Tag Archives: Herrick

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

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103 Battalion REME, the Army’s equivalent to the AA


Ex Southern Bluebell

It’s not every day that you get the chance to get up close and personal with a Coyote!  But that’s what I was doing yesterday.

It was with a mixture of excitement and nervous anticipation that I pulled up outside the Army barracks at Tidworth on Salisbury Plain for a day with the 103 Battalion REME, the Army’s equivalent to the AA.  Not one to know an axle from a drive shaft, I was thrust briefly into the world of petrol heads and greasy mechanics and it was important they thought I knew what they were talking about!!

The Army reservists from the Battalion which has units in Crawley, Hilsea, Ashford and Redhill, were all taking part in Exercise Southern Bluebell, an integrated training weekend designed specifically for REME Army Reservists to undertake training to improve their currency and competency trade skills so they are able to support the Regulars in terms of being fit to mobilise.  With a variety of different trades being showcased, from armourers, to vehicle mechanics and recovery specialists, and with Regulars and Reserves sharing their wealth of experience I knew I was in for an interesting day.

Sorting the problem !!

Sorting the problem !!

From what I could see when I entered the hangar, it was every car mechanics dream!  When and where else would you get the chance to remove and replace a drive shaft from a Coyote, change a bulb on a Mastiff or repair a power steering fluid reservoir on a Jackal?  From my inexperienced eye, I could see that I was standing amongst several millions of pounds worth of heavy duty and specialised military equipment in the hangars – all with bonnets up and innards exposed!

WOII Adie Leah, 37, part of 5 Battalion REME in Sheffield is a Regular Permanent Staff Instructor responsible for training the Army Reserves.  Having served for 19 years, his experience of carrying out battled damage repairs is second to none.  “Having the skills to get a vehicle back on the road quickly is the priority, and the Vehicle Mechanics (VMs) need to think creatively, using whatever they have available.  It could be a coke can or a bandage – you’d be surprised at how ingenious our VMs can be to get the vehicle and the crew out of a situation and back to safety.”

British Army's answer to the AA

British Army’s answer to the AA

It struck me very quickly that these members of the Territorial Army, which is soon to become the Army Reserve, have vocational skills training that takes years to accumulate.   I was in the presence of soldiers, regular and reserve, who have actually saved lives – not by administering first aid, but by having the confidence and skills to think “outside of the box”, repairing vehicles on the side of the road, under extreme pressure and often under fire and using anything at their disposal.  Corporal Reece Hancock, 44, serves with 128 Field Company in Hilsea, Portsmouth.  A DT school teacher on civvy street, he swapped the classroom for six months in Afghanistan supporting the Regular Army’s 6 Battalion Close Support.   Clearly extremely passionate about his role in the Army Reserve, his enthusiasm was hard to contain when telling me about the time he carried out an improvised repair to the fuel pipe on a Husky.  “This training exercise is really important.  The more knowledge you have about different vehicles, the better you become at cross-servicing and that in itself gives you confidence to make good repairs under extreme pressure.”

Sergeant Catherine Moat, 44, works for the Border Force and serves with 133 Field Company in Ashford.  With more than 20 years’ service under her belt, she confessed to the Army Reserves having changed her life.  “It’s tested my mettle that’s for sure.  But I’ve travelled the world and gained skills that will mean that I’ll never be out of a job as getting all my driving qualifications means that I can drive a bus, a coach or an HGV.  Better still, I can service my own vehicle and no garage will manage to hoodwink me as I know what they’re talking about!  You get out of the Army Reserves what you put in and I have made great friends who I know will support me through thick and thin!”

The exercise wasn’t all dirty and hands-on.  Corporal Sian Davies, 34, a Solicitor from 128 Field Company in Hilsea, was on hand specifically to give an honest and objective view from her most recent tour to Afghanistan with the Light Aid Detachment.  “Giving the guys the benefit of our very recent experience from theatre is all part of the training process.  By giving them a short presentation with photos, we can talk knowledgably about what it’s really like out there – anything from the accommodation and food to the handing over processes and how we integrated into the Regular units.  For instance on my tour, it was several months before they actually realised I was a Reservist.”

For the afternoon session we left the vehicle mechanics and their spanners to it and made our way to a training area on Salisbury Plain that looked like a scene from one of the Mad Max movies.  In plain view was a petroleum truck – on its side – and not looking in very good shape.  The task set was to right the 30 tonne vehicle back on its four wheels without damage to either the vehicle or the personnel involved.  Well this team of recovery mechanics or “rechy mechs” as they’re affectionately known, made it look easy!  However it was far from that and the skills required by the experienced Crew Commander were plain to see.  Demonstrating calmness and confidence, he got the team to assess the situation, put their plan together, attach winch lines, strops and then with incredible authority, and because he knew exactly what he was doing and his team had complete faith in his experience, the truck was expertly tipped upright and back on its wheels, almost kissing the ground beneath it.  No thuds, no shouting, just pure skill, precision and experience at work!  Lance Corporal Ian Bewers, 44, from Benfleet, serves with 150 Recovery Company in Reigate and is a very experienced Recovery Mechanic.  On civvy street he trains drivers of petroleum vehicles.  It’s a demanding job in itself, which he combines with a busy family, but he clearly loves his part-time role in the Army Reserves too, up to his arms in mud and grease and lugging bits of heavy metal around.  “I get so focused on the skills I need for my civvy job, so coming on this training weekend has been great for getting me thinking about other strategies and refreshing and using different skills.  I’m hoping to do my Class 1 Course in March, which will enable me to become a Crew Commander, and instruct the other soldiers and supervise these type of tasks.  It’s a tough course and I’ll be able to draw from the experiences of this weekend.”

And so, after a really great day and with my introduction to 103 Battalion REME complete, I am off to my car – I’m out of window washer fluid, does anyone know how I open the bonnet .….?

If you are interested in joining the REME check out http://www.serfca.org/en-gb/reservists/ta/rhq103bnreme.aspx

 

 

 

End of Tour…Back to Reality!


Cpl Sian Davies 128 Field Company REME

I am now back firmly on UK soil having completed my 6 month tour of Afghanistan with 12CSLR. Already I look back at it with nothing but fond memories.

Op Herrick 17 came to end for me at the end of March 2013 along with the rest of LAD. In the last month we started our end of tour preparations. The fleet of vehicles were already at good standard and we were sure to maintain that ready for the handover/takeover. This was one of our busiest times in theatre and we were working longer days and at a quicker pace. Morale was gaining momentum as members of 3CSLR started to come in ready for Herrick 18.

The new LAD arrived in full shortly before we left, allowing us a day or two to work together, going through common faults and discussing best working methods. Camp Bastion once again became very busy as it was accommodated by two Battle groups. It was very reminiscent of my arrival in theatre back in September 2012. This time however, I was getting ready to leave to come back home.

Once the workshop was handed over we had enough time to deal with booking out of Camp and pack. We left our ‘home away from home’ two days later. As in all cases after a 6 month operational tour of Afghanistan, we were Cyprus bound for Decompression.  On arrival at Bloodhound Camp, Akrotiri we were allocated accommodation then spent the day relaxing. Activities including chilling by the pool, horse-riding and go karting, amongst other things.

View from my lounger in Akrotiri

View from my lounger in Akrotiri

That evening we all enjoyed food, a limited amount of alcohol and a CSE show consisting of comedians and a band. It was a good day/night all in all but I was definitely looking forward to getting back home.

On arrival at Brize Norton, we headed back to 12 LSR, Abingdon. On dealing with a few admin issues I was free to make the final part of my journey back home. I spent a week at home before going back to Abingdon for three days of the standard 4 day ‘normalisation package’. This consisted of a PFA (personal fitness test), various briefs, talks from outside bodies and or course, a word or two from the Padre. There were mixed feelings about the normalisation process, but it was compulsory and everyone attended.

Meeting my Great Nephew for the first time on my way back from Brize Norton

Meeting my Great Nephew for the first time on my way back from Brize Norton

At that stage there was nothing left for TA personnel to do except to formally demobilise from Regular Service. My leave officially started on 11 April. I am due to go back to my civilian job as a Senior Solicitor on 18 June 2013.

I very much enjoyed my time spent with 12 CSLR and the experience of living in Camp Bastion and venturing out beyond ‘the wire’. I am truly grateful for having had the opportunity to experience an Operational Tour. I was particularly lucky with the timing of my tour as I had many friends out in theatre at the same time from the Army and RAF both reservist and regular. To be able to socialise away from my place of work was certainly something that helped pass the time.

Seeing my dad for the first time in a year in Tenerife!

Seeing my dad for the first time in a year in Tenerife!

I am making the most of my leave now, already having enjoyed a week away in Tenerife to visit family as well as a weekend in London for the Army v Navy Rugby. I will be back at work before I know it so I am embracing this as much as possible. Afghanistan already becoming just a memory.

For more information on 128 Fd Coy please visit: http://www.serfca.org/en-gb/reservists/ta/128fieldcompanyreme.aspx

Combat Logistic Patrols (CLP)


The LAD’s role on CLP’s

As previously explained the CSLR’s primary role are CLPs (Combat Logistic Patrols). The LAD is expected to provide support for every CLP. We have a REME wagon, manned by two VMs (Vehicle Mechanics), which deploys out of camp with each CLP.

The vehicle we use is a Mann SV with crane – a HIAB. We carry spare tyres, a toolbox, oils, lubricants and various other items enabling us to attempt to fix any problems with the vehicles that may occur on the Op. If the problem is not something we can readily repair, there are also Recovery Assets to recover the problem vehicle back to CampBastion.

Local children seen in the CLP

Local children seen in the CLP

As I am based in CampBastion, CLPs are the only opportunity I have to get out of camp and go ‘outside the wire’. I have been on 4 CLPs so far and have to say, I have enjoyed each of them. For each Op we go on, we are given a set of Orders well in advance, fully briefing us on all aspects of the CLP. Once we know exactly where we are going and when, we ‘battle prep’ our vehicle i.e. get the GPMG (General Purpose Machine Gun) for the top cover, ammunition, rations, water, radios, night vision devices etc. The Drivers have to do the same for their vehicles. On completion of battle prep, drivers and vehicle commanders go on Enforced Rest. This allows them to get plenty of downtime and sleep before driving for the Op ahead.

The CLPs go out of Camp Bastion at various times. All those deploying on the Op have to be at their vehicle 2 hours before the Op goes out to rectify any glitches which are usually vehicle faults and comms problems. Everyone is also given an update on any changes to the route or destinations. Due to the potential vehicle problems there are also two members of the LAD (a Class 1 and Class 2 VM) that are on hand to fix any vehicle faults. The LAD’s role is therefore vital to the smooth running of the CLPs.

The LAD wagon with myself and Lcpl Angus from the LAD  and Lcpl Nicholson, Recovery Mechanic

The LAD wagon with myself and Lcpl Angus from the LAD and Lcpl Nicholson, Recovery Mechanic

Each CLP varies in length and can last anything up to 36 hours, which might include an overnight stop at a FOB or MOB.. As things change on the move, timings often change too. It is important that the drivers on the Op get enough rest if the CLP overruns to avoid them being overtired at the wheel.

As VMs, we are often called upon during the Op. The faults that occur can be simple, such as a tyre change or broken door ram, or they can be more complex such as a snapped belt or electrical faults. If the problem is not something the VMs can fix relatively swiftly with the tools that we have to hand, the Recovery Mechanics will hook the vehicle to one of their Recovery Vehicles (SV(R)) and tow it back to CampBastion to be dealt with by the LAD. The Recovery call signs are provided by 1 (CS) Battalion REME. Each Recovery asset has a Vehicle Mechanic as well as a Recovery Mechanic. As the CLP usually breaks up into smaller packets to attend different locations, there is a Recovery asset with each packet. We have only one LAD wagon which will always go to the furthest location on the CLP.

I enjoy the opportunity to get out of Camp and to see parts of Afghanistan. There is, of course, a risk of enemy contact on each CLP. That is why there is always  enough personnel in each wagon, including top cover observing their arcs. When I went on my first CLP I was surprised to see the living conditions of the locals. I have to say, it was a humbling experience. The more you go out though, the less surprised you are by what you see. Our wagons are constantly ‘stoned’ by the local children. This causes damage usually to the light clusters at the rear, mirrors and window screens. The feelings of sympathy soon fade. It is clear that there are mixed feelings amongst the local Afghans as to our presence here.

CLPs are vitally important out here, as I have highlighted in previous editions. The LADs role is essential to the continued maintenance of the vehicles. If the vehicles are not road worthy, the CLPs would not exist.

Time has gone very quickly for me on this tour. Having come back from my R&R the time is going quicker than ever. We will be leaving theatre next month as Herrick 18 takes over. The vehicles are up to a good standard for the handover/takeover and we are officially on our countdown to going home. However, it is important for us all to not get complacent. We still have a job to do and our tour does not finish until we are all back safe in the UK.

5th Edition: End of Tour

For more information contact : http://www.serfca.org/en-gb/reservists/ta/128fieldcompanyreme.aspx

 

 

 

Christmas in Afghanistan, Camp Bastion


3rd edition from LCpl Sian Davies 128Fd Coy REME

The good thing about doing a winter tour is that the time is broken up by Christmas. I was unsure what the Regiment would do for Christmas and New Year; whether it would be just like any other working day or whether we would be celebrating the festivities at our home away from home.

Come the 01st December decorations started to appear throughout CampBastion. The cookhouse, the Naafi and the coffee shop were soon scattered with tinsel, trees and nativity scenes. The LAD decorated the rest room and bed spaces were filled with Christmas cards and fairy lights.

Many people here were spending Christmas away from husbands, wives and children. However, that did not stop people from eventually getting into the Christmas spirit.

Ready for the Christmas morning activities with Pte McArvail, Pte Neil and Lcpl de Ste Croix

Ready for the Christmas morning activities with Pte McArvail, Pte Neil and Lcpl de Ste Croix

As ever, work is always a priority for the LAD, so it was unfortunate that the section heads still had to go to the LAD workshop on Christmas Day morning to get the vehicles ready for the CLP on Boxing Day. For the rest of us, we were greeted early doors by our OC and Tiffy with a morning brew and Christmas welfare present. Once we were up and about, the Regiment had a small service by the Padre, to include a carol service. We then participated in a brief aerobics session and some competitive games. Spirits were high and there were some interesting Christmas outfits!

We were then marched as a Regiment to our Christmas lunch. The food was absolutely delicious, a perfectly cooked Christmas dinner! I was sure to leave the cookhouse swiftly though before the traditional food fight started.

Queuing up for traditional Christmas Dinner

Queuing up for traditional Christmas Dinner

After a couple of hours downtime we made our way over to the LAD for secret santa and games afternoon. Cfn Harrison and Cfn Johnson organised a Connect 4 competition, Christmas Quiz and Bingo. We finally headed back to the accommodation late afternoon ready for a DVD night and more food.

It was something of a surreal experience having Christmas Day in Afghanistan, miles away from loved ones and spent with people I had only met some 4 months previous. Luckily for me, Lcpl de Ste Croix is also placed with the LAD from 128 Fd Coy, so having a friend from home over the festivities definitely helped take the edge off being in such unfamiliar circumstances.

I was absolutely spoilt by friends and family from home. I had piles of Christmas presents sent over and lots of nice festive food. It certainly made me extremely grateful to have friends and family who care so much and made such an effort to keep me smiling on Christmas Day.

As for New Years Eve, the celebrations were a little less lively. I headed over to Bastion 1 to catch up with some friends from my TA Battalion. We had pizza, coffee and topped the night off with a Becks Blue. I headed back to the accommodation and saw the New Year in with other members of the Regiment. We were lucky enough to be given the following morning off.

Myself and Lcpl de Ste Croix seeing in the New Year with a Becks Blue

Myself and Lcpl de Ste Croix seeing in the New Year with a Becks Blue

Once we were back at the LAD the festivities were well and truly over and work now continues as normal; Christmas and New Year just a distant memory.

Now over half way through the tour I am looking forward to going on R & R. Time really is flying by and once I am back off R & R the count down to end of tour will be on.

For more information on 128 Field Company REME please visit http://www.serfca.org/en-gb/reservists/ta/128fieldcompanyreme.aspx

Welcome to Camp Bastion, Afghanistan


LCpl Davies, 128 Field Coy with CSLR LAD, Op Herrick 17

Having gone through some initial training with 1(CS) Battalion REME, I joined 12 LSR LAD, Abingdon in August 2012. Immediately the LAD made me feel welcome. The three week FTX that followed my arrival at the Regiment, gave me a good opportunity to get to know everyone. It also helped me to understand what would be expected of the LAD on tour. The Regiment left Abingdon late on Tuesday 18th September and arrived in Camp Bastion on the morning of Thursday 20th.

The LAD workshop with the sun setting

The first week in CampBastion passed by in a bit of a whirlwind. On the first day, we were all allocated our accommodation and essential items of kit. I was able to sort out admin and prepare for the following day.

On Friday I started the 5 day RSOI package. RSOI is mandatory for everyone deploying in Afghanistan. This package ensures that everyone is current and up to date on the potentially life saving ‘skills and drills’. The five days allows for acclimatisation and I quickly became acquainted with the complete PPE; Osprey, helmet, gloves and eye protection.

Even though the temperature is dropping in Afghanistan; for those arriving in mid September there is no escaping the fact that this place is hot by comparison to the UK. The first couple of weeks here were blue skies and blazing sunshine. Whilst the temperature had crept back up to 30 degrees + during the day, already the mornings have a crisp chill to them. I have also experienced a couple of rain showers, both lasting all of about 30 seconds. There will be plenty more of that to come, I have been told!

So after completing the RSOI package and Equipment Support RSOI, I had been here a week already. With no time to spare, the LAD quickly got on with the handover/takeover from 4 CSLR LAD, Op Herrick 16. It didn’t take long to fall into a very basic work ‘routine’. In addition, I started to adapt to life in CampBastion; “home” for the next 6 months. Tents and ISO containers become the scenery. Carrying Osprey to and from work everyday has soon become the ‘norm’. Mobile phones have been replaced by the IPod Touch. No one leaves home without their rifle. Gunfire and explosions are regular background noise.

The cookhouse on Bastion 2 has excellent food, so much variety. The NAAFI has all the essentials and the American PX at CampLeatherneck is full of life’s little luxuries. My spare time in the evenings is taken up by general admin, going to the gym or writing blueys. ‘Op Massive’ has already started for some of the LAD, many of them spending their evenings in the CV suite or the weights room. For those not so self disciplined, we have three sessions of PT a week; CV and spinning class.

Scenery of tents and isos

So as the first month in Afghanistan draws to a close, the ripping in/out process almost at an end, our main effort is the LAD workshop. As a unit we maintain all of the RLC vehicles for the CSLR, keeping them operationally fit.

Look forward to the next installment For November 2012 ~ “Working for the LAD and our primary role”.

For more information on 128 Field Company please visit: http://www.serfca.org/en-us/reservists/ta/128fieldcompanyreme.aspx

Senior Aircraftwoman Boon on Herrick 15/16


SAC Boon on Op Herrick 15/16

I am a movements operator with 4624 Squadron, Royal Auxiliary Air Force and I have recently returned from a three and a half month tour in Camp Bastion. Myself and 5 others from the Squadron deployed with A Flight, 1 Air Mobility Wing (1 AMW) in February 2012 and formed the air movements element of the Joint Movements Unit at Camp Bastion. I worked on one of the three traffic teams which are responsible for physically loading and unloading the aircraft with anything from troops to helicopters. The work was physically demanding, especially bearing in mind that I work as an accountant in civvy street and spend my days sat at a desk looking at spreadsheets!

Arriving at Camp Bastion was a shock to the system as it is hard to imagine what it is going to be like before you actually get there.  Our pre-deployment training was largely trade focussed so it took a bit of time to get used to the routine of living and working on a large military base. After a couple of weeks, though, I felt totally at home. The regulars from 1 AMW were fantastic and made the reservist contingent feel very much part of the team which was great.

We worked 12 hour shifts and rotated between days and nights. On balance I think I enjoyed the night shift more but I was always grateful to see the sun when my turn on the day shift came round. It was not too hot during our tour and the heat only really became intense during our final few weeks. The work on traffic is quite varied, involving restraining loads on the aircraft, driving various vehicles to get the loads to and from the aircraft and a fair amount of baggage stacking! My favourite job was driving the rough terrain fork lift truck – it is the size of a tractor and great fun to drive.

 

Driving the rough terrain fork lift truck

I was fortunate in that during my time at Bastion, the Indirect Fire Alarm was only sounded once and I believe that it was a false alarm, although I did not know that at the time. Security concerns meant we had to carry our rifles at all times when not on the airfield but we never had to fire our weapons. Life at Camp Bastion is safe compared to forward operating bases and checkpoints and I was grateful for that. All the movers had to do at least one guard duty during the tour and I found myself in a tower on the perimeter fence for 24 hours with three soldiers from the Royal Logistic Corps. It was the only opportunity I had to see the country which existed outside the wire and I found it very interesting.

Overall, I really enjoyed my time at Camp Bastion because it was a total break from the norm and I deployed with a great group of people. It was still wonderful to return home at the end of May and to see my friends and family. I have now been back at work in my civilian job for almost a month. It was initially strange returning to the office but my colleagues have been fantastic, making me feel very welcome and helping me to settle back in.

For more information on joining 4624 Movements squadron RAuxAF tel 01993 897262 or email: bzn4624sqn-chfclk@mod.uk