Friday, July 30, 2010

Frontline bloggers has moved!

Frontline Bloggers has moved to a new location!

The new look Helmand Blog has consumed this site. All the posts on here have been migrated and there are new posts going up regularly.

Thank you very much for your support and we look forward to seeing you in our new home at

Friday, May 21, 2010

Afghan Diet Club: free membership for all

Captain Stuart Thomas is the Main Troop Commander of 204 Signal Squadron, based in Lashkar Gah for his six-month tour.

Main Troop monitors all communications into Task Force Helmand Headquarters based in Lashkar Gah. We also have Information Systems Engineers (computer geeks) and technicians who look after the repair and maintenance of the numerous computer and radio systems.

The Troop has been bolstered significantly, with two operators flying in from Catterick Garrison and a couple returning from their adventures on the ground.

We’re trying to raise £10,000 for ABF – The Soldiers’ Charity. To kickstart the charity drive, we have been organising the Lashkar Gah 10km race which will take place this weekend (23 May 2010). A route around the camp has been cleared and competitors will run 12 laps across sand, stone and shale. So far about 80 people have signed up and pledged $10 each to run. Some of the troop have been training harder than others and some not at all!

Now two months into the tour it’s working well as a weight loss programme for some. No need for gastric bands here. The heat, the weight carried by those out on the ground and the good gym facilities have allowed the guys to tone up in an attempt to get beach ready (beached whale perhaps?) for their loved ones back home. One of the Troop has lost over two stone so far (equivalent to a medium sized toddler?), and by the end of the tour we are going to get one of those photos of him holding his previously tent-sized trousers, and he can wonder how he ever fit into them.

The general election was followed closely, and much like the Olympics, everyone became an expert on all things they previously knew nothing about. If you don’t believe me wait until 2012 and listen to your parents discuss synchronized swimming, and shake their heads in disappointment when a diver attempts a triple pike and double back flip and makes too much of a splash on entry.

I have been explaining over and over again what a Hung Parliament is. After the excitement we had that stewards enquiry (I know horse racing is not in the Olympics!) to find out the winner, and now everyone has lost interest.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Longing for a good Bordeaux

Captain Jeremy Hahn, an Armoured Vehicle Commander with the Royal Dragoon Guards, is based in Kandahar.

Sometimes the most innocuous of comments, in the most curious of environments, delivered by the most incongruous people, trigger pangs of longing and bouts of home-sickness or frustration. And so it was one balmy evening this week when I found myself in downtown Kandahar talking to a bearded Scotsman, who had been working in private security here for the last eighteen months. I was picking his brains for some local ‘knowledge’ and a download of insurgent activity. He was regaling me, in front of a map, with the various bombings, kidnaps, murders, fire-fights etcetera, when he used the phrase ‘and there was claret everywhere’, and suddenly I lost concentration and drifted into a Bordeaux-craving reverie.

Maybe for five minutes afterwards my thoughts turned to the produce of those clever little men of the Gironde and my excellent and kindly vintner, Simon Wrightson who gifted me a delicious Chateaux Beaulieu for a last drink before I departed a month ago. What I wanted at that moment, more than any other earthly pleasure, was to be sat in an English garden, with the Darling-Betrothed enjoying a bottle, or two, without a care in the world. Sadly the apparition quickly passed and it was back to the task in hand. Writing this has in no way slaked that thirst.

Getting a close-up view of the streets of Kandahar

When moving around Kandahar, either in our armoured vehicles or on foot, it is hard to travel more than a street without passing flowering oleanders, either long swathes or solitary plants. The majority are of the cerise variety which lines the byways of Tuscany and Umbria. It is a striking concurrence of the natural beauty of these handsome flowers and the urban degradation and bullet holes, that allows you to glimpse briefly into a world that might have been, had the region endured prosperity rather than war, hosted with a fierce and depressing frequency.

There has been much media coverage in recent years over an alleged systemic failure of our military/government/whoever to provide the Army with the ‘kit and equipment’ it requires in order to execute its missions effectively, and with minimum loss of life. There have been instances where coroners have returned verdicts of unlawful death and where people much more knowledgeable than I have criticised the equipping of soldiers.

I have nothing but good things to say about the equipment at our disposal in Afghanistan. It is all good quality, there has been no shortage of it, and as an end user it fulfils my needs and criteria for the job I am performing. The armoured vehicles that are my trusty steeds are excellent, offering protection, urban mobility, and a variety of firepower that is apposite to the situation and terrain. We have new helmets, ballistic eye protection, and personal body armour.

The night vision and thermal imaging systems are state of the art. We have other equipment which I do not understand as it has been designed by people in lab-coats, with all manner of science related post-nominals, who eat plenty of fish. But this stuff helps to stop bombs going off around you, and is the envy of the other members of the coalition force here in Afghanistan.

The view from my gun turret

I suppose the truth is, several years ago when I first deployed to Iraq I purchased bits of kit that I needed to supplement what I was to be issued. Now however, I have bought and brought nothing to aid me in my deployment. Further to that, since I have been here, I cannot think of anything I could have self-purchased that would have benefited me on the ground.

One of the most trivial hurdles to jump when on operations is that posed by the problem of getting a haircut. A quick fix solution would be to shave the lot off, but I am disinclined to burn the old onion anymore than is entirely necessary. Standards, both those of the Army and those of a gentleman dictate that growing the mop is also a non-starter. So I plucked-up the courage to go to a dingy place at the airfield run by dour middle-aged Russians.

My heart was in my mouth when I saw the only English words on the price list were ‘flat top $5.25’. Anyone who has seen any war-movie featuring the US marines will understand my horror. Keen not to be sporting a ‘jarhead’, I mentioned this, but the hairdresser spoke no English and so the upshot was I had no idea what was about to happen. My panic, much like my writing, was a lot of fuss about nothing, for, like every time I have had my haircut for the last thirty two years, the result has been astonishingly underwhelming. And this was no exception.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Chocolate and pens: meeting the locals

Major Mark Suddaby, a Company Commander with 1st Battalion, The Royal Regiment of Scotland (1 SCOTS), writes about meeting the Afghan people.

My forward operating base is home to not only the 1st Kandak, but also 1st Battalion, The Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment, known as 1 LANCS. They are the ISAF Combined Force for Nad-e’ Ali, who work in partnership with the Afghan National Army (ANA) and Afghan National Police (ANP) to provide security for the farming communities of this district. All I have to do, with my four Advisor teams collocated with Afghan Tolays, or Companies, is provide the Kandak with some British Army expertise and advice.

The Afghan Warriors (soldiers) are brave and willing, but it is a new revamped army and you can’t grow an army overnight. It’s taken the British Army (and I serve in its oldest line infantry regiment) nearly four hundred years to develop and we are still learning! The officers try to keep up with us but lack the training and experience of a Western military machine. So, good soldiers but lacking in key skills. This is a country ravaged by over thirty years of near continuous conflict. It is poor and the people resigned to being the ball in a tennis match of political and religious rivalry. It does not help that Afghanistan sits in such a strategically vital location where East meets West, with almost no natural resources, but that’s history and I’m drifting off the point.

It was clear that I needed to improve the living conditions of the Warriors and help them get equipment through their own logistics chain. So, me and my small team of utterly determined men (and a woman – our medic) are now setting about the Kandak like a whirling dervish, peeking into every process and under each procedure to get the Afghans what they need to fight and defeat the insurgents, or enemies, as the Afghans call them (there is no word for insurgent in Dari).

I get out with my six man company headquarters, mounted in two Jackal patrol vehicles, pretty much every other day, to visit my teams or attend shuras, or meetings, with the local population. The Jackals ride high but are open which I like as you can interact with the locals. We drive slowly, so as not to kick up too much dust into the faces of the locals on bikes, and I realise that this little piece of Afghanistan is not so different from the wheat fields of home. Clearly the people are dressed a little differently and there is very little traffic, but squint and I could just be back home.

But you know what, it’s the children. It always is; as it was in Bosnia and Iraq. They have nothing. The older girls are “mums” to the younger kids. They have nothing; no toys, no mobiles, no Game Boys. But whenever we come along they rush out of the fields or compounds, dropping water cans or rakes, waving and jumping around as if we are something special. It’s no surprise that one of the only English words they know is ‘chocolate’.

But the other, used far more often is ‘pen’. They need them for school and the schools, along with ISAF and the Afghan Army, have returned. For these children school is a blessing; a path to a life free from oppression and poverty, and pens, books and bags are prizes to be cherished. But it is the smiles of delight on their innocent faces when the exotic and other-worldly men in their big noisy, funny-looking truck-things appear that is priceless. They are the future and that future hangs on a pen. Or two. This is Advizer 10A off to steal some pens from the Battalion Headquarters stationery cupboard.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

The worrying wait

Lance Corporal Ashley Jones REME blogs from Afghanistan for Channel 4 News about the stress in dealing with the unknown while his fellow soldiers are out on patrol.

I was initially meant to be on an op going into Sangin, but then the day before we were to be deployed, I was told I was going to be staying behind. This was because I am a rifleman and they needed other assets for this particular situation.

I was quite disappointed at first but then I came to terms with it and decided I needed to just contribute as much as I could and become proactive. Not everyone can go every time and sometimes you just have to be patient and throw your weight behind the others.

Besides, there was a lot of stuff that needed to be done back at Bastion before the op began. We’d also been warned off for the next job which was coming up and which we needed to prepare for. Being the vehicle mechanic, I went around all the vehicles just to make sure they were all prepped, ready and working.

We assisted with the re-supply, getting everything together, making sure the Quartermasters’ staff didn’t have any difficulties picking up the kit and they could take it immediately to the air head to go straight to the guys out on the ground when they left.

It was pretty hard work back here. But it was the stress, I think, of knowing we weren’t going out with the lads and not knowing what was happening all the time which was the most difficult.

The lads got up at 3 o'clock in the morning ready to deploy. I got up, had breakfast with them and went down to the aerial reconnaissance detachment to watch them land.

It was quite awe inspiring watching them on the large screens, stepping off the helicopter – all in real time. Everyone seemed to know exactly what they were doing when they got off, straight into formation.

From there, I went back to the vehicle compound and straight back to equipment maintenance. That was the main issue. When we are using vehicles out on the ground, some of them are prone to breaking, so if I can go and prevent that now, it saves a lot of time and hassle on the ground. Prevention is better than cure.

All the time we were thinking about what they were doing and if they were all ok. I felt like a worrying mother, whose children were out playing after dark.

I was still asleep when everyone came back in again. But we got up, and because I hadn’t been out, I was someone they could talk to, and download all their war stories on me before they themselves got their heads down for a few hours worth of rest before the routine started again.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Frustrations of the stag

Lance Corporal Richard Savage QRL blogs for Channel 4 News from the frontline in Afghanistan, where on his first operation in Sangin he is put on sentry duty - "stag" - at squadron headquarters.

As a force, we pride ourselves on our ability to win the hearts and minds of the local population. It is one of our main tactics in the attempt to defeat the insurgency. But having completed our first op, it is clear we are not the only ones trying that approach.

We had been tasked to go into the Sangin Valley and patrol around an area where ISAF troops hadn't been seen since the Rifles were there right at the beginning of Herrick 11.

We went in to see what the locals felt about ISAF, to see if we could help them with any projects and see if there were insurgents operating in the area. There was.

At first it looked as though I would be staying at Bastion whilst the rest went out on the op. But then our Colour Sergeant came in and asked if anyone else wanted to go up to Sangin.

Everyone put their hands up because they wanted to be with the lads. My hand went up as well and I was picked. Only then did they tell us it was to go and stag on in squadron headquarters (SHQ).

It later emerged that they could get a Chinook rather than a Merlin, which meant more space was available, so everyone got to go out - but I still ended up having to stag on in SHQ.

I realise now why they say: "Never volunteer for anything".

I was gutted. It broke me being back in SHQ and all the lads being out on the hill. I really wanted to be part of the first op. But then someone has to take their turn with these sort of roles.

We went up to FOB Inkerman a few hours before the rest of the squadron, to set up all the radios. The rest of them flew in early the following morning.

I watched them all come in over the aerial footage. It was incredible to watch. The Chinook was hovering over the ridge line and dropped the ramp down, with the wheels still off the ground, and all the lads just piled off.

There were lots of insurgents buzzing around the place and we found out they had planned an attack within ten minutes of the boys being on the ground.

It showed just how organised some of the Taliban are; the speed with which they could get themselves organised.

They had planned all the different ways of getting to our troops, but then they decided not to attack, because the locals were still harvesting poppy.

It was interesting that they held back because of this. Whether they were doing it for the hearts and minds of the locals, or because they needed the poppy crop to be harvested so that they could tax it, we might never know.

The second day of the op however, they didn't hold back.

We were warned that they were getting the RPGs ready to fire at us.

Some 10 minutes later we were contacted and it continued on and off for almost 12 hours.

I was logging all of the contact reports over the radio.For me, it was gutting listening to them and not being able to be part of it. What was worse, it was happening only about 1.5km from us and I could hear all of the warning shots and the returned fire.

They finally got the situation under control, completed their patrol and managed to get picked up by helicopter early the following morning.

It was a successful operation because it identified some key insurgency leaders.

It was fascinating watching all the different agencies working together and working well. This is the advantage of working in the HQ, you get to know what’s going on.

But then it was just frustrating knowing what was going on, but not being able to be part of it directly.

We came back about midday because we had to take down all the radios and wait for a Chinook to fly out. We got back to Bastion, had the afternoon as admin time and then started to prep for the next op.

FOB (Forward Operating Base) Inkerman is different to the last time I was there, because they’ve got more Hesco Bastion and protected accommodation now.

But it didn't get contacted as much as it did last time. It's calmed down in the area big time and shows we are improving the situation.

It’s still just a FOB though, so it still has dodgy showers which just spray water at your face and the toilets are basic, that sort of stuff.

The food was good though. It was really good.

The FOB has an amazing view of the green zone. You can see these amazing colours like the blue water of the Helmand river which was like a Mediterranean blue.

This would be a really amazing country if there weren't so many insurgents around trying to kill you.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Corporal Matthew Olsson, Medical Emergency Response Team (MERT)

The Medical Emergency Response Team (MERT) is based out of Camp Bastion. We are a multi-disciplinary trauma team which is deployed forward to the point of wounding to commence resuscitation and stabilise patients using advanced techniques not available to medics on the ground. Our team consists of Tri-Service Specialist Doctors, Royal Air Force Emergency Nurses and Royal Air Force Paramedics who have extensive training and experience in all aspects of trauma management gained through pre-deployment military training and civilian placements. Some of us are also members of the Reserve Forces.

I am Matthew Olsson, a MERT Paramedic working with the Royal Air Force out here.

We respond to and continue treatment for our injured personnel on the battlefield. Our aims include the quick and safe transfer of the injured by helicopter, to definitive care at hospital. In some cases these may be Afghan civilians. Co-ordination between the MERT and Camp Bastion Hospital allows patients to be assessed in the air thus enabling a tailored response in the Emergency Department or surgical operating theatre.

MERT members are all capable of working independently if required and administer intravenous pain relief to casualties. The doctors are trained and experienced in giving anaesthetic drugs, intubating and ventilating patients in flight and managing major trauma and medical emergencies. A full range of blood, plasma and blood warming equipment are carried to stabilise patients during the flight prior to surgery.

As Paramedics and Practitioners we are all registered and accountable to our respective governing bodies. The clinical governance system in place allows for continuing education, appraisal and audits of patient care. We work full time in our clinical roles when not on deployment and maintain our clinical skills in the NHS and military by treating critically ill and injured adults and children. Additionally we have all passed the following courses and hold the following competency based qualifications:

Battlefield Advanced Trauma Life Support
Advanced Life Support
Advanced Airway management
Advanced Paediatric Life Support
Pre Hospital Trauma Life Support
Major Incident Medical Management Systems
Survive Escape Resist and Extract
Helicopter Dunker Drills
Medical Emergency Response Team practical course
Aero Medical Evacuation Training (Ground and Air Phase)
Rotary and Fixed Wing aircraft familiarisation
Hypobaric chamber and altitude training
Enhanced Individual Reinforcement Training – Deployable Military Skills
HOSPEX (hospital exercise)

MERT is made up of medical personnel but there are also a number of other key players, without whom we could not perform our duties. This starts at the point of injury with the team medic out on the ground who initially deals with the wounded patients.

Those other players include the Ops Room, ATC, the RAF Regiment, Signallers, ground crews, helicopter technicians, armourers, pilots and aircrew. When we touchdown back at the hospital there are also the ground receiving crews who actually transport the patients from the helipad to the hospital. Ambulance medics, Fire fighters and all of the Hospital staff play a huge part when we arrive at their doors and complete handover of the patients to them.

The vast majority of the military and civilian casualties we transport have been injured as a result of hostile action (i.e. roadside bombs, explosions or gunshot wounds) but we also respond to what we call ‘non-battle injuries’ such as road accidents, falls and acute medical cases such as appendicitis.

An explosion recently injured a number of Afghan civilians including children. They were all cared for by ground medics, lifted and treated by MERT and United States call signs and handed over at the hospital where they received ongoing care.

The MERT also received a letter recently from one of our recovering wounded servicemen. He spoke highly of the care he received on the ground, from the MERT and his continuing specialist hospital treatment. This brave soldier has now been flown back to the UK and is making a remarkable recovery.

In summary, the MERT is a team of military emergency practitioners. We work continuously on and off deployment in our respective medical capacities. The level of skill we have achieved in trauma resuscitation is extremely high.
Working inside a moving helicopter, in the dark, in a confined space can be challenging at times but we all hope to make a positive difference during our respective tours out here.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Cricket woes: Afghans beat us at our own game

Private Daryn Liddle, a South African national serving in the British forces with 1st Battalion, The Royal Regiment of Scotland (1 SCOTS), explains how he’ll be exchanging Afghanistan for the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst this Autumn.

Private Daryn Liddle with soldiers from the Afghan National Army

I am spending my last few months as a private soldier in Afghanistan.

No, I am not giving up the Army.

I am going home from here to Sandhurst to train to become an officer.

I always wanted to join the ranks first, just like my Dad did. And I am glad I did. But now I am ready for a new challenge.

Being in Afghanistan is hard but amazing. I am South African so I am used to the heat. But it can even get to me when I have thirty to forty kilos on my back.

We trained all over the world to get here and it was invaluable. But you never know how you are going to handle it until you do it for real.

Playing cricket with soldiers from the Afghan National Army

I live in a patrol base in the Sangin valley with 7 other 1 Scots soldiers, about four dozen ANA soldiers, or “warriors” as they prefer to be called, and the only girl amongst us, our female medic, Michelle. It is pretty basic but we have tried to make it home. We work, cook, eat and sleep in one huge room which is a bit like a mechanics depot. We sleep on camp beds under mosquito net pods (malaria is prevalent here).

We do have a really big yard inside the base walls which is great because we can play football and cricket all together.

The Afghan soldiers are really good at both.

We have all become good friends.

When we go on patrol we are lucky enough to have with us the guy who has found the most improvised explosive devices Helmand-wide. He’s called Ajab. He was featured in the papers back home. He has been in Helmand for nearly three years and is our resident expert. It makes us feel pretty confident when we go out with him.

I learned Dari before I came and I can now chat with the Afghan soldiers. I am learning more and more all the time. We go for tea every evening and I try to understand all their stories.

They do have a really good sense of humour, especially for men who have been fighting for so long.

I will have to go home early from this tour in time to go to Sandhurst. I know already I am not going to want to leave. This place gets under your skin.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Round Two in Afghanistan

Corporal Caroline Storm, from 34 Field Hospital (34 Fd Hosp), has returned to work in Bastion and explains her role on Operation HERRICK 12.

Hello. Let me introduce myself formally as Corporal Caroline Storm. Everyone knows me as Storm or Stormy (like the weather). I’m here in Afghanistan for round two, as I deployed here back in 2006 on Operation HERRICK 4. Things have altered significantly since then!

The Role 3 Hospital has been transformed from a tented camp to a fully-functioning medical treatment facility, providing assessment, stabilisation and aeromedical evacuation back to the UK.

As a registered nurse in the Queen Alexandra’s Royal Army Nursing Corps I am very proud to contribute to this multinational mission in support of the Afghan government and the people in order to facilitate a stable and peaceful country.

Back in the UK I am part of 3 Medical Regiment, where we are tasked to provide medical support to military exercises and on deployed operations. I am currently working in the Emergency Department (ED) in the Bastion Hospital and it is certainly a dynamic and rewarding working environment. We see everything from minor ailments to major combat trauma. It is truly unique, and with our US Navy contingent we operate like a well-oiled machine and are so proud to be part of it.

Do read my blog in the coming weeks to see what happens during my time in Afghanistan.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Heat and dust: First impressions of Afghanistan

Captain Jeremy Hahn, an Armoured Vehicle Commander with the Royal Dragoon Guards, is based in Kandahar for Operation HERRICK 12.

County Durham, Oxfordshire, the Gulf Region, Helmand and finally Kandahar constituted my rather circuitous route to what is to be my home for the best part of the next seven months. (I know, I know, carbon footprint and all that! But I simply had far too much luggage to cycle with.) And so, having feigned sleep in order to avoid the airline meals, I arrived in Afghanistan as hungry as an Ox, but far too excited to be able to eat, and tired, but my head too full to sleep.

The first few days have passed in a whirlwind of disorientation; new faces, names (most of which instantly were forgotten) and heat. The pre-tour training in North Yorkshire, Norfolk, Wales and Wiltshire, whilst very good in most respects, has not attuned my sweat-glands to the continuous hard graft they are going to have to put in over the upcoming weeks. The mercury is bouncing around in the mid-thirties and whilst a touch too warm for some tastes, it is at least bearable and should help me acclimatise before the summer sun sets in and I have to carry out my work in the ‘high forties’.

Before entering a country for the first time one’s pre-conceptions are constructed from a disparate cocktail of the opinions and stories of others, any media coverage and one’s own experience in similar climes. And so for me (in my head at least) I have been using my experiences of Iraq as a benchmark for misconceptions and erroneous judgements. There are some similarities. It is hot, there is a lot of sand knocking around, and the country is littered with all manner of unexploded ordnance. Whereas Iraq had itself and the Iranians to thank for the proliferation of legacy explosives, Afghanistan can doff its cap to Russia for its sub-surface treasure-trove. Some eagle-eyed historian will no-doubt be able to credit other factors to the above statement. I, however, am in no way a historian.

A view across the city of Kandahar

The differences I have noticed so far have been both subtle and geographically obvious. I have a pleasant mountain view of the north of the province and some flora, thanks to the river Tarnak. Irrigation here would appear to be much more difficult as the volume of water does not compare favourably to that of the Euphrates and the Tigris. Iraq had huge wealth poorly distributed, and my guess at first sight of Afghanistan is that it has huge poverty well distributed.

Over the coming months I hope to be able to elaborate on the culture, society and the nuances of serving here. For starters though one of the first happenstances to grab my attention is the use of nail varnish by some of the younger men. This does not occur in the ‘action-transvestite’ Eddie Izzard sense, or indeed the Soho drag queen tableaux, but is merely an adornment of the hands, possibly to impress others or possibly as a part of taking pride in their own appearance. The male ‘friendships’ are much more public than in other Arab Nations I have visited. There is a touch of the courtesan here.

Kandahar is Afghanistan’s second city and is a bustling, if small by European standards, low rise connurbation, almost all of which nestles at two storeys or lower. It has a similar feel to the outskirts of somewhere like Gwalior or any other town in Muhdra–Pradesh. The roads are flanked by fruit-sellers (a lot of which would not make it onto the shelves of our national supermarkets – the bananas being a touch too umber for the English palette), bicycle and tyre vendors, road-side food stops and gaily coloured general stores. One competes for space on the tarmac with a veritable assortment of ‘jingly trucks’, livestock, tuk-tuks, battered cars and that perennial favourite, the Toyota Hi-Lux. Anyone who has driven around L’Etoile in Paris, or attempted to navigate their automobile through Athens on a busy market day will have a good grasp of the level of road etiquette, and the level of application of a clearly defined highway code, assuming such a thing exists at all.

Out in my vehicle on patrol

Many of the locals smile and wave as we pass in our armoured vehicles, but it would be an untruth to suggest that all do. This dichotomy of reaction from the population is perhaps no different to the one I garner when travelling around Yorkshire, and is probably three-quarters more genial than the general public in London. I suppose the key is how superficial this amicability is?

Animal life will be a running theme over the next few months, and so I’ll kick off with a couple of ignorant generalisations. The livestock I have encountered are about half as big as those on England’s lush pastures. That is to say the cattle, sheep, donkeys and horses look roughly the same shape as they do in the green and pleasant land, but it just looks like they are standing further away. Most could fit comfortably into the size ‘S’ bracket and the goats would have no problem squeezing into kid’s clothing.

To address this balance, the Creator has compensated by making the average insect unfeasibly large. The ants are gargantuan, and had Queen Cleopatra known of their existence, she could have enlisted the help of a good half-dozen or so to carry her and her throne to Rome for her rendez-vous with old Julius, and given the rest of Egypt a well-earned day off. You would struggle to squeeze more than three of the native bumble-bees into an Airbus without a liberal helping of goose fat, and the moths have a wingspan comparable to that of Brighton’s seagulls. If any enthusiastic naturalist has the misfortune to read this, an explanation for this phenomenon would be greatly appreciated.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Hard, sad, emotional and expensive times in Afghanistan

Lance Corporal James Atkin of 21 Engineer Regiment (21 ER) steps up to compile his Troop blog.

First of all I would like to thank the good men of 3 Troop for volunteering me to write this blog! I had never even heard of a blog until today. Bear with me and I will try to keep this interesting. Can I also just say what every soldier wants to say in things like this: ‘HI MUM!’

Now let’s get started. I am a Lance Corporal in the Royal Engineers serving out in Afghanistan. I used to be a Plant Operator Mechanic but upon my posting to Ripon last year, like everyone else in the squadron, our jobs soon changed drastically. A vigorous training program commenced about a year prior to our deployment. Although fun at first, the lads were soon bored with training and couldn’t wait to get out here and put their newly acquired skills into action on a real playing field. My job for this tour of duty was to be a Searcher. I was duly trained and my new skills were honed and confirmed on a six week exercise overseas in November.

Now my whole life revolves around searching, constantly training, keeping my eye on the ball. I have been out on the ground only once thus far but there are plenty more missions planned to keep things exciting for us. Searchers work in small teams, like a close family unit. We know everything about our team mates and I mean everything! So it’s fun being a part of this. Within 3 Troop there are lots of shiny new bits of kit such as huge vehicles, weapons and brand spanking new gadgets to help out the searchers. It is a tough job with all this heat and carrying the necessary weight, but there is a great sense of job satisfaction, I love it.

I am due some rest and relaxation for a couple of weeks in the not too distant future. I’ve planned to fly to Canada and surprise my wife Ariel in the rocky mountains. Now, don’t tell her, okay?

Things out here on Operation HERRICK 12 have worked out alright for my Squadron so far. There is a lot of training for missions, and now that we have settled in and everyone has fallen into line the bosses are starting to give us some slack. There have been hard, sad, emotional and expensive times. Most recently there were two strong characters from the Regiment taken away from us, so the whole Regiment was stood to attention at the military repatriation service the other night saying their goodbyes.

On a lighter note, there has been a lot of mail posted out to the men in 3 Troop. If you were not aware, ten letters or five parcels in a single day is a ‘crate-able’ offence. Which means you have to buy all the others guys a drink. So there are always fizzy drinks being dished out by my team commander Corporal ’Pogo’ McKernan as well as some of the other guys. If you never hear from me again it’s because I was sacked from writing a blog. If not, I will start writing more about what I am doing out here, how the men of 3 Troop are holding up and how the tour is going. If there is anything that you would like to know don’t hesitate to ask. Until next time, take care.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Sargeant Stewart McCrone, Quick Reaction Force Commander, 16 Signals Unit at Camp Souter, Kabul.

The QRF was tasked to undertake an exploitation patrol in urban Kabul, close to the airport. The terrain may be different from Helmand but the risks are just as great….

It’s hot at 2pm with the temperature constantly rising, and the patrol, a recce for new routes for emergency vehicles, always turns into something else. As well as dominating the ground there’s always scope for snap Vehicle Check Points and always at the back of your mind amongst the complex compounds is the hearts and minds of the locals.

The patrol started well, though lumbered with the General Purpose Machine Gun and excess support equipment for patrol, the next few hours were going to be tiresome. As we entered the compounds we were bombarded by children – a good atmospheric sign that nothing had been pre-planned from insurgents on our route, though nothing is ever certain.

Maintaining our relationship with the locals can be a challenge at times and this was no different. With the mission in hand, the locals can be overwhelming and large crowds were on us in minutes.

Allowing search dogs to complete their tasks can be tricky as most Afghans do not like dogs, especially in the vehicles. However, with sound control and good interpreter things often run smoothly.

The patrol lasted a couple of hours and water was the first thing in mind. It’s quite difficult to win the hearts and minds and hold good relations when the local populus needs water and all they see is soldiers with it; so to that end we limit the time that we take on water and keep it well out of sight from the locals, so not to cause further disruption to the task.

Patrol all in, water on board, just waiting for the next set of orders………

Picture credit: Squadron Leader Dee Taylor

Monday, April 26, 2010

Training the Afghan National Army in basic medical drills

Lance Corporal John Zoumides on patrol in Sangin's "Green Zone"

Lance Corporal John Zoumides, a medic with 1st Battalion, The Royal Regiment of Scotland (1 SCOTS) at a patrol base in Sangin, writes about teaching medical skills to soldiers of the Afghan National Army.

This week we went out on a lot of patrols in the so-called “Green Zone” in Sangin, where we are based, for lots of different missions. It is very green up here, with lots of crops growing and irrigation channels everywhere.

Lance Corporal John Zoumides

We spend a lot of time walking in the water which always makes me worry for the guys’ feet. I don’t want them to develop trenchfoot. We make sure we dry everything thoroughly after every patrol. It helps that it is so hot.

Because I am the team medic I have to be ready for any eventuality and I carry about 25kg of medical equipment and supplies in my rucksack. I also carry one of the ladders we use to get up and over compound walls because a lot of my guys have packs far heavier than mine. It can get really hot so it is far better if we patrol in the early morning or evenings.

Lance Corporal John Zoumides on an Army quad bike

People ask me if it worries me, dealing with injured people, especially when it is your friends. But you really do go into work mode and nothing matters except getting everyone to safety and looking after anyone who has been hurt. It helps that this isn’t my first tour. I have already done two tours of Iraq and I have been in Afghanistan before. So you do get a bit inured to it all. And on most patrols my medical skills are not required at all.

One day a week I train the Afghan National Army (ANA) Officers who share our base in medical skills. I teach them how to control arterial bleeding and the importance of checking airways if someone is hurt. They always listen very carefully. I don’t think anyone taught them this stuff before.

A small flock of sheep and a local Afghan girl

I also look after their health if they are ill. They know to come and seek me out if they need something. Usually it is just cuts and bruises. But if it was something else I would treat them. We work as a team and we share the resources.

Because our base is close to the 611 we see a lot of the locals, which I really like. The children are so beautiful. Most of the locals are friendly. Sometimes we have to stop them and talk to them and they are always polite.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Frontline blog: tears and tributes to a 'good guy'

In his final blog from the front line, Trooper Pete Sheppard writes for Channel 4 News on how the anticipation of returning home is shattered by the death of a fellow soldier just days before he was due to leave Afghanistan.

Trooper Pete Sheppard is a radio operator with the Brigade Reconnaissance Force (BRF), which is part of Operation Moshtarak against insurgents in Helmand Province.

They say a watched kettle never boils. You could also say that time never moves slower than when you are in Camp Bastion just waiting to go home.

The BRF came back into Bastion on 26 March having completed their final op. I wish I could say there was a real end of term atmosphere, that there were big smiles all round. Instead, there was just the awful realisation that whether you are on your first day, or your last – the last day as it turns out – your luck can still run out.

We were in the area north of Five Ways Junction, a major meeting of roads that lead to Marjah, Lashkar Gar and places like that.

We had sent a recce party forward to liaise with the Americans because we were passing through their area. We pushed through and set ourselves up in a leaguer – long lines of vehicles – in the middle of open ground but surrounded by poppy fields and mud compounds.

The next day was spent pushing out patrols and clearing compounds. Nothing much happened that day and when the patrols returned we got the orders from higher to return to Bastion. We were to take part in a 36 hour op. in the Sangin area, leaving 25 March.

Everyone was chuffed about that – returning to Bastion is a chance to shower, wash clothes and eat hot, fresh food.

So we started to move back into Bastion on the night of 22 March. We drove to the Household Cavalry Regiment check point and waited for last light. We took a very long route back – you can't afford to set patterns out here.

As we were coming through Gereshk, right in the centre, we got small arms fire. It's the first time we've come under contact in Gereshk, that I know of.

It was pitch black. We have kit allowing us to drive at night, but its tiring using it for a long time. We crossed the bridge and there were rounds flinging right in front of us, literally 2m in front of my face. You could see the individual tracer winging past.

We swore a bit but just kept pushing on, foot down. None of us fired back, it was just too risky in case we hit an innocent civilian.

As we were coming out of Gereshk on Highway 1 we saw lots of fire and illumination shells in the distance. Apparently one of the Afghan National Police checkpoints was getting contacted, so we stopped there, waited half an hour or so to try and suss out what was happening and then carried on to Bastion.

We had been out of Bastion for several weeks by this point and everyone just wanted to get back in, shower and eat. People had headaches from the long hard drive.

They've put a new gate in with increased security and everyone was getting more and more pissed off as the guards insisted on checking every one of our vehicles and all the individuals inside. We were clearly British, wearing British uniform and driving British vehicles. Our sense of humour evaporated at this point.
Once we were in, we locked our weapons away and just about the whole squadron headed for Pizza Hut and from there straight to bed.

The 23rd and 24th was spent in camp sorting out personal kit and prepping for the op. I was told that I was to stay behind to do the handover of signals kit. A few others were staying behind also.

The rest of the squadron left early on the 25th. They landed in the dark by helicopter in Sangin. The guys were operating within an area that we call an Ops Box - basically an area on the map which people know we are operating in - going through compounds, clearing the area.

There was a really high IED [improvised explosive device] threat up there, so the squadron picked a really difficult route through irrigated fields and not going along main tracks where you are pretty much guaranteed you will find IEDs.

There was a lot of Taliban chatter on the radios with stuff like: "change the battery packs, they are coming" and all that general sort of stuff. So the lads were really wary about this, and so was the boss.

The guys on the ground were telling me when they got back that they were counting down the hours saying: "I've got sixteen hours left until end of tour." Then night time came.

They heard over ICOM [radio set] that the Taliban were watching them from where they were, so they moved compounds that night. The Taliban woke up in the morning to find them gone.

The Fire Support Group were getting contacted with rounds going over their heads, RPGs landing around them, about 100 metres away, so quite close.

Around midday on 26th they were told they were coming back that evening. End of Tour. That would be it.

As they were patrolling, a grenade was thrown over the wall by a Taliban. 'Woody' - Lance Corporal of Horse Jo Woodgate - took the brunt of the blast.

One of the other lads,'Reggie' took a bit of shrapnel as well.

When it happened, myself and Dave Dailey, the three bar, were up at Bastion Quarter-Masters' Stores trying to sort out some sigs kit for the handover.

We heard Op Minimise come over the loud speakers – Op. Minimise is when a Category A casualty is taken. I turned to Dave and said: "I hope it's not one of our guys".

He said: "don't worry, it won't be".

We got back and they told us that two of our guys had been hit. They said it was Woody and one other. At least one was Cat A. Cat A means critically injured and many guys are Cat A, but come through, so it wasn't over. I went for a cigarette and the Padre joined me.

I saw the Padre get called over by the QM [Quartermaster] – he was smoking as well. I knew something wasn't right because he had quit.

We got back into the vehicle and headed back to the compound. As we pulled in, one of the troop sergeants said: "don't get out of the truck, get back in". He told us that Woody was dead.

We went straight up to the hospital to get some more information. We found out that Reggie was stable, that he was in theatre, but that he was going to be ok.

It was all a big shock, there were some tears and the rest of it. It wasn't good at all.

He was a really liked guy and everyone said it, but it was genuinely true. He was a really good guy. Really keen. He loved doing his job.

The guys on the ground didn't find out he was dead until they came back in off the ground that same night. Everyone was in shock, we all felt numb, exhausted and gutted.

The following day we had a service led by the Fijians, similar to the one for Foxy. There were readings, the OC read a poem and then the Fijians sang a hymn.

It was emotional, the song was so beautiful. The harmony of them singing; big tough Fijians but really beautiful voices.

I could feel my eyes starting to water. The Corporal Major said to us all: "if you want to cry, you can, we are in our compound. He's a good friend, just let it go if you want to", and some of the guys did.

It just shows he was a really good lad and he will be missed. After that we returned to work.

We had the vigil and the repatriation ceremony. At around half twelve, we were all lined up on the flight line and as Woody got carried on to the Herc., it was incredibly emotional as well, because you see the coffin going past and you know that he’s actually lying in that coffin. It's a weird feeling.

For the last few days we've just been handing over kit. Things like that, getting everything sorted; making sure the compound is clean, accounting for everything. Just getting rid of everything on our flicks and making sure the new guys coming in know what they are doing.

Yesterday we got called together. It was almost a day off – or as near as you'll get to one out here. And the OC said: "Foxy's funeral is happening right now." He said a few words about him, about his family. And we had another minute silence.

In the afternoon we played troop volley ball. One of the guys came out wearing just a pair of red boxers, nothing else, with sides rolled up. He looked like a porn star prancing about on the volley ball court. We had music going, it was a good atmosphere.

Other than that, guys are getting back into the routine of doing phys, going to the gym.

Today we were getting squared away for the medals parade that is happening in a couple of weeks' time.

Our OC wants the medals parade to be informal rather than marching about. I think he's done that because Benny - Guardsman 'Benny' Bennett – lost a leg a month or so back and this way he can be a part of it. It's a really good idea, really thoughtful.

A lot of people have made plans for what they'll do when they get back. They talk about it a lot. Everyone is talking about how this time is just dragging so much.

When everyone came in from the final op, you would have thought everyone would be happy, but the fact that Woody died, everyone was devastated. Everyone was thinking this was the last op. Why is someone dying on the last day before we become non-operational? Everyone was really cut up about that.

But it boils down to, we have a job to do and as bad as it may sound, Woody died doing the job he loved doing and he will never be forgotten.

It's been a difficult tour. We have had three people killed in action and many more who have been injured, including one, Barni, who managed to finish a patrol on foot despite having a broken an ankle, which is pretty amazing. At least twice, people have had binoculars shot from their hands.

But we've got a lot to be proud of. We have achieved so much in just six months. The boundaries have been pushed.

The Colonel of the Household Cavalry Regiment spoke to us the other day. He told us that we had set the standard for all other BRFs to follow. That we had reset the boundaries of what can be achieved. This is what LD, Foxy and Woody will be remembered for.

This is what we joined to do and what we get paid for. And we're doing it for the right reasons. Large parts of Afghanistan are safer now because of what we have done.

People can move about. They can go to the market. They can send their children to school. Some people back home are uncomfortable that people like us actually enjoy what we do.

As long as we do it for reasons like that, then we can't go far wrong.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

47 Air Dispatch (AD), Lance Corporal Katie Guntrip

I am TA soldier on my first operational tour, currently deployed on a three month detachment with 47 Air Dispatch (AD) based in Kandahar. We are a crew of six Air Despatchers with seven local employees assigned to work with us.

The Air Despatch role is used to supply vital stores, equipment, rations and water to ground troops who may be unable to be re-supplied by road or who require an urgent re-supply. The day to day job involves rigging the equipment, aircraft loading and flying on the air drop sorties. There are also other tasks that are completed such as vehicle and store management which are crucial to support our work. We work very closely with the RAF C130 Hercules crews and together we re-supply any military unit or service on the ground.

The tour so far has been a relatively busy one. On top of our normal workload we were required to support Op Moshtarak by preparing 110 containers ready for airdrop over a 10 day period, working around 14-16hrs a day. The crew was on 24 hour standby over the course of the Op if required.

Our role in the operation was to allow the ground troops to maintain momentum by re-supplying with rations, fuel, water and ammunition. This was a large amount of work to be completed to support multi-national forces from France, Estonia, Afghanistan as well as British ground troops. Our hard work didn’t go unnoticed as the Det later received an Air Commodore’s Commendation for our efforts on the Op.

Our regular taskings have also meant us air dropping to Forward Operating Base and Patrol Bases. I have flown on one sortie which was a really good experience, very different from the training sorties that I fly at weekends, mainly because we fly at night observing through the doors wearing night vision goggles, body armour and with our weapons.

On a personal note I have found my time here very rewarding and feel that as a crew we have worked well and proven to a large audience that we can react quickly and achieve a great deal in a short space of time- even if that meant a 24hr working day which has happened on more than one occasion on our tour!

It is a big contrast to my normal civilian desk job but will look back on my time here with a sense of achievement and pleased that we had the opportunity to be involved in the Op, proving that our role although relatively small, can be a key part of re-supply missions.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Lieutenant Mark Lewis,10 Platoon Commander, D Company, 1 Royal Welsh

I am a platoon commander for D company and am currently based with company headquarters in a compound in Loy Aderha. We have been there since the start of Operation Moshtarak.

Our first two weeks here consisted of meeting and greeting the locals we met on patrols and explaining that we are in the area in order to provide enduring security as part of combined force operations. With us in Loy Adehra we have 1 Company from 1/3/201 Kandak of the Afghan National Army (ANA) with their French mentors and 50 Afghan National Police (ANP).

We also held shuras at our compound led by the ANA. This work paid off with people gaining the confidence to tend their fields and attend at the twice weekly bazaar; we had over 1,000 people turn up at the last bazaar.

However, during this last week insurgent activity has started to pick up. Firstly we had a failed IED strike on one of the main routes through the village. Shortly after this we conducted patrols around the area and discovered an IED in one of the fields near our compound.

We followed this up with a compound search and discovered IED component parts that matched that of the device. From this we, along with the ANA, were then able to detain one of the insurgents and further questioning and tests confirmed he had been handling explosives. During questioning I was able to ascertain that he was involved with the IEDs and we were able to send him back to Bastion to be questioned further.

Yesterday, we were on a routine patrol through a local village and my vehicle was involved in an IED strike. A pressure pad IED with approximately 50 kg of explosive lifted the Mastiff across the narrow street. The Mastiff did what it was designed to do and took the brunt of the explosion.

I was top cover at the time and blown out of the turret but stopped from landing in the nearby field by the cam net. Once the dust settled I could hear the lads in the cabin moaning and yelling. I dropped down fearing the worst, not knowing what I would see next. Thankfully both lads were ok, with only minor back and leg injuries. The next day we were straight back out on another patrol.

To break the monotony of rations, once a week we have fried sausages and homemade chips from potatoes bought in the bazaar.

We also take pictures of our latest recruit, a frog, as he goes through his training.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Non Kinetic Effects Team - Colour Sergeant Johns

I am part of the D Company Non Kinetic Effects Team, 1 Royal Welsh. I am attached to D company and have been based with their HQ element since Operation Moshtarak started in the western Babaji area.

During Operation Moshtarak I have been working alongside WO2 Anthony MacGann who is a member of the Military Stabilisation and Support Team (MSST). Our roles vary from providing support to the local population and aiding with reconstruction to dealing with Psychological Operations (Psy Ops) which makes use of the sound commander (a form of loud speaker).

On the ground I may use the sound commander to let the local population know of upcoming shuras, to encourage people to meet their District Community Council representative, to let them know we can provide emergency medical treatment and to advertise for skilled workers in order to employ them in local reconstruction and development projects.

On a day-to-day basis we deal with walk-ins which vary from people asking for compensation for damaged property to requests for emergency medical assistance. The most common medical complaint we see is scalding for children and infections from cuts for adults. We also had one child who came in who had been shot in the shoulder some weeks back (prior to the troops’ arrival to the area). We checked the wound and the doctor gave him exercises to do to strengthen it and prevent the muscles from withering away.

My basic Pashtu is developing. Prior to deployment I took part in a five day course designed to enable us to be able to issue orders to locals when on Vehicle Check Points and conducting searches. Since arriving in Nad-e Ali I have used greetings and developed my general conversational skills with the children.

I work with the MSST in organising shuras which are then run by the ANA. We have bought carpets, glasses and tea pots for the chai in order to be able to host the locals properly. Before each shura we buy fresh chai and cakes. These are all bought from the local bazaar. If people are staying for lunch then we will serve fat-tailed sheep; a delicacy that is named from the local sheep which have fatty bottoms!

The fat is fried and is a bit like crackling. It is cooked, along with the meat, with potatoes and red onions by the ANA and served with rice. It is not heavily spiced, is quite greasy but tastes good and is always a treat to eat fresh food. The largest shura organised at this location so far has been for over 80 people.

The local bazaar has increased in trade due to the improved security in the area and because it is serving the newly arrived ANA and ANP in the area. We visit the bazaar too; every Friday we buy potatoes which we then use to cook chips. This is the first time I have worked as a member of the Non Kinetics Effects Team. Though it can take time for the positive effects of our work to show it is a highly rewarding job.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Colour Sergeant Damo Hudson, Forward Air Controller (FAC), D Company, 1 Royal Welsh

I have been the FAC for D company, 1 Royal Welsh since the start of their tour. My role is to advise the company commander on the assets available for Close Air Support (CAS). I also direct Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance (ISTAR) assets to where he requires them and interpret the images that are relayed back to me via the downlink. In addition, I guide the helicopters in to helicopter landing sites (HLSs) when the company is being resupplied or we have people leaving or joining us.

This morning I woke up and checked what air (ISTAR or CAS assets) I had been allocated. The company commander then gave me my tasks for the day. Today, I am looking for signs or movement that would indicate IED placements on one of the roads going into the village. So I settled at my desk in the ops room, hoping for a quiet day.

My job is mostly reactive so a quiet day is a good day. The ops room has been set up in one of the rooms in the compound we are operating from and currently houses the HQ elements of 1 Royal Welsh and number 1 Company of 1/3/201 Kandak and their French mentors.

A couple of hours into the start of the day there was an almighty explosion; one of our Mastiffs had been hit whilst going out to pick up some engineers from a Check Point (CP).

Thus my quiet day turned busy. I radioed back to our headquarter element in Camp Bastion for an ISTAR asset and I was given a Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) to provide over-watch of the area. I was able to use this to provide protection to our lads who were dealing with the incident outside the compound.

After the area was checked for further IEDs, I tracked the recovery of the vehicle back to our compound. Again, my role was to provide over-watch in order to protect our guys during the process. I also used the UAV to scan the rest of the route for signs of further IEDs.

Finally, I used the UAV to provide security for a funeral procession that passed along the route later that day which the ANA and ANP attended. We had a fear that the IED attack might be followed up by small arms fire, or worse, and so we kept the UAV on task to ensure that the funeral could take place in relative safety.

As the day ended, I had a short rest before putting in requests for assets required over the next few days and starting my night shift of maintaining over-watch over the areas requested by the commanding officer.

In order to do this job I have been attached to 1 Royal Horse Artillery who are based in Tidworth. I will hold the post of FAC for two years before returning to the Royal Welsh. This job is very different to what I have done before and I have enjoyed it.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Corporal Dave Morrison, Information Co-ordinator, Royal Air Force Police

I am asked from time to time to attend local events in villages around Camp Bastion to help out with security and find out what concerns the locals may have. We have got a large event on, with a good crowd gathered to visit a medical clinic. I have to get to work straight away because some of the locals have arrived early.

It’s a really good sign that so many people have showed up even before the security forces from the Afghan National Army and ISAF have pitched up; guess the radio works for local Afghan stations as well as BFBS does for us. Anyway it’s a case of setting up our cam netting and making a shady area to chat to locals in. Who wants to be talking outside in 33 degree if it can be helped?

Since my Pashtun is pretty poor to say the least, I have Mohammad Ali the interpreter to help translate my conversations. Well he says his name is Mohammad Ali….. I enjoy the challenge of adapting my rapport as some people just want to be business like when we talk, whilst others like to sit down and chat and just a few like to jump up and down!

I meet with a variety of local Afghan men with ages ranging from 16 to 60, probably seeing nearly forty. Most are local farmers who by and large are tending wheat crops. They nearly all are saying that the wheat price is pretty good at the moment and seem upbeat on prices they are getting. But like most farmers, they could probably do with a bit more.

There are couple of people whose jobs are more to do with looking after farm machinery and general maintenance. I asked these guys how they are finding using the solar powered water purifier that was installed about a month ago. They said that it was a bit strange at first and people were quite suspicious of it. But, now they have got used to it and it helps a lot. Most of the local villagers are still a little unsure exactly how it runs but at least there are a couple of people now who are getting confident with the day to day running of the kit.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Corporal Simon Smith, D Company, 1 Royal Welsh

I am a multiple commander with 10 platoon, D company. My working pattern currently finds me located in the main company Patrol Base (PB) doing two days guard followed by two days patrolling.

Corporal Simon Smith briefing his patrol before heading out.

Our patrols have ranged from a company sized operation of 70 Afghan National Army plus 40 ISAF soldiers to multiple sized patrols (a multiple is 12) for security.

For the first 14 days I had a platoon that was composed of 15 ISAF and 15 ANA living in a single, small compound. This was a huge learning experience as we were two different cultures in a very small compound and there was just the one interpreter enabling us to talk to each other. We used that compound to mount joint patrols in the area.

Whilst on patrol we look to reassure the locals that we are here to provide security. We seek out projects that will improve the area and yesterday we took books to a mosque that teaches 100 children. Today we will focus on route clearance.

The illegal checkpoint with the white Taliban flag

When we first conducted a route clearance we tackled an area that was a cross roads where the Taliban were running an illegal checkpoint. It had Taleban flags flying from a tree.

There was even a sign that read: To all Muslim people in our country the Taleban are laying bombs in this area at night, stay away from this area. We cleared the route then the ANA changed the flag to an Afghan flag, watched by the people in the local area. It was a good start to Operation Moshtarak.

Last night 11 Platoon found an IED. This morning we went out and they handed over the task of over-watch of the area to us and we checked a nearby compound. The more we searched the compound, the more IED component parts we found, from battery packs to explosives.

We had kept an eye on the man who owned the compound whilst this was going on and, once we’d finished searching, the ANA that we were working with went and arrested him. Further tests confirmed that he had been handling explosives. Today has been a good day for us, as it means less IEDs are available to the insurgents.

The Afghan flag up which was a good start to Operation Moshtarak

I am particularly proud of my multiple as it is newly formed; not one of my soldiers has been in the Army longer than a year. They have all stepped up to the mark and remained professional throughout. We have managed to gather a lot of intelligence through speaking to locals and working closely with the ANA and ANP. I think this is in part due to our having done so much Pre Deployment Training before coming out to Helmand.

Whatever the reason, their professionalism and positive attitude has enabled us to have successful days like today.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Corporal ‘AD’ Adrian Dixon, 28 Section Engineering Support Group

It’s a bit like being Nick Knowles from DIY SOS. But instead of sorting out a delipidated bathroom in 24 hours we have to make an all singing, all dancing Patrol Base here in Showal, Nad-e-Ali in less than 3 weeks. This is not an easy task when you have to put in a check point first to protect the area. So you have to turn infantryman to make sure there is no IED threat, put your builders on sentry duty and then put in the basics of any checkpoint – sangars, firing points, chicanes and search bays.

Now the patrol base we are building required a Medium Girder Bridge to bridge the gap over a small irrigation channel. It was about a 5-6 metre gap and without the bridge no building supplies or stores could be brought in by the 60 vehicle Combat Logistics Patrol. It also had to be sturdy enough to take some significant weight from containerised lorries. We started building it at 0530 and it took us a day to complete.

We are on a tight timescale of no longer than 3 weeks to make a complete Patrol Base that will house Afghan soldiers and coalition troops. We are working in partnership with ANA engineers but it is a challenge as site foreman to relay building instructions in Pashtun! I find hand gestures work much better – oh and use of an interpreter. We are working 18-20 hour shifts until the base is built, with only 6 hours off to rest for each person.

We did have some dramas when our plant broke which fills aggregate into the hesco security bins. However, we reverted to type 1 spade and filled the bins in by hand. The only thing then that stopped the plan was a sandstorm that raged on for 7 hours. However, we are on schedule and I’m very proud of what our lads have achieved.

Picture credit: Squadron Leader Dee Taylor

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Corporal Steph Hodgson, Emergency Ward Nurse at Camp Bastion Field Hospitall

Nightshift 2 – 3 Mar 10

Whist writing this blog there is pandemonium going on behind me, banging, raised voices, some in anger…… no, there isn’t a mass tauma situation going on, its Team Alpha playing cards on a nightshift! Thankfully nights are usually calm (you never actually say ‘Quiet’ as that only means trouble!!) My name is Corporal Steph Hodgson and I am a nurse working in the Emergency Department of Camp Bastion. My day job is working the NHS as a Sister in trauma plastics back in blighty, but as I am in the Territorial Army (TA), I have been deployed to Afghanistan. This is my second tour. Now I have been asked to blog a week of my life in Afghan, and as I have never blogged a week in my life anywhere, this is going to be…. interesting for me! But looking on the Brightside I am a woman, so I can talk for ever.

I have been attached to 205 (Scottish) Field Hospital and, as I am English, I thought that I may need an interpreter to understand the Scots, let alone the Afghans, but they are a professionals and kind bunch and ignore my poor attempts at a Scottish accent. I am working with a mixed bunch of regular and TA soldiers, and a first for me; I am working with the Americans! This is a Joint Forces and Multi National run hospital, so we work closely together to provide the best care for our men and women of all nationalities. The accent isn’t so much of a problem this time but some of the terminology can be a little ….. confusing, such as ‘fanny bag’, that’s bum bag to us, and to be honest the rest is unprintable. Oh and someone must have mentioned the Q word as we’ve just been given notice that we have two ‘Cat A’s coming in by helicopter, (now I’m going to bore you with the actual work bit). The estimated time of arrival (ETA) is 0130hrs. We have a priority system that all incoming patients are given on the seriousness of their injuries. This is called a ‘nine liner’. Cat A is life threatening and needs immediate treatment, Cat B is injured or ill but stable and Cat C is what we call ‘walking wounded’.

We are expecting a Gun shot wound (GSW) to the abdomen, and GSW to the left leg. The trauma team has been alerted, which includes an anaesthetist, specialist surgeons, Doctors and of course us nurses and medics. I just need to go and help my mates set up the bays ready to receive the patients and then I will come back after we have cared for the causalities.

Right it’s now 0323hrs and we’ve spent the last hour and a half dealing with both the Cat A’s and a Cat B…. they’re like buses, none for hours then three come all at once!!! They all are quite stable now and tucked up in bed, as they’re not as seriously injured as first thought. This often happens, the nine liner does not always match the patients actual trauma, hence why we’ve renamed it the nine liar!!! Your never know exactly what’s coming through the door! That’s what makes this job so challenging

0500hrs trauma call, another Cat A……..

Picture Credit: Captain Jon Ward, Adjt Camp Bastion Field Hospital

Monday, March 1, 2010

Lance Corporal Jeevan Rai, Queens Own Gurkha Logisitics Regiment

It was 0400 and there were people everywhere preparing vehicles and checking routes. Whilst noisy and busy, each vehicle knew exactly where it fitted into the convoy to resupply A Company, 1 Royal Welsh at Showal. We were not only taking re-supplies but bringing in building equipment to build a new Patrol Base at Showal.

This was no mean feat as there were 59 vehicles and 188 people involved in the move, known as Op Clay 5. We were one of the vehicles at the front of the convoy and were there to provide Force Protection. I was in charge of Whiskey 3, a mastiff with Counter-IED rollers, a formidable beast of a vehicle. My team and I have lots of experience of clearing routes and making convoys safe. It makes me really proud to be able to do this and it also feels quite a big responsibility knowing that other people’s safety is in my hands.

Breakfast had been at some crazy time (about 0200) so we cracked open our plastic pot of noodles that we shared around after about 1 hour on the road. Bit spicy but just the way we like it.

The journey to Showal was 3.5 hours long and after about 2 hours my driver shouted “Stop!” The vehicle in front of us had spotted an IED. My team got out the mastiff to assess the danger and the decision was made to divert the convoy on another route. Its our business to create by-pass routes and provide that safe passage. Was I nervous? Well actually not. Though it sounds big headed, I don’t get nervous easily but I am cautious and careful.

And so was the convoy which reached Showal on time. We were greeted by the engineers who were in a hurry to see us and in a bigger hurry to build the patrol base.

Pictures: Sqn Ldr Dee Taylor, RAF