Having now officially and finally “retired” from Her Majestys Royal Air Force it’s time for me to start working towards my future – running my photography and cinematography business.
To that end, rather than change the focus of this blog completely, I think I’ll leave it as it is, a record of the last year of my RAF career, and I’ve started a new Blog “Heidi Burton Photography” which will be more business focussed, although there will be a little bit of general life along the way :-)
Please feel free to have a look at the new blog, and also please have a look at heidiburton.com for more of my images (and the opportunity to purchase prints if you want my work on your walls!)
So, here I am, 11th December 2012, my last day in Her Majesty’s Royal Air Force, my last day as an RAF Photog. From tomorrow, (on a date I’ll never forget what with it being 12/12/12) I start my new life as a proper strawberry mivvy (civvy), and I leave my military career behind. It’s a sad day, exciting I know, but also sad.
The people are the thing that I will miss the most There is a camaraderie within the Armed Forces that I don’t think many people outside are fortunate to experience, and the friendships you make in the military last a lifetime – my best mate lives 300 miles away and we don’t see each other for months on end, but she’s been my best friend for more than 10 years and when we do get together, it’s like we’ve never been apart.
Over the past 15 ½ years I’ve shared some fantastic times with the people that I’ve worked and lived with (and some not so fantastic times). Chilling out in Barbados, waiting for 2 RAF Regiment Officers to finish their cross Atlantic rowing endeavour. Having a chat and a laugh in helmet and body armour at 3 am waiting for the all clear at our base in Lashkar Gah, Helmand, Afghanistan. Wind-up snail races after Christmas lunch in Afghanistan. Cross-country ski-ing in Bavaria, followed by swimming in the local outdoor (heated!) pool in the snow. Social evenings in Timmys Bar in the Falkland Islands – and doing the Timmy Dance to the tune of “We’ve got to get out of this Place” when one of the people on the Flight went home.
I’ve also been so fortunate to have had some fantastic photographic opportunities too: photographing Henry Allingham returning to France for the first time since he left at the end of the First World War. Photographing Mike Tindall with the Webb Ellis Cup after we won the Rugby World Cup. Photographing Royalty. Air to air shots in a Hawk, and in a Hercules C130 of a Tristar refueller. Standing on the tailgate of a Hercules on a regular basis, filming paras in training jumping out the back. Filming and photographing the RAF Football team tours in South Africa.
I’ve been so proud to have been a Royal Air Force Photographer too – a trade that is a breed apart from many of the others (it might have a lot to do with all the photographic chemicals we used to use!) A lot of people in the military don’t quite understand us, or the benefit that having professionally trained photographers and videographers serving in the military can bring. I started this blog to try and raise the profile and understanding of the trade, and I hope I’ve helped in a little way. I now intend to pass the baton of blogging about it to one of the guys still serving, more details when the new one is up and running.
RAF Photographers are special (I know I’m biased, but they are!) from an early (RAF career) age they are expected to think on their feet and work alone – as soon as they are able to walk (like a photog) they are sent out on photographic tasks on their own around the unit and beyond, having to make decisions on how to go about completing the job, without their line management breathing down their necks (mostly!). This generally seems to make for very independent, friendly and creative people, who can cope with pretty much anything the world throws at them – so long as they get the freedom to take the mickey out of each other on a regular basis, and eat biscuits at 10 am and 3 pm, whilst playing cards or Uckers!
I truly have some fantastic memories, and some fantastic life skills that I have gained from my time in – confidence in myself, an ability talk to pretty much anyone, to be able to use three letter abbreviations with ease and of course the most valuable skills that anyone in the military learns – the Art of Banter. Life without banter would be so boring, and the British Armed Forces do it so damn well. I’m so, so proud to have been a member of the best Armed forces in the world, and so proud that I had my chance to do my bit for this country that I love, I will always be grateful to the Royal Air Force for giving me that chance and allowing me to have so much fun along the way.
Sergeant Heidi the Photog signing off…… xx
Every year the Royal Air Force holds a Photographic Competition, with categories for both RAF professional photographers, and also amateurs from within the RAF and Cadet groups. As with every other year, the competition is fierce between competitors, producing some fantastic imagery.
The prize giving was held last week at the RAF Club in London, with the Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Dalton presenting the awards to the recipients.
The Royal Air Force has celebrated the production of some of its finest imagery for the annual photographic competition, culminating in an awards ceremony at the historic Royal Air Force Club in London on Tuesday 16 October.
‘Afghan Air Wing Open Day’ by Corporal Mike Jones, winner of ‘RAF Photographer of the Year': an Afghan elder at an Afghan Air Force open day at Kandahar Airfield
[Picture: Corporal Mike Jones, Crown Copyright/MOD 2012]
The competition has run for 23 years and still serves to recognise the skills and highly technical competence of Royal Air Force photographers, both Service and civilian.
Competition categories ranged from operational profiles and current military equipment to sporting activities. From the impressive entry of over 800 images, winners were selected in 12 different categories.
See a selection of winning images in the picture gallery at Related News.
Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Dalton, presented the winners with their awards and prizes during the celebration at the RAF Club.
“The competition entries this year are once again of the highest quality and showcase not only the professional abilities of our Royal Air Force photographers but also the tremendous diversity and agility of our people and equipment.
“These dynamic images reflect the extensive breadth of Service life, the critical contribution that our personnel are making to global operations, and the unique year of celebrations for Her Majesty The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee as well as the 2012 London Olympic and Paralympic Games.”
Three independent judges, Len Dance, Alex Mead and Geoff Mayor, with in excess of 100 years’ pictorial experience between them, wrestled to agree on the winning images in the 12 categories in this year’s photographic competition.
‘London Hurricane’, part of Her Majesty The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee flypast over London, was submitted as part of RAF Coningsby’s ‘Section Portfolio’ which achieved 3rd place overall
[Picture: Senior Aircraftman Daniel Herrick, Crown Copyright/MOD 2012]
Len Dance said:
“I have worked with imagery my entire career, and I was honoured to be invited to judge this year’s competition. The quality and technical skills demonstrated through these entries is absolutely fantastic.”
The 2012 RAF Photographer of the Year is Corporal Mike Jones from RAF Marham. His portfolio of four images shows the diversity of tasks undertaken by RAF personnel, from operations to ceremonial, modern equipment to heritage, but particularly captivating is his image ‘Afghan Elder’.
On learning of his award, Corporal Jones relived the moment he took the picture:
“The picture was taken on New Year’s Day at Kandahar during an open day for local Afghans living close to the airfield to visit us at work.
“At the open day the RAF had provided a Tornado GR4 and the crew were busy talking to a lot of excited kids and local people. I saw the man sitting alone to one side by the hangar door, just watching things going on.
“The conditions were perfect. As the hangar door opened there was a flood of natural light falling on him. It is a very natural shot. It is a striking picture that I am proud of.”
All were unanimous in their appreciation of the very high standard, quality and diversity of work produced by both the Service and civilian photographers.
‘Off Loading’ by Corporal Mike Jones, winner of ‘RAF Photographer of the Year': a Merlin helicopter is delivered to theatre via an RAF C-17
[Picture: Corporal Mike Jones, Crown Copyright/MOD 2011]
The winners this year are:
Category A – Photographic Section Portfolio – Sponsored by Canon UK
1st – RAF Marham
2nd – RAF Leuchars
3rd – RAF Coningsby
Highly Commended – Joint Air Delivery Test and Evaluation Unit, RAF Brize Norton
Category B – Technical/Engineering – Sponsored by Color Confidence
1st – Senior Aircraftman Graham Taylor, RAF Coningsby
2nd – Senior Aircraftman Chris Hill, RAF Marham
3rd – Senior Aircraftman Richard Dudley, RAF Leuchars
Highly Commended – Mr Gordon Elias, RAF Cranwell
Category C – The RAF Operational Experience – Sponsored by Nikon UK
1st – Corporal Paul Oldfield, RAF Valley
2nd – Corporal Andy Benson, Armed Forces Careers Office Liverpool, now Reconnaisance Intelligence & Geographic Centre (Northern Ireland)
3rd – Senior Aircraftman Chris Hill, RAF Marham
Highly Commended – Senior Aircraftman Axford, RAF Benson
Category D – RAF Equipment – Sponsored by Color Confidence
1st – Senior Aircraftman Graham Taylor, RAF Coningsby
2nd – Mr Ian Forshaw, RAF Shawbury
3rd – Corporal Mike Jones, RAF Marham
Highly Commended – Corporal Mike Jones, RAF Marham
Highly Commended – Senior Aircraftman Daniel Herrick, RAF Coningsby
Category E – Sports – Sponsored by the RAF Sports Board
1st – Mr Gordon Elias, RAF Cranwell
2nd – Senior Aircraftman Ash Reynolds, RAF Leuchars
3rd – Sergeant Richard Beattie, RAF Benson
Highly Commended – Corporal Paul Oldfield, RAF Valley
Category F – Portrait – Sponsored by Ede & Ravenscroft
1st – Sergeant Richard Beattie, RAF Benson
2nd – Senior Aircraftman Andy Masson, RAF Marham
3rd – Senior Aircraftman Ben Stevenson, RAF Waddington
Highly Commended – Acting Corporal Ben Lees, HQ Air Command
Category G – Open Video Category – Sponsored by Impact Image
1st – Senior Aircraftman Neil Chapman, RAF Northolt
2nd – Corporal Andy Homes, RAF Marham
Category H – Mallett RAF Student – Sponsored by Fuji UK
1st – Senior Aircraftwoman Gemma Nagi, RAF Lossiemouth
2nd – Senior Aircraftman Connor Payne, RAF Lossiemouth
3rd – Senior Aircraftwoman Victoria Eden, RAF Leeming
Category I – Best Amateur Military – Sponsored by Jessops
1st – Senior Aircraftman Tim Laurence, 93 Expeditionary Armament Squadron, RAF Marham
2nd – Flying Officer Peacock, RAF Volunteer Reserve (Training), RAF Cranwell
3rd – Squadron Leader Trevena , Air Training Corps HQ, Thames Valley Wing
Highly Commended – Senior Aircraftman Tim Laurence, 93 Expeditionary Armament Squadron, RAF Marham
Category J – Best Air Training Corps (ATC) & Combined Cadet Force Image – Sponsored by Veritek Ltd
1st – Cadet Sergeant Jack Whitfield, 308 (Colchester) Squadron ATC
2nd – Cadet Corporal Jack Skedge, 2187 (Canvey Island) Squadron ATC
3rd – Cadet Sergeant Jack Whitfield, 308 (Colchester) Squadron ATC
Category K – PR Photograph of the Year – Sponsored by Calumet
Senior Aircraftman Andy Masson, RAF Marham
Category L – RAF Photographer of the Year – Sponsored by Calumet
Corporal Mike Jones, RAF Marham
Before I moved from my base in the West Midlands, down to my new civvy hometown in somerset, I was lucky enough to go and spend a day photographing some lovely puppies.
A few months ago, whilst looking after some of my military photog video students, we were with the Midlands Region Public Order Training Centre, who also had the West Midlands Police Dog Unit assisting the training. I was testing out a new bit of video kit that I was testing out and got some footage of the dogs in action. Via the power of Twitter I’d got in touch with West Midlands Police dog in training Sear (@WMP_Dog), who put me in touch with his human dad, so I could send them a copy of the video, and Sear expressed an interest in a modelling session, so I headed over to the West Midlands Police Dog Training Centre, near Coventry with my camera to meet Sear, some of his police dog buddies, and also meet some of the tiny baby future police dogs.
Below is a selection of some of the images I took – some action, some posed, I can’t remember all of the puppies names I’m afraid, but they were all awesome!
PD Sear working it!
Police Dog Sear posing well for my camera!
Sniffer Dog in training
Many thanks to Sear and his dad, as well as the staff at the Dog Training Unit for letting me bring my camera along for the day!
Well, above we have my last ever set of blues, before I put them on this morning to go to work – that’s it as far as wearing an RAF uniform goes – today was my actual last day in work, now I’m off on Resettlement leave, to prepare myself for Civvy Street. It was a strange day, most of my kit has already been handed in, so just todays uniform left in my wardrobe. Today was pretty much just all about clearing my office, tying up any loose ends, sticking my “Out of Office” on my emails, lunch out with my guys and then a goodbye chat with the boss.
I didn’t get quite as emotional as I thought I might, the tears only welled up a bit when I opened the card that they’d got me, and all the lovely comments from so many people. And above everything else it’s the people I’m going to miss the most. I’ve made some amazing friends over my time, and will be sad to leave the family feel of being in the RAF, and Armed Forces as a whole. I’m glad that military friends being what they are, that I know they will always be there for me, whenever I want a chat, or to get some light-hearted banter/verbal abuse, and already I’ve got a support network of other RAF photographers who have gone on to bigger, better things and made a success of it.
A few years ago there was an email going round about the differences between military and civilian friends – I think this might be an appropriate time to post it!
CIVILIAN FRIENDS: Get upset if you are too busy to talk to them for a week.
MILITARY FRIENDS: Are glad to see you after many years; and will happily carry on the same conversation you were having last time you met.
CIVILIAN FRIENDS: Never ask for food.
MILITARY FRIENDS: Are the reason you have no food.
CIVILIAN FRIENDS: Call your parents Mr and Mrs.
MILITARY FRIENDS: Call your parents Mum and Dad.
CIVILIAN FRIENDS: Bail you out of jail and then tell you what you did was wrong.
MILITARY FRIENDS: Would be sitting next to you saying, ‘Mate…we stuffed up …but wasn’ t that fun!’
CIVILIAN FRIENDS: Have never seen you cry.
MILITARY FRIENDS: Cry with you.
CIVILIAN FRIENDS: Borrow your stuff for a few days then give it back.
MILITARY FRIENDS: Keep your stuff so long they forget it is yours.
CIVILIAN FRIENDS: Know a few things about you.
MILITARY FRIENDS: Could write a book with a shed full of direct quotes from you.
CIVILIAN FRIENDS: Will leave you behind if that is what the crowd is doing.
MILITARY FRIENDS: Will kick the backsides of whole crowds that left you behind.
CIVILIAN FRIENDS: Would knock on your door.
MILITARY FRIENDS: Walk right in and say, ‘I’m home, do you want a beer!’
CIVILIAN FRIENDS: Share a few experiences.
MILITARY FRIENDS: Share a lifetime of experiences no civilian could ever dream of.
CIVILIAN FRIENDS: Will take your drink away when they think you’ve had enough.
MILITARY FRIENDS: Will look at you stumbling all over the place and say, ‘You had better drink the rest of that, you know we never waste it. Then they carry you home and put you safely to bed.
CIVILIAN FRIENDS: Will talk crap to the person who talks crap about you.
MILITARY FRIENDS: Will knock the crap out of people who use your name in vain.
CIVILIAN FRIENDS: Know where you buried the body
MILITARY FRIENDS: Helped you bury the body
CIVILIAN FRIENDS: Will call you “mate” as a term of endearment
MILITARY FRIENDS: Will call you “Fecking Cnut” “******” “Tosser” as a term of endearment
CIVILIAN FRIENDS: Are for a while.
MILITARY FRIENDS: Are for life.
Well, the preparations for moving on out to civvy street are picking up pace – I now only have a few weeks left of actual work before I start my resettlement leave, and using up what’s left of my annual leave. In fact as of today I now have 13 working days left, 13 more days of wearing the uniform, tying my hair up in a bun and being called “Sarge”. Whoa! Scary thought, that after more than 15 years I’m going to be just a name again, not a (service) number.
One of the biggest things that I need to get sorted out is moving in with my husband. We have the married quarter (military housing) where I’m based, so that when Mr Photog brings his boys up then they’ve got their own rooms, and then Mr Photog has his 1-bed “bachelor pad” near where he works in Somerset, but is nowhere near big enough for the 2 of us so we’ve had to finally find a place together! Removals booked, March-out (or “Move out” as it’s now known – more fluffy sounding I guess) booked, all ready to go, just the “fun” of packing the house up to go.
We’ve been together for 4 years, married for 2 of those and never actually lived together. Never. The longest we’ve spent together was 3 weeks in a motorhome driving around California. Other than that our lives have existed for the weekend, and the occasional week here and there when leave and work permits. In terms of many military relationships we’re very lucky as we only live 2 hours apart. Had I been posted up to Scotland it would have meant a massive challenge; hubby needs to stay south because of his job and boys, for at least the next 3 years, so we probably would only have ended up being together every few weeks.
Some couples get it even worse, and that’s even before we get on to the operational tours, and the 6 months separation that military families must endure. Those who aren’t married suffer too, as a boyfriend or girlfriend isn’t factored into the military admin calculations. A lass that worked with me, whose boyfriend is also serving, knows that it will take nothing short of a drafting miracle for her and her boyfriend to be “co-located”, i.e. based on the same unit, or at least units on the same side of the country. Whilst married couples can try and get it, non-married relationships have to sit and wait, and hope that it might happen. Sometimes it’s a wonder that relationships in the armed forces even get started, let alone last.
It amazes me when I hear of people getting all dramatic about hubby/wifey going away for a couple of days with work. You’d think the world had come to a standstill, and they’re unable to function without them! Ah, suck it up, buttercup! (as a former workmate of mine liked to say) And some couples make me laugh – when they see each other every day, then they go to work and spend all day on the phone to their other half – what the heck do they find to talk about?? Surely nothing that fascinating has happened in the hour since you said goodbye to them before work? One of my colleagues (who also lives apart from her man) and I have a theory: These couples don’t actually talk of an evening – they get home, have tea then sit and watch TV in silence, go to bed, barely exchanging a word, then get up, go to work – and then remember something that happened yesterday that they meant to tell their other half about, so get on the phone!
I’m still thankful every day that I met Mr Photog when I did – he came into my life at a time when I needed him and his wonderful support the most. And I’m so thankful that we work well together; I see couples out and about arguing, bickering whilst shopping in the supermarket; slagging their other half off when they’re not there, and it saddens me. I wish people would realise what they have and appreciate the person they have chosen to share their life with, especially if you are lucky enough to see that person every morning when you wake up, and tell them you love them last thing at night, and first thing in the morning. Some of us don’t have that luxury; we have to make do with a mobile phone and texts for pretty much 5 days out of 7. We don’t get to share a proper hug every morning – although we will do soon!!!! So excited!! Although when I first mentioned my redundancy to some of my civilian (married, female) counterparts and told them “I can go and live with my husband” they all said “what do you want to go and do a stupid thing like THAT for?”!!!!
Not long to go now though, roll on moving home for my final posting in the Royal Air Force – to the town that will now become my proper home-town J
Dear WordPress, it’s been quite a while since my last confession, I mean blog post, but I’ve been getting into the swing of sorting out life post-RAF, whilst still putting the hours in at work when I can, whilst I can! There is a lot of support and assistance available to those who are leaving the Armed Forces, and there’s plenty of training options to help the resettlement process and transition into the big bad world of civvy-dom.
So far I’ve booked myself on a couple of interesting courses in the coming months, and already been on a couple of really useful ones so far. The other week I returned to my last unit of RAF Cottesmore, or Kendrew Barracks as it’s now known, since being taken over by the Army earlier this year. Cottesmore is home to one of the Regional Resettlement Centres which provide resettlement training to personnel, and it was so strange to go back to Cottesmore as an “outsider” rather than being one of the base personnel.
When I left Cottesmore in 2008 on promotion to Sergeant it was an active flying station, home to 3 Squadrons of Harrier aircraft, 2 RAF and one Navy. My last photographic job before moving was curled up in a ball in the intake of a Harrier GR9 with my camera in one hand, a ruler in the other and the flashgun kind of propped up between my head and the side of the intake! I have fond memories of working with the Harriers, and used to love watching their training flights from the pan outside our office, especially the vertical take-offs – so, so cool!
Nowadays, however, the Harriers fly no more and the once buzzing station is now empty and waiting for the Army to move in. The only people knocking around on the station were the advance party for the Army regiment, a bunch of builders, and the soon-to-be civvy personnel on resettlement courses. There were so few personnel on the unit that everyone was accommodated and fed in what was the Officers mess. A very strange experience, having only been there previously on photographic tasks as a corporal!
As Cottesmore was the start (and ultimately the end) of my running career I thought I’d take a little meander down memory lane whilst I was there, and head out round the perimeter track around the airfield, where I used to run before my knee decided it couldn’t hack it. After a slow run/walk in the setting sun I reached what used to be the “Piano keys” where the end of the runway met the peri track. The black and white markings denoted the start of the runway, and were clearly visible to approaching aircraft. When I used to run there I would carry on along the peri track, as of course you can’t run down an active runway – you might end up with a harrier on your head! This time however instead of piano keys there were massive white “X”s all along the runway, telling any aircraft not to land.
(excuse the mobile phone pics!)
I decided that this would be the only opportunity I would have to run (walk) along a runway so I turned off the peri track and headed down the centre of the runway – feeling like I was doing something very, very wrong! When I got right out into the middle of the airfield, where the two runways crossed, I turned and looked back towards the hangars and the building I used to work in, right in the middle of the row of hangars. The sun was setting, lighting up the buildings and it suddenly hit me how sad it was, seeing the pan in front of the hangars empty – no aircraft, not personnel, not even any generators knocking around, and I started to get quite emotional. It was sad to see that it’s proud history as an air base had come to an end.
Opened in 1938, Cottesmore has seen it’s fair share of interesting history, including a spell as an USAF base, and it was also home to the awesome Vulcan bombers for a while too. In fact when I was based at Cottesmore we had a visit from XH588 on one of her early flights after being renovated, and the widow of one of the former Vulcan pilots based at Cottesmore came along to watch the Vulcan land. She told me that they used to live in a house under the flight path and if her husband was up flying, on return to base he used to waggle the wings of the aircraft to tell her it was time to get dinner on the go as he’d be home in half an hour!
Once I’d recovered from my emotional moment, all alone in the middle of the airfield, I carried on, past my old work and headed round to what was once the prettiest 25 metre shooting range I have ever seen! The old range warden was a keen gardener and took great pride in his planting – he had a veggie patch off to one side, and you had to watch your footing when you moved to the 10 metre firing point, in case you stepped on the marigolds! Unfortunately it’s all gone to seed now, although the wildflowers seem to be thriving. I hope the Army find another gardener to look after it in the future!
Anyway, enough reminiscing, the course was really useful, a Career Transition workshop designed to give us all the good info on how to find work outside in civvy street. Information on writing CV’s, applying for jobs, handling interviews and all that stuff that we in the military get out of the habit of dealing with. I also had a meeting with a career advisor who will be available for advice and guidance for the next couple of years, until I get sorted out in the real world. Not that I know what I’m going to do yet mind, I’ve got Plan A, B and C, depending on a number of factors which may change things over the next few months. Ultimately though self-employment is the end goal, but I may need to get a proper job for a while beforehand!
It’s going to be an interesting few months, some of the course I’ve got coming up look really interesting, I’ll give you more info on them as they happen J