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on 24 April 2014
Combat Camera provides an insight into an aspect of the Afghan conflict which is seldom explored. The author is in a unique position in which to shed light on both the harsh realities of the situation, as well as the high expectations of the British media.

Although the subject matter is gritty (and sometimes bleak), Christian's narrative draws you into his world with frequent musings and a brutally honest tone. You almost get the impression that this is the start of a seismic shift in the way the war will be remembered.

I would recommend the book even for those usually put off by the war correspondence genre. The blackly comic approach to much of the content is enough to justify giving it a look.
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on 11 February 2015
I was in Umm Qasar in 2003. Everything was set because we were going to be at the centre of the World's stage. The PM was visiting and we were told to make sure that nothing could go wrong. The PM arrived. He spoke from his heart for almost twenty minutes. The world's media was there and were lapping up his every word then something happened and they ran off mid speech to file their stories. A simple slip of the tongue gave the world's press the next day's headline and a t-shirt industry was created for busty girls. The PM made an unintended slip of the tongue and referenced the Iraqi "weapons of mass distraction". It was all going so well. I now had to make the phone call back to base to let them know how it went in time to update the slide for the Command brief. The person went quiet at the other end of the phone whilst the implications sank in. Christian Hill's observations, made whilst he served several years later in Afghanistan, directing a combat camera team as part of a wider media ops position, brought back many memories for me. He recalls his time through personal observations about his efforts to do a good job, in difficult circumstances, at the beck and call of two bosses, with two opposing agendas, deciding what should and should not get reported to the world's media and make its way back to the domestic audience. Combat Camera breaks down into definitive sections as Christian recalls how he prepared himself to go off to war and said good bye to his Mother. Once in the field, every day was a comedy of errors and the only thing that kept him sane, working in the Bastion's "Office", was the banter, the gallows humour and meeting the people around him that also wanted to do the right thing despite the very real personal risks. Hill documents a point in history and shows us what happens when a group of conflicting people are thrown into a disconnected world and somehow manage to make it work with a smile and deliver against all odds. Many return home, say hi to their Mother tending her roses quietly pretending that she did not worry and little more is heard or said again. HIll's book shares an insight into his life over there with the reader and allows them to relate to his world, through theirs and the similarity in the office politics. The similarities end there. His commute is more dangerous then going downtown and Christian clearly has more laughs. Well worth a read. Richard Scarth co-creator - Stanistan.
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on 22 April 2014
This book is a thoroughly enjoyable read, written from Captain Hill's perspective as journalist, and soldier, it paints a gritty and stoic picture of life in and out of the numerous bases dotted around Afghanistan.

It brings into sharp focus the long standing conflict between truth and propaganda in the war reports that we see. From a soldier's perspective Captain Hill writes authentically, with humour and respectfully about the soldiers fighting the real war in Afghanistan, and with slightly less respect about the legions of behind the wire administrators and middle management trying to get a feel for the "real Afghanistan". From a journalists perspective, the battle to find news stories that are authentic, yet toe the Army's line is intriguing, and is the secondary conflict running through the book.

The story aside, I like the style - Captain Hill maintains a dark, humorous tone throughout the book that allows you to put the reality of the war into context, without becoming numbed by the constant stream of casualties. I finished the book wanting to read more about the war, and with a much better appreciation of the reality behind the footage.
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on 29 April 2014
What do you do when you are seventeen years old, leaving school with no idea what you want to do with your life? Like me Christian joined the Army, he as an Officer, me as a Sapper. After serving four years with the Royal Horse Artillery he left to do more with his life, becoming a show business journalist, BBC Radio news reader. He then decided to rejoin as a reservist in the Media Operating Group, ending up in Afghanistan as a Combat Camera Team Leader.

Yes, he bumped into Ross Kemp, whose favourite helicopter is a Chinook, which, with the amount of kit and baggage he had with him was just as well. Christian’s team consists of Ali the photographer and Russ the camera man. From the off Christian makes it quite clear that he is in no hurry to go outside the wire to report on bombs and bullets which might be hurled at him personally. Like most wars he doesn’t have to, for most of his time is spent in hours and hours of tedious boredom in the body and soul draining heat. One his of early highlights was to visit a passing out parade of ANA troops which was disrupted not by the Taliban but by a sheep escaping onto the parade ground; the sheep obviously understood that he was the day’s celebratory meal!
We do also get to go on Patrol with his team, but more interestingly we get lots of reports on the statistics of the war, unlike Vietnam it’s not body counts that are reported but ” incidents”. For example; 114 insurgents killed in the last week, 224 detained and we’re showing a 50% drop of incidents year on year. Helpfully there are a few pages listing these incidents and it reminded me of the War Diary’s from the first and Second world wars , “ all quiet today … six men lost to bombs , two to snipers Sgt Major Smith died from wounds received yesterday ” you know the sort of thing. All in scorching hot and dusty detail, no gung-ho stories but saying it like it is.

Christian Hill has done a fantastic job here, reporting the everyday lives of our service people behind and outside the wire. We don’t have a warrey novel but very good detailed, humorous when appropriate, reportage. This book is going to be a slow burner I believe it will come to the fore around the 50th. and 100th. Anniversary of the Afghanistan war, when it will be referred to like the classic it is constantly, when people need to know what is war really like? What were the people like? One of the MOG team kept telling people who phoned for information “We are trying to fight a war here ” she never once left camp Bastion or her computer during the whole tour, or the Helicopter pilot who stated as a matter of fact “We used to kill around forty or fifty insurgents a week but its gone down now” Was that a sign that we were winning? Time will tell on that one.

Christian Hill will get restless again I am sure and will be off to another conflict to report back to the great British public , but in the meantime I leave you with his last reminisces from a year after he came back to the UK. Talking to Ali the subject of the big man came up “Ross Kemp came back and the Taliban finally shot at him” “thank God for that that ” “an RPG as well , so he was very happy.”

Its a deeper book and story than appears at first, one to keep on the bookshelf for further reference I am so pleased that it was my luck to review it. It will be a favourite with the troops on the Army Rumour Service ([...] ) site as well 4.5 stars

sirbhp
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on 18 June 2015
I was gripped by this book. I started reading at 10am and finished it at 6pm. I cannot remember to last time I read a book in one go. I could not put it down. It is not so much the subject that I found gripping, although that is dramatic enough, but the easy and compelling style that carried me along the narrative, that was actually covering a very difficult subject. It is essentially a diary, but the way it is written hides the restrictions of this structure and creates a coherent work. The text flows in a way that suggests the author has poetic talent. The humour is wistful and respectful. But what I liked most was the raw personal honesty that gave a real sense of what it must have been like be there. I almost felt sometimes he would like to break free from this but couldn't, so it always felt real. It is this quality that makes it special.
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on 4 June 2015
A thoroughly enjoyable read. I bought this for my sister in law and ended up reading it myself! Treat yourself, you will not be disappointed.
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on 28 April 2014
Recommended to me by a friend this would not normally be my usual genre. Having said this, Captain Hill's account of his 4 month stint leading a Combat Camera Team from the Media Operations Group during the summer of 2011 in Afghanistan proved to be an addictive read.

Detailed with making things "look better" to the British media Captain Hill writes of the conflict experienced given his exposure to high numbers of injured soldiers, where amputations were so common in Helmand... "They were simply a part of the Afghan landscape, undeserving of a headline." Handled with sensitivity these observations and experiences make for eye opening reading.

The self-deprecating humour adds a touch of charm and honesty to a serious subject matter, one feature which opens this book up to an audience larger than just those readers interested in military history and modern warfare. Approached sensitively, with integrity and wit Christian Hill has produced a thoroughly enjoyable and thought provoking memoir of his experiences in Afghanistan, a recommended read.
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on 17 June 2014
A great many books have been written about the 13-year coalition war on terror in Afghanistan. A large majority of these stories were written by American servicemen. It's refreshing to read an account by a British ex-serviceman who found himself in theatre as a reservist. The author writes with incredible openness about his Afghanistan summer in 2011.

Nothing is held back when the author talks about his and others experiences. For instance, the devastating effects caused by an IED (Improvised Explosive Device) are discussed and the adrenaline rush of intense small arms firefights are also described in the field reports. Several times when reading this book I felt my heart rate quicken as I followed, with great interest, the narrative which described contact with enemy.

This book has a fantastic appendix, 10 pages of which are dedicated to field reports and significant acts which took place over 2 specific days on the Afghan front line. Also included in the appendixes are tables of Afghan, UK military and civilian casualties from 2001 to 2013. This is a great book and well worth a read.
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on 5 September 2014
I don't normally read this genre but it was recommended by a friend due to it's topical nature. I loved the style of writing - Captain Hill is honest, humble and gentle. He is clearly a very caring person. I particularly enjoyed the contrast between life in Afghanistan and life back home, although I found the volume of casualties described later on in the book very upsetting.
I hope he writes more soon.
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on 27 June 2014
Most narratives of the war in Afghanistan come from either servicemen or journalists. This engaging account from Christian Hill is a combination of both. Following a stint as officer in the Royal Artillery, Hill pursued a civilian media career that included working as a BBC radio journalist, while at the same time rejoining the Army as a reservist in the Media Operations Group. In 2011 he was sent to Afghanistan as part of a Combat Camera Team, in charge of a stills photographer and cameraman.

Their brief was to provide both the Army and British media with engaging stories from Afghanistan, with the emphasis very much on the Allies ‘successful’ hand-over to local Afghan forces. Stories that did not support the official line were unacceptable, leaving the journalist in Hill with something of a dilemma: ‘The issue of selective reporting was a moral quagmire, of course, requiring its own coping strategy. I told myself that as long as I was on the military’s payroll I would do the military’s bidding. Balance and impartiality – those cornerstones of BBC journalism – were not part of my current remit. When I was no longer in uniform – ie when I was back to being a journalist again – then maybe I would rethink my actions.’

Hill’s tour in Afghanistan provides many illuminating incidents, not least the endemic corruption in the Afghan Army. On one occasion he is sent to interview officers at the Afghan Staff College, but just as he is about to begin the first interview, access is denied by the commander of the College. On asking why, Hill and his Foreign Office liaison are told that he wants a colour printer. ‘Does he need a colour printer?’ asks Hill. ‘No, not really,’ replies the FO man. ‘But I’ll have to get him one anyway.’ With the printer delivered, the interviews go ahead.

Hill is good on the usual idiocies of Army life and its interface with the wider media. A recurring problem is dealing with British journalists, among them Ross Kemp, the former Eastenders star turned gung-ho war reporter. In something a of a running gag within the book, Kemp is depicted looking for lots of ‘bang-bang’ footage but is frustrated at the lack of appropriate action. Eventually he is able to return to the UK a happy man after he is fired on by the Taliban, an RPG round whizzing over his head.

Whether Hill succeeded in his mission-impossible of presenting the Afghan government and army in a suitably positive light must be doubtful but he has succeeded in providing readers with a well-written, informative and droll memoir of his service in Afghanistan.

WarBooksReview.com
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