Monday, April 6, 2009
Lieutenant Colonel Simon James Banton from 2nd Battalion The Mercian Regiment (2 MERCIAN) deployed to Afghanistan at the end of March 2009. He is writing blogs about his experiences in Helmand which will be published here from now on, starting with his first blog on his arrival in Helmand in April.
06 April 2009
Troops from 2nd Battalion, The Mercian Regiment began to deploy to Afghanistan on --- March.
For the majority, the move to Afghanistan was a charter flight from the UK to Dubai followed by a military flight by C17 to Camp Bastion (BSN) in the middle of the Helmand desert. Immediately on landing, no matter what time of day it was, there were mandatory briefs to listen to, after which everyone could get their heads down for the night - before the Reception, Staging and Onward Integration (RSOI) commenced in earnest. The RSOI package for the OMLT Battle Group (BG) is slightly different to the rest in southern Afghanistan. After one long day of Powerpoint presentations in Bastion we moved direct to Camp Tombstone for an OMLT specific four-day training package.
The first day incorporated an overview of the ANA and the whole spectrum of operations. The second covered basic personal skills specific to theatre involving key reports that would need to be filled out whilst on operations, theatre hygiene and most importantly specific medical training that would be useful to us over the next six months. The third day covered, what was for most, the most interesting subject - weapons training. Here the Heavy Machine Gun, Grenade Machine Gun, General Purpose Machine Gun, Sig Sauer pistol and the traditional SA80A2 personal rifle were fired by every individual. The highlight (although some would disagree) being the live firing section attack, carrying radios and a casualty on the withdrawal - not something we expected to do in the first few days of arriving in Afghanistan - but something that could become very real over the next six months. The fourth day was split in half: one half completing Signals and vehicle equipment care demonstrations, while the other covered counter measures for dealing with Improvised Explosive Devices at day and night (a salient issue at the present time and a sobering piece of training for most).
Each night there were several lectures for all ranks to attend to ensure the plethora of information was fully taken in. These covered an array of subjects, including how the OMLT fitted into the NATO role and how individuals were expected to interact with the ANA - a lot to absorb, in such a short time, but highly relevant to what we were about to take on.
Everyone agreed that this was one of the best RSOI packages that they have taken part in and congratulations go to the 1 RIFLES Battle Group for delivering such a worthwhile package. The lessons we have learnt will stand us in excellent stead for the tour and there is no doubt that we will hit the ground running.
The regiment is now complete in Camp Tombstone, Helmand Province, Afghanistan. Located next to Camp Shorabak the home of 3 Brigade of 205 'Hero Corps' of the Afghanistan National Army (ANA), we are in a prime location to be the Operational Mentoring and Liaison Team (OMLT) Battle Group (BG) for the ANA.
From Tombstone the Battle Group has deployed to over 20 different locations spread over hundreds of miles to start their handover and takeovers. As of the 27th March, this was completed and I took command of the OMLT BG; the Battalion's soldiers are in place and even now patrolling with their ANA counterparts.
Over the next six months I look forward to working with our ANA allies, fostering our links with them and furthering their abilities. They are the future for this country and it is our job to support them and mentor them until they are ready to take the helm.
For all of you at home, we hope that you are well and as always I pass on my best. Morale here is high and the men are itching to crack on with their task. This promises to be a memorable tour and one that will allow us to make a real difference to the ANA.
Lieutenant Colonel Simon Banton
2nd Battalion, The Mercian Regiment