Monday, April 20, 2009
Maj Iain Moodie, OC B Company, 2 RIFLES BG - blogs from Helmand, part 1
I am writing this piece from a dusty hillock on the edge of the Helmand River surrounded by fields of white and red flowering poppies and sweeping desert, which eventually reaches the mountains to the east. Forward Operating Base (FOB) INKERMAN is a basic, yet tranquil spot at this time of year, with flocks of tropical birds swooping over the lush vegetation of the ‘Green Zone’ while nomads herd their goats in the wilderness.
Occasionally the peace is spoilt by a low-flying fighter aircraft circling overhead or a helicopter arriving to drop of mail, people and all manner of supplies and spares that keep us going and our morale high. Life is good in INKERMAN and everyone is definitely pleased to be out of the sprawling tented maze that is Camp BASTION.
B Coy is almost complete, having received a very comprehensive handover from a very sun tanned Yankee Company of the Royal Marines. The main issue has been getting our heads round the Marines’ terminology, for example try and decipher: ‘I’m off to get some ogin to make a mega hoofing wet to go with my scran in the galley before I use the heads’. It's a completely different language and the next hurdle is learning Pashto. Snowy, Mick Brandon and Lusio Tanoa have brains spinning enough with all the serial numbers and complicated army abbreviations they have had to deal with taking over endless signals kit and stores of stores without having to deal with ‘Jack Speak’ and ‘Pusser’s Gen Dits’.
On the intelligence and influence front Cpl ‘Jona’ Jones has certainly been making an impression with the local farmers by hosting a number of Shuras (meetings), he has already received a number of gifts including; bread, a knife and even a pet cockerel, which the Interpreters promptly cooked up and ate.
The majority of the company have now been on patrol into the local villages and through the local ditches, the latter being a refreshing escape from the mid-day sun. The locals are generally friendly, greeting us with a wave and a few words of Pashtu that we are yet to understand. The children are always curious, especially if there are pens and sweets involved.
Most people that surround the FOB are extremely poor, living in very basic mud-walled compounds with their animals and the extended families. The only piece of modern technology being the ‘wind-up’ radios that are handed out by the patrols and on which they can listen to DJ Pete Manley's INKERMAN FM aka Radio-in-a-Box - a combination of wailing noises (Afghanis’ version of Top of the Pops) and educational programmes for the young ‘The Rabbit and the Cat’ being a particular favourite (I won’t spoil it for you but it is bad news for the rabbit).
The next week will be busy as B Coy settle into our new home, building shelves out of ammunition tins, learning how to do our own washing and thinking up imaginative ways of digesting the diet of noodles and dried scrambled egg that is served up to the troops every day.
They say that a six month deployment feels like twelve months, and for B Company that may almost be true. Our pre-deployment training started in October 2008 and we have been flat out ever since.
The training delivered by the Company, Battalion and Operational Training and Advisory Group has been thorough, focused and demanding. The exercises have been realistic, challenging and, dare I say it, fun. The resources that we have had have enabled us to do realistic and relevant training although we could have always done with a bit more time with a metal detector, more time on the specialist weapons, or half-decent weather to actually see an Apache helicopter. Despite this, the Company is well-honed and up for the challenge that awaits us in Forward Operating Base (FOB) Inkerman.
FOB Inkerman will be our home for the next six months. It is an impressively large FOB made out of Afghan compounds and purpose built shelters that will deliver all our infrastructure requirements. It is well placed to launch us on our patrols to provide security for the local Afghans, support the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and assist the Afghanistan National Security Forces, both Police and Army, whilst we are there.
It will prove to be a challenging tour, with everyone being tested to the limits. That said, it will also provide us with the best opportunities that soldiering can offer. I have no doubt that everyone in the Company Group will deliver. We are ready for this.
Our equipment has been issued, and although we have received everything that we could have wanted, it still has not stopped certain members of the Company spending small fortunes to get their ‘rig’ just right. The importance of this is paramount, and although many of you will be wondering where on earth all the money has gone, it is critical that in the heat and terrain, we have it just right.
The test will be when we return and you see what has not been used. We are hugely grateful to B Company, 2 PARA and Y Company, 45 Cdo Royal Marines for helping us to get ready. Their advice, patience, expertise and willingness to impart information to us has been invaluable. From Toms’ and Marines’ Top Tips to the top of the shop – all has been greatly appreciated, so thank you.
Our FOB will be one of the most austere locations we will have ever served in. We will be on 10-man rations mostly and one day of fresh food a month if we are lucky. The communications home are not great although there are plans to improve this. There are already six internet terminals in the FOB but they are slow and we have 200 people trying to get on them. We are hoping to get an E-Bluey machine into the FOB to improve mail times, giving us our mail 24hrs after it is sent. Parcels are a different story because of the tortuous supply chain and can take anything up to five weeks to arrive. Please bear with this as it is out of everyone’s control and we will do what we can to speed things up. Bearing this in mind, please pack your parcels accordingly: we would hate to hand the enemy an easy victory because of an over-ripe camembert!
We will all get R&R and will look forward to seeing you at some stage during the tour. The opportunity to spend time with loved ones, getting some decent ‘scoff’, sleeping in a comfortable bed, having a washing machine doing our ‘dhobi’ and having flushing toilets will be a great punctuation mark and we all anticipate it eagerly.
Finally, thank you for reading this and for your support. We have had the privilege of it in the past and will be reliant on it over the course of the next six months.
Please know that it is never taken for granted and that everything is hugely appreciated. Please keep those letters, parcels; blueys etc coming because news and treats from loved ones at home is what will keep us going. Thanks again and more news next month.
Maj Iain Moodie, OC B Company