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