LCpl James Hylands (39), from Shaw, Oldham is a TA soldier who is currently serving with 8 Troop, 73 Armoured Engineer Squadron (AES) on Operation HERRICK 17. He deployed along with the rest of 21 Engineer Regiment (21 Engr Regt) as part of Task Force Helmand Engineer Group, at the beginning of September 2012. Whilst on tour the squadron is know as Engineer Close Support Squadron 1, which covers the northern areas of operation of Task Force Helmand (TFH).
If the six-month tour goes as fast as the six weeks we have just completed it will be finished in no time. It was back at the beginning of September that we all assembled outside the troop offices in Ripon to board the coaches to Teesside airport on that Sunday afternoon. By 4am Tuesday we had arrived at Camp Bastion to start our familiarisation package, which lasted between 2-7 days depending on the job role you had in theatre. We had been previously broken down into our troops prior to leaving the UK, ours being 8 Troop consisting of 27 men; mostly regular Royal Engineers, 4 reserve Engineers and 2 REME guys for the full period of the tour known as Op HERRICK 17.
Once we had completed the mandatory training at Camp Bastion a small group of us (the advance party) set off in the middle of the night to our new home for the next six months, Patrol Base (PB) Clifton in the North of the Nahr-e Saraj district of Helmand Province. We were greeted by 8 Troop, 33 Armoured Engineer Squadron who were coming to the end of a busy six-month tour and were more than happy to meet us, as going home for them was just round the corner. The next couple of days were a blur of paperwork, checking and signing forms, by which time the rest of the team had flown out from Camp Bastion to join us in helping to complete the handover.
PB Clifton is a growing camp, which sits 850 meters above sea level, high on a hill top approximately 20 kilometres from Camp Bastion. The one thing that’s strikes you is it’s situated in an area of natural beauty with breathtaking views overshadowed by mountains in the distance. Panning to the West, North and East is a vast plain of open desert with various compounds dotted around it. To the South is the ‘green zone’ where most of the patrols took place during the summer 2012, when Inkerman Coy of the Grenadier Guards Battle Group operated out of PB Clifton now replaced by Delta Coy, 40 Commando Royal Marines.
The River Helmand flows from the North and is branched off into irrigation ditches, from this the green zone is created. The place seems so unnatural to the human eye a vast desert with all this greenery of trees, shrubs and crops lodged in the middle of it, physically it does not seem possible to have such a stark contrast in geographical features, but it has. PB Clifton is surrounded by other checkpoints or CPs; CP SPONDON, SARKALA, and MALVERN to name but a few, which are occupied by both International Security Assistance Forces (ISAF) and Afghan National Army (ANA) troops.
‘Wheels’ of Clifton moving
Conditions within the PB are far better than most of us expected, the last troop of Engineers did an excellent job in ensuring our stay is comfortable; so much so that the Royal Marines now refer to the accommodation as the ‘hotel’ when guests are staying with us. The kitchens, run by marines, are excellent with a good selection of main course meals, desserts and fresh fruit, all of which keeps the lads in good sprits in such a remote area. A small number of locally employed contractors provide help and services to the camp, ensuring basic chores are taken care of and items from the outside are sold at the lads’ request (cigarettes and pop). Together they form part of this close knit team, which operates on a 24/7 basis.
Since our arrival here we have been carrying out tasks around the camp, such as winterisation of plumbing areas, camp upgrades, fitting of new toilet blocks and showers, upgrading the security, as well as submitting a list of job requests for major projects that are deemed for completion. The engineers have been busy daily on various requirements with all trades being called upon. Staff Sergeant (SSgt) Mason has been the main point of contact for jobs and through him jobs are accessed, planned and prioritised into a level of importance, some of these jobs will be blogged at a later in date, so for now we will ‘crack’ on and keep the wheels of Clifton moving into the next couple of weeks.
Read about James here: Lance Corporal James Hyland