Tag Archives: Operations

From Strength To Strength


Veteran-Mark Smith

I served 10 years with the 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards, but whilst overseas in 2011, I was shot several times, resulting in the loss of my right leg and part of my right shoulder.
I was subsequently medically discharged in 2013, this was after 10 weeks in Hospital, over 20 operations and being resuscitated six times! Due to being nil by mouth fairly often, I lost over 20kg during my time in Hospital and after seeing myself deteriorate every day that I looked in the mirror, I vowed I’d never look that ill again.

Myself on stage

Myself on stage

Fast forward to the present day and I kept my promise to myself-Since November 2014 I have been competing as a Disability Bodybuilder and it has been amazing so far. I won my first competition last November, then received an invite to compete in America, which I took up and in March, competed and won in Texas and best of all, I was invited back on stage to pose with current 4 times Mr Olympia, Phil Heath! Since returning, I have competed in an able bodied Novice class, where I took Best up and coming bodybuilder and now have 3 competitions in the next 3 weekends.
When I left the Forces, I went through what most lads go through-Missing being a Squaddie, but being stubborn, I stuck it out and getting involved in this sport has been my own anti-depressant.

Phil Heath and I

Phil Heath and I

I have appeared on various radio stations, national newspapers, TV documentaries and been signed to a management company, as well as becoming a sponsored athlete and I’ve even been invited to be involved in this years Body Power Expo at the NEC. The interest in myself and the potential have been overwhelming and I’m keen to share this with other veterans who have been injured, who perhaps aren’t aware that there is a Disability Bodybuilding class. I’m convinced it’s the perfect transition for Squaddies-The routine, discipline and physical nature mean the strengths of coming from a military background make it feel similar, which I think has helped me overcome missing being a Soldier.

I have my own bodybuilding page and I’d be more than happy to talk with any lads interested in finding out more. It would be a very proud moment to step on stage with a veteran that I have inspired to become a bodybuilder.

For more information you can visit
https://www.facebook.com/MarksmithBB

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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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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

Army Reserves Prepare for the Commonwealth Games


Mobilised for the Commonwealth Games

More than 2,000 military personnel from all 3 services, including hundreds of Reserves, have been tasked to assist with venue security as well as undertaking a number of ceremonial roles. We intend to deliver to you a weekly Blog from a Reservists perspective…..

2014 Commonwealth Games Logo

2014 Commonwealth Games Logo

Lieutenant General Sir Nicholas Carter, the Standing Joint Commander, said:

The armed forces have always provided support to the civilian authorities in the UK whenever it is needed. We are ready to assist in whatever contingencies may arise and have done so during the 2012 Olympics and more recently during the floods crisis. We are extremely proud to be able to provide support to the Glasgow Commonwealth Games as part of a task that reflects the flexibility, capability and adaptability of our armed forces. As part of our shared commitment to ensure a safe and secure Games, the UK government will fully fund this military contribution, with no costs being incurred by Police Scotland.

RTMC Chilwell

RTMC Chilwell

All personnel mobilising for the Commonwealth Games made their way to RTMC Chilwell to start the mobilisation process on 10th July 2014 – At 0800hrs the mobilisation begins with briefings on the task ahead and the mobilisation process:,J1 administration and a medical.  All personnel from 103 Bn REME and 3 PWRR successfully passed. 11th July 2014 – All personnel move to Grantham to commence the training package. 12th July 2014 – After a few short briefings all troops were split into small groups and the SIA (Security Industry Authority) training began .

Security Industry Authority Certificate

Security Industry Authority Certificate

Perseus a civilian security company took the lead role in the training, they trained us in “Working in the private security industry” and “Managing conflict and challenging behaviour” both of which were to City & Guilds level 2 standards and consisted of 4 theory exams, 1 theory assessment and a physical assessment. 15th July 2014 – After a long and tiring few days of training, most of the mobilised personnel head off to Grantham town centre for a well-earned and deserved social evening. 16th July 2014 – Currently waiting to move to Glasgow, moral is high and everyone is looking forward to the challenge ahead. The mobilised personnel from 103 Bn REME and 3 PWRR wish to thank all the staff from RTMC Chilwell, Grantham and Perseus for all their kind help and advice during the mobilisation process and training package.

LCpl Arkwright, 103 Bn REME

 

Naval Reservist is ready to support counter-piracy


Royal Naval Reserve (RNR) at HMS King Alfred

With her long-held love of the sea and marine sports, experienced sailor Alice Moore was always destined to have a career that matched an ambition to learn more about the oceans that she studied during her Geography with Oceanography degree at the University of Southampton.

In early 2014, she will realise one of her career goals by joining the fight against piracy in the Indian Ocean when she joins the United Kingdom’s Maritime Trade Operations HQ in their Dubai-based operational hub providing advice to Merchant shipping transiting the vulnerable Middle East and Indian Ocean region.

It was not entirely unexpected that Alice would be drawn to the Royal Navy as an early career choice, especially given her active membership of the Combined Cadet Forces (CCF) during schooling at King’s College, Taunton, where she rose to be Head of Unit as Cadet Coxswain, further qualifying as a RYA Senior Instructor and teaching many young cadets sailing skills at both the RN Sailing Centre in Portsmouth and at Jupiter Point, the Navy’s sailing training facility at HMS Raleigh.

HMS King Alfred

HMS King Alfred

However, not ready to join the Royal Navy full time, Alice decided to broaden her options and seek experience across the maritime industry. Instead, she signed up to the Royal Naval Reserve (RNR) at HMS King Alfred in Portsmouth to take advantage of professional seamanship, leadership and management training, while seeking opportunities to support the regular Royal Navy on duties in her specialist branch role.

A perfectly complementary civilian career – mutually benefiting both the Royal Navy and the MCA.

In tandem with her part-time and weekend training in the Maritime Trade Operations specialisation of the RNR, Alice’s full-time civilian occupation perfectly complements her military career.

Joining the Maritime and Coastguard Agency in 2011, Alice spent many long shifts learning the duties of a Coastguard Watch Assistant at Lee-on-Solent, responding to Maydays, answering 999 calls, and dealing with various maritime incidents, before moving on to take up further tasking at the MCA HQ in Southampton.

AB Alice Moore

AB Alice Moore

The MCA’s Chief Executive Sir Alan Massey recently awarded Alice with a Maritime Search and Rescue (Foundation) certificate, which is an external accreditation, a customised award from the Scottish Qualifications Authority.

Declaring his unequivocal backing for the Agency’s support of the Reserve Forces, Sir Alan said:  “We are delighted to support Alice in her role as a Royal Naval Reservist.

“We recognise the value that people who volunteer as Reservists with the forces can bring to our workplace. 

“Alice has a wide range of transferable skills and qualities – including decision-making, team working, leadership and communication – which mutually benefit both the Royal Navy and the MCA. I have had the privilege of personally witnessing this from both sides of the fence – and it works superbly well.

“The experience she gains in dealing with a diverse range of people from all backgrounds, nationalities and cultures is also transferable, benefiting both her role as a Reservist and work at the MCA.”

The MCA further supports their Reservists by offering up to 10 days’ special paid leave for them to undertake annual training. It also provides flexible working opportunities, where appropriate, to assist Reservists with their operational commitments.

Royal Naval reserves

Royal Naval reserves

Generous support realises vital role – 2012 Operation Olympics

Generous support from the MCA was vital when Alice volunteered to take part in Naval duties following the urgent call for military personnel to support Operation Olympics – London 2012, where she went on to carry out ceremonial duties in the flag-raising party at the International Olympic medal awards ceremonies. An experience that Alice will not forget, especially when she travelled to the Olympic Sailing Village in Weymouth and Portland to take part in the memorable medal awards ceremony as a Gold medal was presented to Olympic sailing champion Sir Ben Ainslie and seeing some of her sailing heroes up close and personal.

A competitive sailor herself, Alice has represented the Naval Service in

Inter-service Championships sailing in the Laser 2000 class. Highly competitive at University, she won plenty of glassware to grace the trophy cabinet back at home.

Back in her day job at the MCA, Alice’s duties over the course of a week range across a wide field of administrative responsibilities. Her tasks include processing maritime consents, dealing with Civil Liability Certificates and recording Dangerous goods refusal notices. She also prepares NAVTEX invoices, working closely with the UKHO. Alice maintains Port State Control inspection reports (that have been carried our on foreign flagged vessels that are operating in UK waters) received from MCA Marine Offices, and ensures accuracy of data received from Port Authorities regarding vessel movements before uploading this data to European Maritime Safety Agency’s (EMSA) THETIS database.

All of the skills and the business experience that she brings to her day job at the MCA are readily transferable to her specialist branch in the RNR. An RNR MTO specialist needs a strong understanding of the merchant fleet and its commercial business priorities and risks. International shipping travels across the globe under flags of many countries, bringing vital energy supplies and goods to the UK and exporting trade across the world.

Alice will bring this knowledge and experience when she joins the UK’s Maritime Trade Operational HQ in Dubai in January 2014 when she is mobilised for a second period of operational duty with the Royal Navy Reserve supporting the UK’s Maritime Command Centre based in Bahrain.

Preparing to deploy – realistic and useful training

The UKMTO provides an essential communications link and keeps a watching brief on commercial shipping passing through the important but critically vulnerable sea lanes across the Red Sea, Gulf region and Somali basin of the Indian Ocean, where piracy attacks and criminal activity have been common in recent years.

The cooperation between International Shipping and the military in the maritime domain has been one of the great success stories of the 20th century with organisations and big shipping corporations being mutually supportive, pooling resources and intelligence to protect the safety of the maritime domain.

The recently released Hollywood film Captain Phillips, starring Tom Hanks as a merchant ship Captain seized by pirates, gives a stark indication of what may happen if the alert military monitoring stance in the region was to lapse into complacency against the threat of piracy.

Alice is delighted that she will be able to put her knowledge to good use on this important deployment and has been taking part in a series of training exercises to hone her military capabilities for this domain. She was a recent participant in a National MTO exercise called Cambrian Trader in Milford Haven, one of the UK’s most important commercial ports. The maritime exercise prepares members of the MTO specialisation to take operational control of the security of merchant shipping, learn about boarding operations and briefings to ships, passing on vital information and cooperating with other agencies including Border Control. The MTO ratings learned about conducting Rapid Environmental Assessments and briefing on a rapidly changing environment in a transition to conflict scenario.

“We spent a week at HMS Collingwood practicing the theory, policy and understanding the scenario before relocating to an Army camp, near Penally, joining up with both AWNIS and NCAGS MTO specialists in the port to apply the practical element of the training which was really very realistic and useful. I realise that it’s going to be challenging abroad on operations – in a tropical climate and facing potential language barriers amongst the very experienced Master Mariners we will come across, but I am becoming knowledgeable and well aware of all the issues that they can face. As long as I can give a good briefing and help the crews on their way safely I will be very pleased to be part of this operation.”

When Alice returns from the deployment, she will look forward to picking up her career in the MCA and has an ambition to progress to become a Commissioned RNR Officer. She said: “I’ll feel ready to confidently start my Junior Officer training programme, study for my Admiralty Interview Board and hopefully one day become an MTO Officer in the Reserves specialising in Allied Worldwide Navigation and Information Systems. Some time in the future, I’d really like to work for the Hydrographic Office in Taunton.”

Alice is well supported in both of her careers by her Royal Naval Officer partner Richard, who is currently serving as the Deputy Logistics Officer on HMS Diamond, one of the Royal Navy’s advanced Air Defence Destroyers.  When they get some precious time together the pair enjoy renovating a barn in Somerset that they are hoping will become their new home and driving miniature steam trains.

For more details, or to register to attend, call 08456 00 32 22, search for ‘navy reserves’ on the web, or visit www.royalnavy.mod.uk/navyreserves.

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

 

 

 

On tour with 135 Independent Geographical Squadron Royal Engineers


Thelma in Helmand Province

Hello from Afghanistan!

I am now over 70% of the way through my tour and have just under two months left in theatre. However my return flight is yet to be confirmed so I am not pinning too many hopes on getting home by a particular date! I have been overwhelmed by the amount of support (and food!) that I have received from friends and colleagues so I wanted to provide you all with a bit of an update on what I have been up to. I hope this finds you well.

The arrival of our team out here was staggered over two and a half months with LCpl Wadlow the first to arrive five weeks before me and WO2 Coleman the last to be in post in mid January. During the past couple of months we have beenrotating through R&R, with at least one person out of theatre most of the time.

We are now a complete team for only a few more days before WO2 Coleman goes on R&R, by the end of which Lcpl Wadlow will have finished his tour and his successor will be in place. It’s these milestones that help us keep track of timeas otherwise most days are pretty routine and it can all blur together!

In February I managed to get to Kandahar for a two day visit and to see the Theatre Map Depot where another colleague from my TA unit is working. It was good to catch up with him and to see another base; it is completely different to Bastion which feels really quiet in comparison. Kandahar is based around the airfield and there is a lot more permanent infrastructure there including brick buildings, tarmacked roads and the famous Boardwalk which is an area of shops and restaurants (including TGI Friday’s!) on a raised wooden walkway surrounding a square where they play basket ball etc. It has almost a village green feel to it. Kandahar also has it’s very own tourist attraction in the form of a poo pond where all the waste is deposited and aerates and bubbles away. It is the done thing to go and have your photo taken next to the biohazard sign and I even managed to find a T-shirt advertising the Poo Pond Cafe (I was disappointed not to find the actual cafe though!) Kandahar generally felt a lot more sociable than Bastion as there was definitely a lot more to do outside of work.

At the Poo Pond, Kandahar

At the Poo Pond, Kandahar

I also managed to get out to Lash Kar Gah for a day a few weeks ago. The city is in the Green Zone, about a twenty minute helicopter flight away from Bastion. I went down to deliver some maps and to meet the Geo Cell that are based there. The flight was by Chinook and I took the opportunity to film it from the window. The loadie saw me with my camera and I thought he was going to tell me to stop filming but instead he invited me to sit up next to the door so I could get a better picture! He then spoke over his mic to the pilot who then flew us low over the town and for the first time I saw normal Afghans going about their daily business. There were people on bikes, in trucks and walking their donkeys. At one point we were so low that the wash from the back of the helicopter was making peoples washing flap up violently around on the washing lines in their compounds. It gave me a very brief glimpse in to the world of the every day Afghan and made me wonder about the challenges they face dealing with the insurgency that are all around that area.

Being stuck on base at Bastion can be frustrating at times and I would love to be able to get out more but the job I do does not warrant it. I can’t complain though; at least the chances of me coming home in one piece are pretty high. The base at Lash is tiny in comparison to Bastion and the perimeter fence is only a mile or so long but it seemed friendly and more relaxed Also there were flowers there – tulips, marigolds and poppies (of course). It was the first time in three months that I’d seen any form of vegetation as opposed to just sand, dust and rocks and it was delightful. We travelled back that night by Merlin helicopter in pitch darkness; they switch the lights off to make it less of a target for anyone aiming an RPG (rocket propelled grenade) at us.

Arriving at Kandahar Airfield

Arriving at Kandahar Airfield

I had my R&R during March and it was great, but over far too quickly. Amazingly the RAF got me back to Brize Norton on schedule and we landed at lunch time on my birthday, which was a lovely birthday present in itself. On the way to Salisbury and within an hour and a half of landing I managed to do a skydive, still in my uniform (we were passing Netheravon Airfield anyway and the sun was shining so I took the opportunity!). I visited my family in Somerset and then I went skiing for a week in Austria, where the snow was fantastic and I treated myself to a new pair of skis with my hard earned army wages! I then just had time to see some friends for dinner in London before driving up to Brize Norton and flying back that same night.

All this was lovely but the dashing around took it’s toll (a rookie mistake I’m told – the more experienced, wiser ones just go home and do nothing!) and I returned to theatre ill with a cold…and then got worse not better! After a week of trying to “griz it out” I eventually dragged myself to the med centre where a doctor listened to my chest, confirmed bronchitis and prescribed 7 days of penicillin and as much rest as work would allow. It took another two weeks to start feeling anywhere near 100% again though and it took me a long while to get back into any kind of routine fitness wise with a lot of ground to make up! Sadly there has been another vigil service to attend for another lad who was shot by a rogue Afghan soldier. He was only the second British soldier to die in the time that I have been here which I believe is an improvement on last year but we are only really at the beginning of the Taliban fighting season so incidents could start to increase again soon. However the move towards the transition of power over to the Afghan Army is continuing apace and they are now in the lead for the majority of operations. This means that there are less of our boys out on the ground doing the actual fighting than previously so hopefully the numbers of deaths and serious injuries should remain low. However it also means that the afghans are the ones taking the brunt of the casualties now as the insurgency are not simply giving up. Every so often we get an IDF attack on the base (Indirect Fire – someone trying to rocket us) The loud bang is preceded by tan alarm as there are instruments which detect incoming fire and we have to don our body armour and helmets and get ourselves to the nearest blast shelter (which are located pretty much everywhere). The last one was at 2am on Sunday night and it was the bang and not the alarm that woke myself and my room mate up (although we’re told it did sound). We had to leave our room and congregate in a shelter at the end of our pod while a register was taken and we waited for further information. Apparently there were six rockets in total and eventually the all clear was sounded and we were allowed back to our beds after about 45 minures. Sunday was the Mujahadeen Victory day and we were told to anticipate some kind of action as it is the day that marks the official beginning of the fighting season for the Taliban so things could get more interesting from now on in!

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The future of this country relies on the Afghans being able to run effective operations against the insurgency and it is no secret that huge numbers desert the army every year when they have enough of battle conditions. At the end of next year ISAF (international Security Assitance Force – ie us, the USA etc) support will be withdrawn all bar special forces and small mentoring teams so everyone is feeling the pressure.

The team I work in is training a small group of Afghan soldiers to be geo technicians so they can produce their own mapping. These people however did not grow up with computers so it takes them a long time to grasp even basic concepts so the training objectives are constantly being revised and adjusted to fit in with what is feasible as new challenges come to light. Also they do not have the same levels of discipline and timings are not as key in their culture as in ours so they turn up when they feel like it. The training is all conducted through our interpretor, Abdul, a native Afghani who escaped to Canada with his family when the Russians invaded. He is a lovely man who is very patient and humble and is excellent at his job which he has been doing for three years so has worked with many versions of our team. The other day during a tea break in the training he was interpreting for one of the soldiers who was telling us a little about his life. I always want to ask more but there is never enough time. Here we are enjoying a break in training with the Afghans and partaking in tea and some of the cakes and treats sent by friends and colleagues at both Southwark Council and the City of London.

In other news our team chill out area that we started working on before R&R is now finished – complete with decking and hammocks! My contribution was to source all the materials from around the camp and I managed to acquire decking wood, nails, paint, paint brushes and rope. Lcpl Westhead and WO2 Coleman did the construction work and Lcpl Wadlow added the finishing touches by painting Royal Engineers Crests on the walls. We also acquired a barbeque and have had a couple of Saturday evenings eating al fresco, which has made a pleasant change to the noisy and over crowded chow hall!

Also on the entertainment side of things, every so often there is a CSE show (Combined Services Entertainment) for the troops. Celebrities and entertainers arrive and travel round to the different bases for a few days doing a show in each location. Katie Melua was over here a while ago did a gig outside the NAAFI which was very good and drew quite a big crowd. The comedians who did the warm up act though were probably the highlight for most people as they had the whole audience in stitches. Needless to say the humour was pretty rude and appealed to squaddies of all ranks. In the cookhouse after the show I found I was in the queue next to one of the comedians and he invited me to join him on their table for dinner where I got to meet Katie herself.

For more information please visit http://www.serfca.org/en-gb/reservists/ta/135independentgeographicsquadronre.aspx