Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Maj Rupert Follett, 2 RIFLES BG, FOB Wishtan

Update from Forward Operating Base Wishtan – 23rd September

The end of the tour is almost in sight, the days are ticking by and our replacements have started to arrive. The new Royal Engineer section has now been here for over a week, new signallers arrived today and the first man from 1 SCOTS is in and getting used to his new surroundings. All our replacements will receive a thorough handover during the coming few weeks, so that they are prepared for the challenges of living and operating in Wishtan. The R and R window has now closed so the FOB is as full as it has been for months.

Operationally there is no let up and the tempo remains high. 5 Pl under Lt Parry and Sjt Clark deployed on a 4 day expeditionary patrol and worked closely with the Afghan National Army with great results. C Company are now a routine presence in the Sangin Wadi, which is one of the main arterial routes into Sangin District Centre. We patrol to extend ISAF influence, deter insurgent activity and reassure the locals.

9 Pl under 2Lt Little and Cpl Scott recently deployed to Patrol Base Chakaw and will remain there until the end of the tour. Sjt Moncho has remained in the FOB to conduct the G4 handover and has his hands full accounting for kit and equipment. We have said goodbye to Sjt Heng who was the previous G4 stores account holder, he has finished his tour and has headed back to 7 Rifles.

Election day is now a month ago and we still feel the tragic loss of Pte Young YORKS and Sjt McAleese who were killed that awful day. Now that we have BFBS television and internet we have been able to watch some of the coverage surrounding their deaths and their funerals, all of our hearts go out to their families and friends.

C Company also feel the loss of Sjt McGrath, killed in action recently near FOB Keenan. He was our Mortar Fire Controller in FOB Gibraltar before the Company moved to Wishtan and again our thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends.

We have had the RSM patrol up from FOB Jackson to spend a few days with us. It was good to see him and he helped to reconstruct our outdoor gym. Sideburns have noticeably lengthened since he went back to FOB Jackson! On a lighter note the Company Serjeant Major, WO2 Thompson, continues to play the same tracks from ‘The Wurzels’ greatest hits every night. Cpl Rowley has just returned from Bastion, where he managed to squeeze a morning’s work into 5 days as he checked the signals account. The Pharmacy Road Cricket Club has been formed, 2Lt Hilliard fashioned a bat from a piece of wood, a pole from a cot bed and a lot of black nasty tape. Regrettably on the very first ball delivered by our Doctor – Capt Cranley, 2Lt Hilliard’s enthusiasm got the better of him, as an Australian he was probably trying to win back the Ashes, and he smashed the ball over the perimeter wall. No one has yet been brave enough or daft enough to go and retrieve it. It is hoped that a game against the Salamanca Cricket Club founded by Lt Horsfall when he was in Patrol Base Chakaw can be arranged.

We are all looking forward to coming home as it has been a long and brutal slog. The number of Riflemen sun bathing in any spare moment has increased, in an effort to look suntanned and interesting for our return. I cannot finish without mentioning all the welfare parcels and mail we have received throughout the tour. It has been overwhelming and really does make a marked difference to morale, so huge thanks to everybody who has supported us.

With best wishes

Major Rupert Follett
Officer Commanding FOB Wishtan.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Colour Sergeant Mike Saunders, 2 MERCIAN, blogs from Helmand - Part 19

Greetings friends and readers at the Marwood, Worcester!

This will be my last blog for a few weeks as I will soon be going home for some rest, I hope to see some of you in person as I will make a visit to the Marwood on my return.

This week the theme, if such a thing exists with my ramblings, is departures. We have all seen the news and know of the great losses sustained in the fierce fighting here. What is less publicised is the soldiers who return home injured or at there end of tour, both of which deserve attention and recognition for different reasons.
For those injured soldiers the road to recovery may be a long and painful process and we must guard against not including them as the friends and comrades that they are.

This is difficult as the pace of operation’s here continues and on return the drive to restart lives put on hold is intense. For some seeing again the injured and the results of such injuries can be a traumatic process that will force them to relive moments that will have been buried deep. Individuals will deal with this in different ways and I for one will not judge any man who finds meeting casualties again too much.

After our previous tour I made a few visits to the Forces rehabilitation centre at Hedley Court. I was struck by a number of things but mostly the quantity of the casualties and their absolute refusal to be defeated by the injuries inflicted upon them. It sounds like a cliché to say that I was humbled by these soldiers, but I was and I still am.

If the pictures on the news of the crowds at Wooten Basset teach us one thing, it is that soldiers will always be soldiers, regardless of when their service ends and indeed for what reason. I sat here and watched with my colleagues the pictures as the hearses drove through the town. For us who serve here this was an emotional time as we had seen these men on to the plane that would take them home and then they were there, in the spotlight of the world media for all to see and acknowledge.

I must admit that a small part of me did not want to see this, as if by avoiding it the truth would be somewhat diminished and some of the shock dispersed. Alongside the well wishers and the general public were soldiers old and new, some of whom will have tasted the bitterness of loss and the sadness of seeing good friends injured in the line of duty.

We as a Battalion have sent many friends home, some of whom will take many months to recover if they can at all. I speak of people like Major Stuart Hill one of the Company Commanders who was injured badly in the incident that took the life of Private Robbie Laws. He is now in a fight of a different kind as he must now try to climb the mountain of recovery which is set before him. He will do this in the same way that he conducted himself here, with pride, dignity and the tenacity that befits an Infantry soldier.

We have also sent friends home who have completed their time with us and in doing so have built strong bonds that have been tested to the limit in a place that does not support petty unit differences or minor grudges. In this case I speak of people like Colour Sergeant Al Dunn, who has got to be the angriest man I have had the pleasure of meeting. Al came to us with the Company from the 3rd Battalion the Royal Scottish Regiment and was given to us to be a Company Quartermaster Sergeant. This task involves ensuring that men and material get to the right place at the right time and is as difficult a task as it is critical.

Al while being angry secretly possessed a heart of gold that was well hidden, but not unseen beneath a gruff archetypal Scottish exterior. Indeed I recall vividly him enjoying himself greatly with us all as he sat and enjoyed the feast we had on St Georges day, surrounded by Englishmen as if he was born to be there!
To Al and others who will be gone by the time I return from leave I wish only the best of luck and if there is any justice we will meet again near a bar so I can secure the pint that he owes me.

In all of this I am reminded that departures can be the saddest of times but on reflection they can be the foundation on which great memories are made. We are given over in this life to make many partings some of which will inspire us, some of which will rend our hearts in two. Experience of such comings and goings are the fabric by which we make the backgrounds for our life, they bring meaning and substance to the ebb and flow of all that we are and as such we must embrace the opportunity to keep moving forward while fixing an eye on those of whom we have left behind.

Soon I will be amongst my family and friends and it will be strange for some time to not wake up and go through the routine of my day here, for a time I will miss my friends that continue on in my absence but I will rejoin them soon enough.
For the time being readers be careful, be safe and remember to live in the now. I will leave you with a short poem I wrote after watching the repatriations of so many of our number that to recall it brings me sadness.


The villagers of Wooten Bassett stood,
As the hearses all went by.
Above the sky had opened,
As if the clouds themselves did cry.
Old and young stood silent,
As they thought about the cost,
While families of fallen men grieved from sudden loss.
Meanwhile several hours ahead and a thousand miles away,
The fallen soldier’s comrades had seen out another day.
Another day of fighting in this distant brutal land,
Another day of being the line drawn in the sand.
Soon the fallen soldiers name will be chiselled into a wall,
Please remember not the statue,
All gave some, some gave all.