Tuesday, July 21, 2009
Maj Iain Moodie, OC B Company, 2 RIFLES BG - blogs from Helmand, part 3
The two principle subsistence harvests, of poppy and wheat, are now over. The maize is already a foot high and the fighting has resumed again in earnest. It is a cat and mouse game out there in the Green Zone, but fortunately, although the mice are dangerous, we mostly play the cat. Our patrols continue to disrupt the insurgents and constrain their freedom of movement. It all seems quite predictable. We leave as early as we can to try and beat the heat and the dickers who constantly watch our every move, relaying to the insurgents where we are and where we are heading.
Gradually, during the course of the morning, once the insurgents have completed their call to prayer by the local Imam and had breakfast, they find their weapons and make their way towards the patrol to get into position. Our patrol, in many ways, is a big block of cheese. Once they are confident that they are in a safe position, especially with adequate safe routes to extract, they open up on us with everything they have got. It is very difficult to see the insurgents before the contact because of the thickness of the vegetation, the numerous compounds and rat runs all provide ample cover from view.
At this stage, the mouse has the upper hand but not for long. Once the firing points have been located, the Company puts down a staggering amount of small arms fire which results in the suppression of their firing points. We then set about trapping the mouse with artillery and mortars, using aircraft and attack helicopters to search in depth. We close the trap of indirect fire and soon we are engaging directly onto their firing points. Occasionally, an insurgent will break and dart for a safer location, only to run into the Riflemen’s fire. The game is now well practised and routine.
Life in the FOB continues peacefully and we find respite in it from all the challenges and discomfort of patrols. It is a comfortable existence however R&R is now in full swing and we are doubling up duties in order to release our comrades for their much needed break. The task is not onerous with the knowledge that they will soon be repaying the favour. The rations continue to fill us and although we have not had any frozen food for 37 days now, we are all resigned to the fact that something or somewhere is a higher priority than us. We are just grateful that we are getting out for R&R. Our E-bluey machine has been a godsend during this period and although the parcels and other mail are taking their time reaching us, the written word is nearly immediate and much appreciated.
Fashion trends are beginning to emerge whilst we are out here. Not just the normal things like 70s-style moustaches and extra-long sideburns but others too. In particular, washbags are clearly a prized FOB accessory, but not just any washbag. They have to be re-cycled claymore anti-personnel mine bags. It is amusing to see the NCOs strutting to the showers with their claymore bags across their chests, like some metro-sexual man bag. There is also a pecking order to get access to this re-cycled equipment, with the NCOs having access to the claymore bags whilst the Riflemen have been seen using 5.56mm ammo containers for theirs.
Most of us have been subjected to a haircut since we have been here now. Mostly, we have tried to leave it as long as possible but the heat and sweat has meant that most have opted for a short crew-cut. Others have resisted and seem intent on doing so until R&R and so we have a few Art Garfunkel lookalikes cutting around. Whether they are resisting a poor cut or the dire hairdressers’ chat that goes with it is unconfirmed. I had my haircut by Cpl ‘Slick’ Alford, our Forward Air Controller, the other day and most of the time I was sat in the chair was spent listening to him natter to Gunner Kean, who spends most of his time in tanning oil and army issued underwear obscenely ‘tucked in’ to maximise exposure! Their mid-cut work chat is excruciatingly painful.
We are looking forward to 5 Platoon returning shortly to the B Company fold. They have been attached to A Company in Sangin and their return will be most welcome. We have watched with interest their progress in Sangin and their contribution to the security of the town has been great. After a short adjustment we will be united at last to take the fight to the insurgents in the Upper Sangin Valley .
Throughout all of this our thoughts and prayers are with the families and friends of Rfn Cyrus Thatcher and Lt Paul Mervis. In addition, we thrive on the spirit, guts and determination of the injured who are recovering exceptionally well in the excellent medical facilities in the UK.
Maj Iain Moodie, OC B Company