dispute that goes back decades and culminated in the 1982 Falklands war between Britain and Argentina, but I couldn’t have felt more welcomed by the islanders here that have an identity all of their own.

Mid way to the Falklands, we had to make an all-important stop on Ascension Island for re-fueling, which was a bizarre experience. We stepped off the plane after an 8-hour flight full of inflight meals and movies to an almost deserted island in the middle of the South Atlantic Ocean. It felt like some kind of scene out of Lost as we were herded like sheep in to what can only be described as a sort of outdoor cage just off of the runway. We proceeded to make the most of duty free as the warm humid air blew in just south of the equator.

Back on towards the Falklands and my excitement started to swell. It all seemed very surreal at this point but my nerves had vanished and all I had left was a curious eagerness inside me, the kind you get when you anticipate your arrival into a foreign lands.

Our air bridge into the Falklands from RAF Brize Norton took a whopping 17 hours but was worth the journey as we were escorted in by the MOD’s typhoon jets to landing. I have to say it was an impressive welcome and only got friendlier as the days went on.

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An MOD jet escorts our flight into the Falklands

We met our neighbours and housemate Rosie pretty much straight away who explained the local culture and customs to us, of which were all too familiar to our British traditions. We were later taken to our house which will be our home here on the islands for the next nine months.

On the drive, the rugged countryside reminded me of the description from journalist Max Hastings book, Battle for the Falklands. I am slowly making my through it but as I gazed out the window to the baron rolling hills of dried sandy grass and jagged grey rocks, showered with sheep, I tried to imagine what life was like over 30 years ago. The wind was tempestuous and it had an Antarctic bite to it that made me realise just how cold it must have been for the soldiers of the 1982 war. They say some died of frostbite and hyperthermia. I took a moment to think about those lost.

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Josh and I at one of the memorial sites next to Surf Bay

 

Modern, spacious and warm were my first impressions of our cosy house as we opened the front door- warm respite from the bitter cold winds outside. I wondered if the weather would get any better during our stay and was reassured that we’d arrived just as the Falklands is blooming into Spring and Summer. I now had a base. Clean sheets, soft towels, a comfy bed and a cup of tea inside me- I now felt at home.

Once unpacked our fellow housemate and colleague Caroline who’s already been here for two months, decided after lunch it was time to take us to the beach. A counterintuitive move I thought as it began to rain outside and I slowly got the impression the attitude was – if you can’t escape the weather here then why not embrace it. Everyone has a pair of walking boots and everyone is ‘outdoorsy’. Surf Bay is closest and most popular stretch of sand here. I was stunned by the white glow off of the beach when we arrived. Had it not been sunny I could have mistaken it for snow. A local islander and tour guide, Stacey McKay, later told me that the sand here in the Falklands is one of the whitest in the world. As we stood staring out into the Ocean we joked about wanting to see penguins, native to the Falklands. I stood taking pictures to send back home, documenting my surroundings when I suddenly saw something flutter in the waves.

Puffing pig or Commerson dolphins in the waves at Surf Bay

Puffing pig or Commerson dolphins in the waves at Surf Bay

At first glance I thought it to be seabirds and then noticed whatever it was was surfing the waves- and retracted the thought of sea birds. I pointed and yelled “Look, there’s something in the waves”. I could make out it was small, barrel shaped and black and white. I thought we’d hit the jackpot and seen penguins on our first day here and both Josh and Caroline suddenly started focusing on the rolling barrels to get a glimpse. There they were again but this time I zoomed in and could tell they had fins and tails. “They’re dolphins not penguins”, I exclaimed and they were indeed surfing the waves in closer and closer to shore. Whether they could see us I don’t know, but they were very friendly. Later on that night at the local watering hole, The Vic, a local surfer, Jay Moffett, told me that “the black and white ones are Commerson dolphins, otherwise known as puffing pigs”, I laughed and thought that was very cute as he continued to tell me that they were a very curious species and would often surf alongside him when he was in the water, in which I replied that he was mad for going in at this time of year.

It doesn’t take me long to adapt and two days in, after a little orientation of the islands I felt like I knew my way around and that small town girl in me was fitting in very well. It was now time to start work…