Saturday, August 1, 2009
Army photographer traded shots with insurgents - PA
Frontline Army photographer Dan Harmer is more used to shooting pictures than Taliban bandits in the lawless badlands of Helmand Province.
But the 32-year-old sergeant recently had to aim his standard issue SA80 rifle at the insurgents as he and his men were attacked during a 12-hour patrol.
Despite the Royal Logistics Corps soldier seeing his primary role as a chronicler of war, he fought back with relish during a battle in July's bloody Panther's Claw operation.
The Barnet FC fan's patrol group had advanced along one dusty, sun-baked road by just three-quarters of a mile in 12 hours because they kept finding improvised explosive devices (IEDs).
They were then attacked and Sgt Harmer's commander ordered his men to "engage".
He said: "We were contacted (fired at) by two fighters from about 200 metres away.
"We were wide open with no cover so the platoon commander ordered us to run diagonally across a field and advance to contact.
"I was trying to take good movement pictures of the guys.
"We went about 100 metres to a small wall and engaged the Taliban on top of a compound.
"My role is to capture what's going on.
"I did that for a few minutes then moved around - under contact it's difficult.
"The commander shouted everyone to engage the target because they had good cover."
At that point Sgt Harmer slung his camera to the side and joined in the fire fight.
"In a way I was glad to get that bit of anger out and it felt like I was giving something back after being exposed to threats all day," he said.
The soldier, who was brought up in Barnet, north London, said he was fully aware how important his job was.
"It's important for warfare to be covered, especially now," he said.
"If you look back at the stuff from the two world wars that's what we're doing now.
"The pictures go to the Imperial War Museum as well as the national press and I do the job for my fellow soldiers.
"When you tell them they've been in the press they're chuffed and for me, that's providing a reward and fulfilment."
The photographer has now become a target for Taliban gunfire though, said Sgt Harmer, who joined the Army aged 18.
Soldiers recently heard Taliban discussions that bandits were eyeing up a group of Brits.
"The photographer in the group was bothered that the Army's interpreter kept staring at him," said the soldier.
"So a fellow soldier asked the interpreter why he was looking at him.
"The message was relayed that he was looking at him because the Taliban were discussing 'whether they should shoot the one with the camera'.
"In Taliban eyes if someone's with the coalition forces they're fair game - they don't draw a line between soldiers and journalists."
Sgt Harmer now lives with his Sgt Major wife Sadie in Duston, Northamptonshire, where his mother Susan, and siblings Wayne and Louise also live.
He met his wife 12 years ago when they were serving in Bosnia and they married four years ago.
"She's great and really understands when I'm away that I can't phone home often," he said.
"We try to get away on tours at the same time."
The soldier has enjoyed an exciting career.
He has been an Army photographer for five years but before that worked for the Royal Military Police.
He also worked in "close protection" guarding top military figures in Northern Ireland.
"Even when they went to Tesco I had to follow behind pretending to buy stuff - I'd ditch the basket when my guy had paid and walk out behind him," he said.