Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Colour Sergeant Mike Saunders, 2 MERCIAN, blogs from Helmand - Part 10

Greetings friends and readers at the Marwood, Worcester!

It is with sadness that I begin this week’s blog, as you will have heard four of our soldiers have made the ultimate sacrifice and I believe that certainly in our time the world is the poorer for it. Clever men will say very heartfelt statements, most will pause for a moment and then the world will turn again and something new will occupy the headlines. This is the nature of things and is no different for those who soldier here.

In these times I try to imagine what it would be like if that soldier were me and for a moment a vision of the utter devastation it would cause overwhelms me. I am sure it is the same for all those who serve here. An officer whom I respect (you know who you are) pointed me to these words of the great orator President T. Roosevelt from his address in Paris 1910. To me they strike a resonance to the struggles of the fighting man from any age.

“It is not the critic who counts. Not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles,
or where the doer of deeds could have done better.
The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood.
Who strives valiantly.
Who errs and comes up short again and again.
Because there is no effort without error or shortcoming’.
But who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion.
Who spends himself on a worthy cause.
Who at best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement.
And who at worst-if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly,
So that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls
Who knew neither victory or defeat”.

Myself I am not a religious man, so to say that I prayed for these men would be hypocritical, however they are in our thoughts and their families have the deepest sympathy of all of us here.

To continue with the blog I would again like to use the example of recent events and in doing so to highlight the tactics of the insurgent forces. In the previous blog we spoke of the Insurgent tactic of ambush and use of key terrain. Today I would like to show how they employ guerrilla tactics to disrupt and attack our forces.

It is fair to say that with our superior fighting ability and technology we are able to overpower the insurgents in most ways. In the infancy of the Operation there was a tendency towards force on force direct engagements, invariably this would involve the initiation of fighting that we refer to as “contact” followed by a phase in which each side sought to out fire or out manoeuvre the opposition. Even in the most remote areas the insurgents would soon be overmatched by a mixture of superior weapons and more importantly air or armoured assets.

The insurgents still engage the stabilisation forces in this way, however they now employ measures that allow them to engage us from a distance, or devices that can be laid and left to do their deadly work. The following is an account of such an incident that happened here recently and involved soldiers of the 2nd Battalion the Mercian Regiment.

Of the many areas that the Battle group cover one is called Nad e Ali, this area has long been associated with fierce insurgent resistance. In striking distance of the provincial capital this medium sized town has seen much fighting of late and is still largely unsettled. The troops from the patrol bases Argyll and Chilli must patrol firstly re-assure the locals and of equal importance dominate the ground denying it from insurgent use.

On one such patrol recently members of the Battalion experienced a very close shave with danger as they were targeted by an insurgent improvised explosive device (IED).

The devices themselves are normally planted at night by trained teams, this again put paid to the notion of a rough uneducated bandit force. They can range from small anti-personnel devices designed to maim anyone unfortunate to stand on them, all the way to huge devices designed to destroy armoured vehicles.

On the patrol in question lead by Captain Brigham and including Colour Sergeant Ben Cox (a native of Worcester) who was the front or “point man” moved down a minor road towards a track junction. Not happy with the situation that he could see ahead Ben stopped the Patrol short and decided to do a check. It soon became evident to Ben that there was something very wrong with this area.

Approaching the area carefully, sweating with the heat and pressure no doubt coursing with adrenaline Ben must try and identify if there is something dangerous that will threaten his mates who are behind him staring into the distance for insurgents with concerned faces.

It is vital that any device if present is cleared, as the insurgent’s show little or no regard as to who they injure or kill with such devices, the amount of limbless children and injured innocent civilians speak volumes against an insurgency that professes to represent the people of Afghanistan.

After a very brief examination Ben discovers enough to convince him that something dangerous may be present. After Ben’s partial confirmation the troops prepare to move out of the area as they need to find cover from the fierce sun and escape the attentions of the local insurgents, who by now are probably aware that they are in the area and who will assume that the device failed to function or has been discovered.

The Patrol now move back towards a friendly forces location that will afford better security and still enable control of the possible area of danger. There they are met by vehicles that will act as observation and weapon platforms if required until the experts can arrive.

A hot Helmand day gives way to a cool evening with a burning bronze sunset that belies the danger that the troops have faced this and every day. Still near the scene Ben and other members of the Platoon including the Platoon Sergeant Mark Giles wait in silent vigil protecting the area and guarding against insurgent interference.

After what seemed like an eternity, assistance came to the aid of the Platoon and after an extensive search several large explosive devices were found in and around the area Ben had indicated.

As is very often the case here in Afghanistan, good observation and basic Infantry skills have avoided potential disaster. An Infantry soldier is trained to observe and remain aware of the situation constantly, this coupled with a realisation of the gravity of the situation saves lives as much as any technology that can only do so much.

Ben, Mark and his team had spent considerable time in territory hotly contested by the insurgents and in doing so saved both their own lives and potentially the lives of innocent civilians. This is not an isolated incident; soldiers of Your County Regiment put themselves in danger daily in the pursuit of peace in this country. And as always try to live up to the Regiments motto:


Well readers that’s it for this week’s blog, I hope to write again soon but until we speak again take care and be safe.

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