165 Port Regiment, RLC (V)
Sat in the office on a late autumn afternoon it seemed like there would be no escape from another 8 pages of legal gibberish with the usual demand for an immediate response. And then the phone rang.
SSgt Leon, our PSI, isn’t one to ring for a chat and calls from him are worth listening to. He didn’t disappoint. “Do you have a passport and can you go away for a week in two weeks time?” Talk of passports always grabs my attention this seemed interesting, one click of the mouse and my diary was cleared.
17 Port & Maritime had been asked to supply a gang to support the ongoing exercises in Jordan, Pashtun links and Pashtun Vortex. We would go to Aqaba port unload all the vehicles and supplies for those exercises in November and load anything they hadn’t eaten, lost or broken, back on to the ship in January.
The regiment had kept open two places for 165 Port Regt. This was the culmination of some careful work to bring about closer working relations between the regular army and the TA unit. LCpl Karl Wilson and I were the beneficiaries of this. The ever helpful PSI was on hand to offer us his wisdom, “Don’t sod this up, I have told them you two know what you are doing.”
We left Marchwood in the early hours and headed for Brize Norton from where we flew direct to Aqaba. There had been talk of luxury hotels. Mind you there had also been talk of tents in the desert. On landing it quickly became clear that those who had packed their swimming shorts and Dead Sea bath salts were going to be disappointed.
The first night was spent in a hanger on the airfield the place was infested with pigeons and their falling droppings. It is moments like this where the resourceful nature of port ops comes to the fore. As others put up bashers or cowered under cardboard the boys set up an 8 man gaming table out of scrap airline seats and unused aluminium.
Our accommodation for the rest of the trip was a tented complex in the desert an hour North of Aqaba and although it was no hotel it does make you enjoy the simple things in life, like a space near the air con, or the Holy Grail… a plug point. Initially food was ration packs so the lads took any excuse to get out and buy food before the field kitchen was set up.
On the ship is where port ops come into their own. We had been reliant on the efforts of others thus far for food and accommodation and now they waited for us to do our thing. For those of us who don’t do this job everyday it is essential to get back into it quickly or you quickly earn the displeasure of the gang. I was grateful to LCpls Jay Virr and Mahni? who were on hand to offer guidance or advice when it was needed. I was also glad to have Ptes Laggler Duff and Wilson whose calm influence stopped a flap setting in.
Once the last bit of kit was off the ship came the long awaited away day at the Beach club. This was a perfect opportunity to enjoy snorkelling on perfect reef just yards from the beach and a couple of beers. In terms of job satisfaction it takes some beating.
The flight back stopped over in Cyprus for a night. It wouldn’t be a night in Cyprus without a visit to the Acki Arms. The next day provided a visit to the harbour. A quick swim in the Med and back to a rainy Brize Norton.
The second leg of the deployment was loading the ship in January.
The travel arrangements were different. It was civilian flights and the rumours of a hotel were true. By now we also knew where the important landmarks were. Burger King and the Rovers Return being right up there.
The hotel was magnificent. It isn’t often that the Army pays for accommodation like this and we had a duty to make the most of it. Slippers and robes were donned and the massed ranks of the Port Tasking Group headed for the spa. This was followed by cigars on the balcony overlooking the Gulf of Aqaba.
Before we could start reloading the ship we had to get the vehicles from the convoy park to the port. This took the entire day, during which time LCpl Virr managed to break the brand new jeep he had been given. Fortunately the hire company were on hand to replace it with something even faster and newer.
This was the fullest ship I have loaded for some time. A quick nod from Cpl Coops gave me the tank deck. I had not previously had my own deck and one of the highlights for me was being trusted with this.
One of the problems with being TA is that you are frequently asked to slot in with a well drilled unit who know the job and each other very well. The TA has historically been viewed with suspicion by our regular counterparts who have unfairly likened it to a social club for the old and bold. This view is changing.
It is only by TA soldiers going on deployments like this and working with the regulars that we build relationships with the guys that improve. This happens with individuals to start with and as more of us form these working links this will gather pace. It’s already underway. A large part of Op Tosca departing for Cyprus next month will be made up of TA soldiers and there will be more opportunities for us to go away with the regulars, learn from them and hopefully be a valued part of their effectiveness.
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