Monthly Archives: February 2015

The End of my Tour


Rifleman Jones 7RIFLES

I left in the summer, two weeks before the end of Trinity term. Oxford is at its most beautiful then. Long evenings, village cricket, garden parties, balls; these were my last impressions of the University and the town. No doubt it would have been easier to leave in the grey drizzle of winter.

I joined Sydney University Regiment of the Australian Army Reserve in 2010, in the last year of my undergraduate studies. In 2011, when I was awarded a scholarship to study at Oxford, I decided to continue my service with the British Army in the 7th Battalion of the Rifles Regiment (7RIFLES). It may come as a surprise to some readers that there are still a large number of Commonwealth soldiers serving in the British Army. In 2010 one in ten soldiers serving in the British infantry was from the Republic of Ireland or the Commonwealth. I’m now in Afghanistan with Gurkhas, Fijians, Ghanians, South Africans, soldiers from the Caribbean, as well as two other Australians.

Rifleman Jones

Rifleman Jones

In the middle of last year I volunteered to suspend my studies at Oxford and deploy to Afghanistan. With twenty other reservists, I joined B Company, 2nd Battalion of the Rifles, to provide force protection to British forces in Kabul. We arrived in theatre in the first week of August.

Kabul is a city of sharp contrasts: the most polluted city in the world, set against a spectacular natural backdrop of mountains; million pound, of state-of-the-art military vehicles driving past overladen donkey carts; soldiers and police everywhere but ever deteriorating security. Through conversations with our interpreters, guards and other ‘Locally Employed Nationals’, I am constantly reminded what a shame it is that we are in Kabul at such a difficult time in its history; this city has a rich culture and history that its inhabitants are justly proud of. It also has a long history with the British army, something that is difficult to forget in Camp Souter – named for Captain Souter, one of the few survivors of the army’s disastrous, 1848 retreat from Kabul.

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Our life as force protection troops in Kabul has been largely governed by a three-week rotation, between patrolling, standing guard and providing the ‘quick reaction force’ (QRF). Of these three, patrolling is the upheld as the Riflemen’s favourite. On patrols week our job is to protect British and NATO personnel as they move around the city. It is a chance to employ our training, escape the claustrophobia of camp, see the city and – not least of all – hopefully visit an American dining facility (‘DFAC’). Guard week is tiring, although you get an interesting perspective on the city by standing and observing over long periods from Camp Souter’s sangers (guard towers). Some truly strange things have been reported on guard, which has coloured our appreciation of Kabul. Although, I suspect if you stood and observed some point on the outskirts of Oxford (or London, or Sydney) for hours on end you might see some equally strange things. QRF week is a chance for us to administer our kit and conduct training…and watch movies, while waiting for a call-out should a NATO call-sign get into trouble.

Now, at the end of our tour, the prospect of returning to Oxford looms. I suspect that the University town holds a special place in every student’s heart, but for me it has become even more idyllic by contrast. All its idiosyncrasies, which I recall being occasionally frustrating, only make Oxford seem further gloriously removed from troubled Kabul. And, although I confess to pining badly for Sydney’s beaches – particularly during the Afghan winter – Oxford has never been far from my mind.

For more information you can visit http://www.serfca.org/en-gb/reservists/armyreserve/bhq7thbattaliontherifles.aspx

On tour with Army Reservist Riflemen Ben Eden 7RIFLES


Rifleman Ben Eden  from A Company 7 RIFLES

Rifleman Ben Eden, 21, 7 Rifles attached to 2 Rifles for Op Herrick 20/ Toral 1

I live in Marlow, Buckinghamshire, and am part of 2 platoon A company 7 Rifles. My ARC (army reserve centre) is approximately 2 miles away from my house, in High Wycombe, with the company location being in Abingdon, Oxford.

On civvie street I work as an assistant manager at a nearby restaurant called ‘The Britannia’ owned by McMullen and Sons, who are based in Hartford. I have wanted to join the armed forces ever since I was a kid. This ambition never really left me, and would have led to gaining a sponsorship through university with the regular army, If I decided to go to university (which I decided was not for me as I didn’t think it was worth the £9000 a year in tuition fees). After making the decision not to go to university I still looked at joining the regular army after completing my A-levels, but without going for a commission.

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When I turned 18 I started to work at my local pub and quickly realised that I really enjoyed working in pubs, and was quickly promoted. By the age of 19 I knew this would be my career after being left to run the pub for 2 weeks whilst my general managers went on holiday. Soon after that my current place announced that it was opening, and my boss told me to go and apply there if I was serious about one day running my own pub, as it was part of a chain and my local pub was not. I went, applied and got a job. Once again I was quickly put onto courses, gained qualifications and gained promotions.

As soon as I realised I wanted to work in this trade, I also realised that I could not join the regulars. I started to look for other options, and found that there was an ARC nearby! I went down on the Tuesday evening, spoke to the recruitment NCO, and before I knew it I was on selection and then being attested and starting phase one training. I have now been in the army reserves for a little over 3 years.

As soon as the option to volunteer for this tour came up I knew I wanted to go on it and applied, along with 2 others from my company. Within no time, I had the documents for mobilisation come through my door and immediately went to tell my bosses that I would be away for a year. They were really supportive about and wished me good luck with it.

At first we were all a bit anxious about how we would fit in with our regular counterparts but within no time we were quickly integrated into their ranks and were going through daily life in camp along side them. Whilst on our confirmation exercise we continued to prove ourselves and show that we were more than willing and that were more than capable of the job, with one of our guys surprising everyone by being able to bring his civilian job (refrigeration engineer) to the table and fixing the foxhounds air conditioning.

We are here in Kabul to provide a QRF (quick reaction force) to the Kabul area and to provide security for people who need to travel around the city.

For more information on the unit please visit http://www.serfca.org/en-gb/reservists/armyreserve/bhq7thbattaliontherifles.aspx