One final patrol for C Company 1 PWRR in the Green Zone

Major Simon Doyle - OC C Coy 1 PWRR

Major Simon Doyle - OC C Coy 1 PWRR

Major Simon Doyle MBE is the Officer Commanding of C Company of the 1st Battalion the Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment (1 PWRR) known as the ‘Tigers’.  Major Doyle has responsibility for the PB Line Area of operations as a part of Combined Force nahr-e Saraj (North).

 

Friendly, professional relationships

As I write this final blog the company’s six month tour in Helmand province is drawing to a close. The patrol base is filling with members of Inkerman Company, 1st Battalion the Grenadier Guards, and we are about to step off on our final fighting patrol of the tour. The company have achieved a great deal in the last 6 months and have much to be proud of! Since taking over from the Danes on the PB Line the company have established an excellent working relationship with the ANA forces in the neighbouring checkpoints, particularly Capt Dawood and his warriors who man the Sarkala checkpoints ringing the high ground to our rear.

By establishing and maintaining friendly, professional relationships with the ANA we have been able to encourage them to increase the frequency of their patrols which has in turn enhanced the security in the Green Zone. As security has increased we have been able to establish the first Community Shura meetings that the Deh Adam Kahn area has seen for many years – these events see all of the adult males of the area gather together to listen to the ANA and ISAF commanders’ messages accompanied by a meal of rice and chicken and plenty of tea. The events are designed to link the people of the local communities to their government and in turn stimulate growth and development in areas that distance themselves from the insurgency. Capt Dawood takes the lead in these meetings, discussing with the elders their responsibilities as good members of the Muslim community and entreating them to establish a local police force to maintain security in their villages – it has been very positive to see how Capt Dawood has nurtured the confidence of the elders over the last month and in turn how the elders and people of the area have begun to entrust their futures to Capt Dawood, and through him the Afghan Government.

Company Second-in-Command Captain Rob Syfret coordinating movements on the ground from the Company Operations room in PB Clifton

Company Second-in-Command Captain Rob Syfret coordinating movements on the ground from the Company Operations room in PB Clifton

Rugby-mad Fijians

Whilst security has been developed west of the PB Line over the last few months, following Operation Rozi Roshan, there remains a requirement to patrol in more force east of the PB Line. The company remain very cautious when moving in this area, particularly following the IED strike that resulted in one of our Corporals receiving serious injuries.  However we have completed some very successful operations during which aviation support has neutralised a number of insurgent fighters and commanders. As well as patrols and operations, the last four weeks have allowed the company to engage in some recreation as the weather has improved and we have settled into routine; the Rugby 6 Nations has been followed closely by all in the company as we have 10 Scotsmen, 1 Welshman and a number of rugby-mad Fijians attached to the Company!

Company  photo

Following the fractured period of operations in January it has been great to finally have the whole of the company together in one location – it makes command easier, allows people to swap stories and maintain longstanding friendships and has also allowed the Company Sergeant Major to tackle the most difficult of Army events – the company photograph! Calling on the good nature of some of the personnel attached to the company we pulled all of our soldiers off guard duty and ensured they were kitted out in their best combat equipment and gnarliest expressions whilst the Company Sergeant Major carefully arranged our vehicles into an inch-perfect symmetrical background.

Company photo

Company photo

The stage was set for a fantastic photograph and all that was left was for Lt Grant Reynolds to pop a couple of smoke grenades to produce a Blue-Yellow-Blue background for the photograph. Unfortunately being blessed with a lack of coordination the resultant background was a murky green colour as the smoke clouds coalesced, but, after a 2 minute wait, we were able to recoup our losses and now have a wonderful souvenir of our time on the PB Line which will be printed on our return to Germany.

High morale

It seems amazing how quickly the past 6 months have gone by for us over here in Afghanistan; we have served in two different Battle Groups and answered to four commanding officers; manned over 15 checkpoints or patrol bases across Helmand Province, completed hundreds of patrols and over 25 deliberate operations contributing to the increased security for the Afghan population that is the overarching reason for our involvement here.

Most of all we have learned a great deal about ourselves; the mental and physical strengths that reside within us all when the situation becomes difficult, the truly remarkable bond that forms between soldiers when they experience the pressures of the battlefield and of course the unflinching support of our loved ones at home, without which we would not have been able to achieve anything in the last six months. Knowing that there are people at home who love you unconditionally regardless of the conditions we live in or the events occurring around us is immensely reassuring – each letter, E-Bluey and parcel received has contributed directly to the high morale maintained by the company during Operation Herrick 15 and for that we thank each and everyone of our families and friends and look forward to seeing you all soon. God Bless to all.

Major Simon Doyle

OC C Coy (1PWRR)

The view out from PB Clifton

The view out from PB Clifton

Building bridges and fighting insurgents

Major Simon Doyle - OC C Coy 1 PWRR

Major Simon Doyle - OC C Coy 1 PWRR

Major Simon Doyle MBE is the Officer Commanding of C Company of the 1st Battalion the Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment (1 PWRR) known as the ‘Tigers’.  Major Doyle has responsibility for the PB Line Area of operations as a part of Combined Force nahr-e Saraj (North).

Biggest RE bridge building project since Korean War

Since the company celebrated Christmas in the relatively luxurious surroundings of Main Operating Base (MOB) PRICE we have covered a lot of ground leading up to taking over responsibility for a line of patrol bases east of Gereshk following a hand over with a Danish Armoured Infantry Company. As the Christmas carols were dying in the air 2Lt Ian Thornton and 9 Platoon moved to CP MALVERN (East) a small, very austere checkpoint overlooking the Helmand River. Here they were tasked with providing security for a Royal Engineer team constructing a Medium Girder Bridge (MGB) over the Helmand River. This was to be the biggest Royal Engineer bridge building project since the Korean War in the 1950s and more importantly the finished bridge should greatly increase the freedom of movement for the local Afghan population. It will allow them to move their produce to the local markets and also have greater access to the goods and services offered by the Government of Afghanistan in Gereshk. Ian and his men quickly settled into routine in the small patrol base, patrolling the local area with partners from the Afghan National Army during the day and trying valiantly to keep warm during the sub-zero temperature nights!

Hydration is important before a patrol

Hydration is important before a patrol

‘The Alamo’

The remainder of the company did not linger for long in MOB PRICE either; as 9 Platoon headed off on their task, Lt Grant Reynolds and his men remained in support of a Gurkha Company in PB KHAR NIKA, across the river from 9 Platoon. Moved to reinforce the area they quickly assimilated, enjoying Mutton curry for almost every meal and the quasi-colonial approach to Military life that is part and parcel of working with the Gurkhas – Grant particularly enjoying being called ‘Sahib’ by the Nepalese soldiers. Throughout the last month they have conducted numerous fighting patrols with the Gurkhas, including pushing the FLET or ‘Forward Line of Enemy Troops’ back several hundred metres by establishing a new Combat outpost that they quickly christened ‘The Alamo’.

Whilst 8 Platoon and 9 Platoon enjoyed relative independence from the Company HQ poor old 7 Platoon remained in close proximity under the careful gaze of the Company Sergeant Major as we prepared for a large scale ISAF and ANA undertaking, Operation Rozi Roshan, designed to enhance the physical security of the Deh Adam Khan (North) area of Gereshk. The operation launched in the early hours of 3rd January seeing the Company Group deploy out of MOB Price in a very large convoy of over 40 vehicles including Mastiffs, Jackal patrol vehicles and a troop of Danish Leopard 2 tanks.

Sgt Roswell oversees the patrol leaving the PB

Sgt Roswell oversees the patrol leaving the PB

Following a cold and dusty night spent in a desert leaguer we moved forward to establish blocking positions on the dominant ridgeline overlooking the Green Zone, preventing the insurgent forces from fleeing to the North and ensuring friendly forces clearing through the area had immediate fire support and psychological reassurance from the presence of so many armoured vehicles on the skyline. As the ANA and other ISAF forces slowly cleared through the valley below us we supported a team of ANA and Royal Engineers who constructed no fewer than seven permanent checkpoints on the high ground which now provide enduring security for the people of Deh Adam Khan (North). Some of the checkpoints were constructed in the shadow of what the locals call ‘The Red Fort’ an immense mud and earth wall forming a semi-circular ring of defences on the high ground.

During our 10 day period living in the shadow of this wall we heard many stories explaining its origin; some locals believed it was a British Fort from the 19th Century, others thought it dated from the reign of Ghengis Khan and his followers whilst many of us amateur historians in the company like to believe it was from the period of Alexander the Great, some 2500 years back in history – a remnant of a past age like the ragged temples seen in the classic film ‘The Man who Would be King’!  At the end of the operation we were sorry to say goodbye to our surroundings, but not sorry to move somewhere with heating – the nights camped out under the stars securing the engineers had been particularly cold and we were all in real need of a shower when we arrived at Patrol Base Clifton which was to become our home for the final months of the tour.

Lt Ollie Bullen with his multiple preparing for patrol in PB Clifton

Lt Ollie Bullen with his multiple preparing for patrol in PB Clifton

Handover

The end of the operation signalled the start of our handover period with Danish Charlie Company who had been holding the PB Line area of operations for the previous five-and-a-half months. The Danish staff showed great patience taking the platoons on familiarisation patrols around the PB Line area, teaching us the various vulnerable points and areas where they would expect IEDs to be emplaced, and talking about the many patrols and operations they had conducted during which they had made contact with insurgent forces. At the end of a week long handover period it was with a mixture of excitement and trepidation that we took over authority for the area and waved goodbye to the Danish company as they drove out of the PB into the desert headed for the long anticipated flight that would take them home to their loved ones inDenmark.

Continuing to apply pressure onto the insurgents operating in our area, we planned and conducted a number of routine patrols through the area with our two partner Afghan Tolays (equivalent of a British company of 100 men) as well as deliberate operations to directly engage the insurgents in their perceived safe areas, using Attack Helicopters to provide us with superior fire support. Every member of the company has been well aware of the threat posed by these operations, the list of Danish causalities bore testimony to the concentration of IEDs in the area and the willingness of the insurgents to engage us at short range with AK47s and other weapons. Regardless of the threat the soldiers and officers of the company deployed on these operations with confidence in themselves and the men serving left and right of them – the same confidence that has enabled our forebears to advance into combat on countless battlefields. The sense of pride I felt every time the company deployed on the ground cannot be underestimated; you cannot fail but be proud and humbled by the strength of character displayed by eighteen year old soldiers as they face up to real dangers in Afghanistan.

Preparing to deploy from the PB on an operation

Preparing to deploy from the PB on an operation

Explosion

During one of these patrols, on 31 Jan, the company were manoeuvring towards a village believed to contain a number of insurgent fighters. As one of our Section Commanders moved his forces into position to provide fire support to his platoon commander he unfortunately set off an IED which inflicted serious injuries to his legs. As the echo of the explosion rang through the air Pte Jones, a TA soldier of 3 PWRR serving with the company, and LCpl Samways rushed to provide first aid support. Following one cry of pain, the soldier was sitting up at the point of the explosion giving encouragement to the men coming to help him. Just as the company had rehearsed for the last 12 months Pte Jones applied tourniquets to his wounds whilst LCpl Samways coordinated a quick and efficient evacuation of the casualty to the Company Sergeant Major’s position from where he was swiftly picked up by a medical evacuation helicopter crewed by US Special Forces Personnel.

The medical treatment given by the soldiers on the ground undoubtedly saved his life and is testament to the huge advances in training and equipment that have occurred during the course of the British Army’s involvement in the Afghan campaign. He is now recuperating in the UK having received first-class medical care in the Royal Defence Centre for Medicine in Birmingham. It is testament to his strong character, determination and the support of his family that he was released from hospital and commenced his rehab treatment in Headley Court just over a month after receiving his injuries. As the company push into the last month of the operational tour all of our thoughts and best wishes remain with him and his family and we all look forward to enjoying a cool beer with him on our return to Germany.

Major Simon Doyle

OC C Coy (1PWRR)

Group shot

Group shot of the company.

Stuck in the mud in the Green Zone

Private Graham Thurston

Private Graham Thurston

Private Graham ‘T’ Thurston is a soldier in 5 Platoon, B Company, the 1st Battalion the Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment (1 PWRR) known as the ‘Tigers’.  Private Thurston is based in the Nahr-e-Seraj District of Helmand Province as part of the 5 RIFLES Battle Group.

As the new Checkpoint Prrang (Tiger) takes shape in Kunjak, I have stayed behind in Checkpoint Jeker to drive the Husky vehicles which resupply three of our checkpoints.

When conducting a route recce for the new checkpoint, we drove down a road which had not been designed for vehicles.  As we crossed a fast-flowing stream, my vehicle got stuck.  The culvert we were crossing looked like it was strong enough.  However, either side was thick clay which had been soaked by recent rain, and when we went over we got stuck.  Every time we tried to move, the rear of the vehicle sank further into the wet clay.  This filled the tread on the tyres, meaning we had less and less grip.

Huskys on a route recce

Huskys on a route recce

Pushing, pulling, lifting and dragging

The two other Huskys tried to help us, but things didn’t go to plan: one of the vehicles attempting to pull us out came off the road and into a ditch.  With my vehicle stuck in wet clay and the front vehicle in a ditch, all hopes of self-recovery had ended in disappointment.  We needed help.  First we were sent a Medium Wheeled Tractor (MWT) which had the power and grip to at least get my vehicle unstuck; however, the MWT got bogged in as well.  The day was going from bad to worse.  Eventually, two Support Vehicles (Recovery) were called – basically a combination between a tank and a tractor.  After a full day of pushing, pulling, lifting and dragging, the stricken vehicles were freed.  When all the vehicles were out, we slowly moved back to Checkpoint Jeker, with one very battered-looking Husky.

Hopefully there won’t be too many more days like that before the end of tour.

Nourishing the grass roots in the Green Zone

Private Graham Thurston

Private Graham Thurston

Private Graham ‘T’ Thurston is a soldier in 5 Platoon, B Company, the 1st Battalion the Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment (1 PWRR) known as the ‘Tigers’.  Private Thurston is based in the Nahr-e-Seraj District of Helmand Province as part of the 5 RIFLES Battle Group.‘Scoot and shoot’

As my R&R (rest & recuperation) approached we patrolled into an insurgent hotspot, a small village on the edge of our Area of Operations (AO).  At the start of the tour, we had experienced a number of ‘shoot and scoot’ attacks.  For now the village is quiet.  The insurgents are still around, although at the minute they use propaganda leaflets to scare the population.  Because of this we have been able to increase patrolling into the area and improve our relationships with the locals.

As I flew out of Checkpoint Jeker on my R&R I left my colleagues behind to carry on the fight against the insurgents.  I spent a few days in Camp Bastion before flying home and while I was there I helped to load up a lorry which would carry supplies to Checkpoint Jeker in a convoy called an IRG.

Even though the flight back to the UK was long, everyone who was on it was looking forward to getting home.  When we landed at RAF Brize Norton it was really nice to see my parents for the first time in four months.  Whilst I was home it was good see my friends and family and, even though it was only for two weeks, it was good to relax.

Back into the swing of things

On the flight back to theatre people looked a little down, but everyone was looking forward to getting back to see our friends in Jeker.  When we got back there was no time to relax as it was straight on to a vehicle move, shortly followed by sangar duty, but after a few days we were back into the swing of things and it soon felt like we had never been away.

We have begun to patrol into a village which was previously an insurgent hotspot.  The village is a long way from CP Jeker, but our relationships with the local nationals is improving. The problem is that the insurgents are able to come in when we have gone so it has been decided to construct a new checkpoint there.  CP Parang, which means ‘tiger’, will be occupied by my multiple and some Afghan Local Police (ALP).  The new check point will be a good place for us to strengthen our relationships with the locals and help us to push the Taliban back.

New school, new checkpoint and new partners in the Green Zone

Private Graham Thurston

Private Graham Thurston

Private Graham ‘T’ Thurston is a soldier in 5 Platoon, B Company, the 1st Battalion the Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment (1 PWRR) known as the ‘Tigers’.  Private Thurston is based in the Nahr-e-Seraj District of Helmand Province as part of the 5 RIFLES Battle Group.

New school

We helped to open the Khorgajat School a few weeks ago and the attendance has boomed to over 140 children and four teachers – it is good to see it grow.  As it’s winter and most of the farming is done, the children are happy to attend and their parents happy to let them go. 

This is good in two ways; firstly is that the children are getting an education their parents never had and secondly, as the children are in classes it allows us to do our job without hindrance from the kids. 

, Pte Chiverton and Sgt Shinner (RAF Regiment) with the children of the Khorgajat School.

Pte Chiverton and Sgt Shinner (RAF Regiment) with the children of the Khorgajat School.

New checkpoint

Having been given the go-ahead from the UK Government to set up an Afghan Local Police force in our area, a new checkpoint ‘Sola’ (peace in Pashtu) has been established plugging the space between two of our existing bases.

Setting up the checkpoint was our main effort and with everyone concentrating on it, it is growing quickly.  As with everything in our area of operations, there are some locals who were not happy. But once we explained that the Afghan Local Police were going to be located there with us, they were happy to let us continue. 

The Royal Engineers built walls and sangars and a local contractor installed two wells.  All in all, a lot of hard work, but it is now largely complete with only small bits and pieces to be done.  The build of Sola went really smoothly so we were not surprised when one of the Royal Engineers’ vehicles broke down, and not a small one – it was 26 tonnes of Self-Loading Dumper Truck. 

A recovery vehicle from the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (REME) was able to get the truck out of the checkpoint but unfortunately, it got stuck on a bend in a narrow track.  With the lorry almost toppling over and the recovery vehicle also stuck, we had no choice but to set up a cordon overnight to protect the vehicle. 

Twenty-seven hours and a further two recovery vehicles later we finally got the stricken truck back to Sola where it had started.  Two days later, we tried again and with the REME making some running repairs, it finally left under its own steam and made it back to its base location where it could be fully fixed. 

The Afghan Local Police

The Afghan Local Police

Getting the Afghan Local Police in was a huge amount of effort but is definitely worth it.  They will hopefully be long-term protectors of the people once ISAF has left Afghanistan working with the Afghan Army and regular police. 

Pleased to see us

Our area of operations is bordered to the South by the River Helmand and the area there is not currently patrolled regularly by ISAF or Afghan security forces.  In early December last year we mounted a dawn raid by helicopter in partnership with the Afghan Army and two insurgents were detained with radios, ammunition, explosives and detonators.  Our Afghan Army partners have been replaced by a different Kandak (Battalion) and we conducted a similar operation with them in an area further to the northeast of the river.

We lifted in the dark from our base at checkpoint Jeker with the Afghan Army in two Chinook helicopters and looking out the ramp at the back we could see the compounds spread out over a large area in the growing morning light.  We landed in a cloud of dust and moved quickly to cordon positions around the suspect compounds and the ANA began their searches whilst we biometrically enrolled the residents.  On this occasion, nothing was found and the locals seemed genuinely pleased to see us and pass the time of day and share chai with Maj Noott, the company commander.

B Company on patrol in Nahr-e-Saraj

B Company on patrol in Nahr-e-Saraj

We moved along the river repeating the process, but all that turned up was an ancient soviet rifle that had seen better days and hadn’t been fired in years.  Finally, we moved off south into the dasht (desert) and were collected by the helicopters.  Overall, the operation was a success.  It proved we could operate with our new Afghan Army partners, enjoyed good interaction with the locals and learned about the area.  Better still, we made it back to our base as CP Jeker in time for a hot lunch that we needed as it about the coldest day we have had yet.

River burst its banks

The weather here has been really cold but dry since December last year but that all ended with gale force winds and torrential rain on the 21 January.  We had previously winterised the camp but that did not stop this level of wetness.  Some of the tents flooded and the dust turned to mud.  If it was not tied down, it blew away and as the rain fell, the gaps in the waterproofing became apparent.  With the amount of water falling the local school flooded and the local river burst its banks.  Our AO is mostly covered in water and the roads are treacherous.  As this is the first rain of the year, we hope it is as bad as it gets.  We now have to repair and improve the winterisation of the camp and hope its good enough before the next storm hits.

Building a new checkpoint in the Green Zone

Private Graham Thurston

Private Graham Thurston

Private Graham ‘T’ Thurston is a soldier in 5 Platoon, B Company, the 1st Battalion the Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment (1 PWRR) known as the ‘Tigers’.  Private Thurston is based in the Nahr-e-Seraj District of Helmand Province as part of the 5 RIFLES Battle Group.

Cook-off

As Christmas comes and goes, we still have a job to do and we patrol as usual.  As R’n’R gets into full flow manpower lessens, so a simple job or patrol becomes harder, as there are less people to spread the weight around but as we get used to it, it becomes easier.

New year was quiet as the weather had closed in and patrols were minimised.  It was a night of rest and a quiz night for a bit of fun.  It was good for everyone and the only downside was a few bursts of firing from the local ANA checkpoint but nothing came of it.

As the new year comes and goes, an inter multiple cook-off was announced by Company Sergeant Major (CSM) Gidalla.  All 3 multiples are to cook on a Tuesday night with the CSM and the chefs judging, with the standard set by the multiple from 2 Rifles.  It’s a night we look forward to.

B Company at PB Jeker

B Company at PB Jeker

New checkpoint

With a new checkpoint being prepared and 2 Rifles training the ALP, the location for the checkpoint was granted by the locals but when we arrived to take over the compound, a family related to the ALP commander had moved in with the aim of making a home of it.  As they were evicted from their last location they were determined not to move.

B Company on patrol in Nahr-e-Saraj

B Company on patrol in Nahr-e-Saraj

A new location had to be found within the limits of the village which was found with help from the Afghan National Army.  Construction is due to start soon.  This will help secure the local facility and help the locals to police the village and the hope of securing an area known to be rife with insurgent activity.

B Company enjoys Christmas dinner

B Company enjoys Christmas dinner

A military band made a surprise visit.  It was a treat to hear some songs, some old, some new and it helped raise morale as the next few weeks are going to test everyone physically and mentally.

Strengthening relationships in the Green Zone

Private Graham Thurston

Private Graham Thurston

Private Graham ‘T’ Thurston is a soldier in 5 Platoon, B Company, the 1st Battalion the Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment (1 PWRR) known as the ‘Tigers’.  Private Thurston is based in the Nahr-e-Seraj District of Helmand Province as part of the 5 RIFLES Battle Group.

JEKER is a relatively new check-point and packed with the latest technology to help the patrols get on the ground with as much intelligence and knowledge as possible.  We also have BFBS [British Forces Broadcasting Service] TV and two internet computers and this gives us a good change to relax in the welfare tent that doubles up as a cookhouse.  The other two B Company check-points aren’t as lucky but they get up about once a week and check their mail and chill out.  With solar showers and toilets with a door (poo in a bag variety) this check-point is classed as a luxury here in the Green Zone. 

We are surrounded here by farms with deep irrigation ditches. These range from ones you can step over to ones that come up over chest height and you have to wade through.  The banks are often very steep and it’s impossible to get out without being dragged out by your mates on your stomach because it’s so slippery and muddy.

The locals are very happy that we are in the area and help us out by walking over the bridges to prove they are have not got IEDs or putting down logs for us to make a crossing.   This may be just to stop us walking in their crops but it strengthens our relationship with the locals and helps us with our patrols and shows who we can trust in the population. 

As a mixed platoon (half from 2 RIFLES and half from 1 PWRR) the way we do things is the same as if we were all from the same unit. We split patrolling and guards and duties so that when you come in off patrol you can do admin and make sure your kit is 100% in working order.  This is important for your body as well or it will start to go down and fatigue will set in and that leads to a harder time for all. 

It has been quite quiet here and the locals are still busy with the harvest.  But we must never let complacency set in.  That said, on a recent foot patrol to a local village and after a shura (meeting with village elders) we headed north, and in a village in the south 5 Platoon were moving away when they were fired upon.  The contact was short but there was a lot of fire power used.  We moved to support but 5 Platoon withdrew back to their check-point.

 Back in CP Jeker we checked ourselves over and no one was hurt in the fire-fight but the insurgents had slipped away. 

Dropped in by helicopter

With the winter closing in fast, it appears that the main fighting season is coming to an end.  Patrolling is becoming easier however selecting totally new routes to patrol is becoming more difficult as time goes on. 

A recent operation into a small village south of the River Helmand saw us patrolling into an area not previously visited by ISAF.  We had heard that the village was being used by insurgents as a bed-down location and as an area to store weapons and IEDs.  We were dropped into the village by helicopter which allowed us to move in quickly.  We entered the village with three ISAF multiples and three ANA multiples along with the OC’s group, with me being in Sgt Janes’ multiple.  There were a lot of soldiers on the ground which allowed us to quickly secure the outer compounds.  With the ANA searching, we moved through the main group of compounds very quickly. 

Once the ANA had completed their task, Sgt Janes moved us to a bridge crossing; however as soon as we moved we thought we saw an insurgent scout running away.  The ANA went in pursuit and soon caught the runner who was found to have IED components in his possession.  After talking to a local Elder about the detainee, it was decided to send the man to Camp Bastion for further questioning.  With all the moving parts working well, a lot of intelligence gained and one less insurgent to worry about, this operation was seen as a success.

As the tour has gone on, Cpl Watson, an attachment from 5 Rifles, has become very good at using the HiiDE (Biometric Enrolment) camera.  As such we are using this kit to good effect on most patrols.  In general the locals are happy to give up a few minutes of their time to be enrolled on to the system in order to help keep their community safe.

Police mentoring in Nahr e-Saraj

Lt Matt Galante

Lt Matt Galante

Lt Matt Galante is an officer in The 1st Battalion The Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment.  He commands a Police Advisory Team (PAT) in Southern Nahr-e-Saraj district, Helmand province. This is Matt’s second tour of Afghanistan.

 

The first three months of Operation Herrick 15 have flown by, and life remains both hectic and enjoyable for us. There is so much to write about and so little space; worse still, the blokes have caught wind that I am writing a blog and are now all bullying me to get their names in cyberspace. Cheers lads. So without further ado I bring you part four of “Police mentoring in Nahr e-Saraj”…

Mountain of rugs

Where to start? It has, in the space of 48 hours, gone from an Indian summer to utterly freezing in Helmand: the rains have kept their distance, but the temperatures have dipped below zero at an alarming rate. Patrolling the soggy fields and dusty tracks of our new home town in 100lbs of equipment keeps us fairly toasty, but the same cannot be said for our Afghan partners who are enduring the cold nights with only a blanket, Chai and the kind of robust nature that typifies the Helmandi people. We are providing them with heaters to complement their new Afghan-issue police overcoats, but I can’t help feeling sorry for the patrolmen we meet on our morning checkpoint visits as they huddle around their communal Chai flask under a mountain of rugs.

Police checkpoint in Paind Kalay

Police checkpoint in Paind Kalay

Pot Noodles

As for our own checkpoint, we are living by the mantra that “any idiot can be uncomfortable” by carving out our own little palace in the middle of Helmand. The darts league between Colour Sergeant Richie Swain and Sergeant Dave Whitfield is becoming ruthlessly competitive, with more than just a round of brews at stake for the loser but the shame of coming second in the Paind Kalay championships. Captain Giles Walsh has somehow ‘acquired’ the classiest Christmas tree outside of Harrods to decorate our ops room, and Colour Sergeant Richard ‘Eddie’ Edwards has a steady stream of ridiculously expensive food parcels from young officers he used to instruct at Sandhurst (yes young Lieutenants, if you haven’t sent him anything yet then get cracking). Meanwhile, Lance Corporal ‘Paddy’ Korovou (one quarter of our resident ‘TeamFiji’) is pushing for either an MBE or a place on Masterchef by continually creating works of genius out of a clay oven and some tinned meat. Lance Corporal Matt Little is busy beasting Craftsman Rob Lambdon in our fully-stocked gym in his quest to finally get Rob some shoulders, while Lance Corporal James Alldread is slowly eating his way through the hundred or so Pot Noodles his Grandfather keeps sending him.

Lt Matt Galante having chai with the AUP

Lt Matt Galante having chai with the AUP

As for our police counterparts, I am pleased to say that they are stepping up to the mark in all respects. Lieutenant Mohammad Wali has been equally industrious in his quest to spruce up his side of our shared checkpoint, by creating an enormous furnace in his ‘shura room’ to keep his many local visitors warm. Built from spare vehicle parts and running from old engine oil, it sounds like a jet engine and looks moments from exploding every time it gets fired up but has become a focal point for the AUP and locals alike. When the room is in full swing, the only noise that drowns out the ridiculous din of the furnace is Wali’s Frank Bruno-style laugh.

More police patrols

The police are achieving more than just good central heating though. In terms of successes on the ground, a particular highlight recently has been a patrol we undertook into the former insurgent stronghold of Kakaran. A platoon from B Company 1 PWRR, led by Captain Chris Gardiner, had recently been engaged in weeks of fierce fighting in Kakaran, a small village near the Helmand river. Every time they entered the village, locals would hurriedly drop their farming tools and flee – leaving Chris and his team alone in the eerily empty fields, waiting for the first crack of machine gun fire to zip overhead. After many excursions into Kakaran, B Company finally had the insurgents on the run. However, the village was still a mystery to the outside world: who lived there? Were they friendly villagers caught in the crossfire, or hard-line Taliban supporters? Enter the police – local faces with the best interests of the people at heart. Within two hours, the Kakaran village elders were pleading for more police patrols to keep insurgents at bay and restore peace, and the AUP returned to their checkpoint rightly proud of having made a difference to an entire community in a single day.

Lt Matt Galante discusses local issues with the AUP

Lt Matt Galante discusses local issues with the AUP

Heartfelt condolences

There is a great deal of success that has come from our first three months out here, and I am looking forward to more of the same in 2012. However, as Christmas approaches we all remember the families who are missing loved ones this festive season and offer our heartfelt condolences. On a personal front, I would like to mention two men in particular whose loss has been felt deeply by myself and my team: Private Tom Lake of B Company 1 PWRR – the Battalion’s first loss on this tour; and Lieutenant David Boyce of the Queen’s Dragoon Guards – a colleague and friend from eight months in Bovington and Brecon. My thoughts are with the loved ones of both these great men at this time.

Moving forward, the team and I have a busy week lined up so I look forward to updating you on life inHelmand in the New Year. Merry Christmas

A tour of two halves

Major Simon Doyle - OC C Coy 1 PWRR

Major Simon Doyle - OC C Coy 1 PWRR

Major Simon Doyle MBE is the Officer Commanding C Company of 1st Battalion the Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment (1 PWRR) known as the Tigers.  Simon has responsibility for Area of Operations Centre-South, as a part of Combined Force Nad e-Ali, headed by 3 SCOTS.

 

A lot has happened since the last update from C Coy. Winter has arrived with a rapid reduction in the temperature, a number of checkpoints have been transferred to Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) lead and the company has steeled itself for a move North to provide support to another area of Task Force Helmand. During this time we have also witnessed our sister companies experience the first 1PWRR casualties of the tour which has reminded everyone of the underlying threat across the area.

It has been heartening however to see the very positive and mature way all ranks have dealt with the news of casualties, including the death of Private Tom Lake on 21 November, who had been a friend and brother in arms to some of the company prior to our deployment to theatre. It is fair to say that many within the company have grown up a little more in the last few weeks and have dealt impressively with a number of very different challenges.

Handing over ISAF checkpoints

Progress across Nad-e-Ali has been startling since we arrived in theatre during September. Insurgent violence has decreased dramatically and in many areas Insurgent presence is practically non-existent. The ANSF are increasingly confident in their ability to plan and conduct routine patrols as well as more complex deliberate operations to enhance and maintain security and almost weekly there are more Afghan policemen and soldiers leaving training to further reinforce the positive security in the South of Helmand Province. As a result of this increased security the company have been busy supporting the ANSF to take the lead for security across our area. This has encompassed mentoring their headquarters in intelligence gathering and patrol programming as well as the more visible process of handing over ISAF checkpoints to ANSF lead.

C Company on patrol in Nad-e-Ali

C Company on patrol in Nad-e-Ali

In the space of three  weeks we have successfully transferred Check-point Takhta to the Afghan National Civil Order Police (ANCOP), Check-point Shamal Storrai to the Afghan Uniformed Police (AUP) and closed a smaller outstation, Check-point Diliwar. The checkpoint transfers involved the platoons painstakingly accounting for all of their equipment and packing it for movement, gradually waving goodbye to the niceties and comforts of life until they were left with simple 24hr rations and ponchos. As the night-time temperature has begun to reach freezing these Spartan conditions have been testing for all concerned.

As well as packing away their own equipment the men have needed to collapse some of the razor wire fences used to mark helicopter landing sites and other features. These wire parties have seen everyone from the OC and Company Sergeant-Major down grappling with hundreds of metres of sharp, barbed fencing which wants only to impale fingers or tear combat trousers if given the opportunity. The closure of CP Shamal Storrai had the added ‘joy’ of extracting large amounts of this wire through cold, water-filled irrigation ditches which was great fun for all involved.

Jumpers had to be checked

When the checkpoints were ready for transfer the ANCOP or AUP moved in alongside the C Company soldiers for several days to allow relationships with local leaders and elders to be handed over and to provide time for joint patrols to be conducted prior to hand-over. The days of living alongside the ANSF have been some of the best for many of the soldiers as they have been able to see the human side of our ANSF partners, many of whom are more worldly-wise than the Helmandi farmers that live across our area of operations. Having the time to sit down and drink tea with the ANCOP, play football or volleyball with them and share a simple meal does a lot to humanise the ANSF for the soldiers, which can only be a good thing.

C Company versus the ANA in a friendly game of volleyball

C Company versus the ANA in a friendly game of volleyball

Two areas where the soldiers have no problem interacting with the ANSF is the sharing of cigarette supplies (about $1 a packet locally) and shared fawning over cute little puppies… although contact with all non-ISAF animals is, of course,banned over here due to the rabies threat. When the AUP moved into CP Shamal Storrai they brought with them a young puppy as well as a collection of song birds and canaries. The puppy very quickly became a source of distraction during the closure procedures for the checkpoint and jumpers had to be checked as the soldiers left to ensure no illegal canine smuggling was occurring!

Work alongside the Danish Army

Whilst most of the company have been focussed on transfer in the South of Nad-e-Ali Sgt Turagvou’s men have been busy reinforcing A Coy 1PWRR as they have been conducting security operations further to our North. The boys have performed very well during a number of contacts with the enemy and have developed a greater confidence in themselves and their abilities as a result. The skills and experience they have gained will be of great use in the coming weeks as the company prepares to leave Nad-e-Ali to conduct a quick rehabilitation and then move North to support operations in the Nahr-e-Seraj North area. This will really break up the tour into two halves for the company and refocus minds on our work as we adapt to new locations, people and terrain. We should also have the opportunity to work alongside the Danish Army for a period, which will be a real and noteworthy privilege for us as Queen Margrethe of Denmark is the Colonel in Chief of our Regiment.

Hats for Heroes!

Christmas is creeping up on us as we prepare for the move – we cannot guarantee where we shall be for Christmas Day itself but needless to say we shall be thinking of all of our friends and families and the queues for the welfare phones will be long throughout the day. At least as we wait in the cold for the satellite signal to cut in we will have warm heads courtesy of the many woolly ‘Hats for Heroes’ that have made their way to theatre. We have hats in every colour of the rainbow being sported across the camp as dusk falls; a brown woolly hat making Pte Robertson-Sinclair look like Klinger from Mash, a baggy affair making Pte Edwards look like a Rastafarian and a Blue-Yellow-Blue woolly hat allowing Lt Grant Reynolds to remain Regimental through and through, even when shivering in camp!

Hopefully there will be time for another update from C Company before 25th December, but if not let me wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year from all of us here in Afghanistan.

Simon Doyle
OC C Company

From Heath to Helmand: Double life of a TA rifleman

Pte Edwards

Pte Edwards

Private Miguel Edwards is a TA soldier currently serving with 1st Battalion The Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment (The Tigers). He is a banker for Lloyds Bank in the civilian world but is currently serving in Afghanistan as a rifleman in an infantry company.

I joined the Territorial Army just over 3 years ago with the view to going on operations. I had always had a keen interest in the armed forces, and so I thought I would give it a go. Living in Heyward’s Heath I chose my local regiment, 3 PWRR. I wanted to do soldiering and felt the best way to achieve that was to join an infantry battalion.

Civilian to soldier learning curve

3 PWRR has 2 sister regular battalions – The 1st Battalion, based in Germany as part of 20th Armoured Brigade, and the 2nd Battalion, based in Woolwich who are part of London District. Due to these links the 3rd Battalion finds itself providing people for operational tours on a regular basis. Soon after joining I found out we would be deploying people on Op Herrick 15.

The opportunity to deploy and spend 12 months with my regular counterparts was an exciting prospect. Once my recruit training finished I moved straight into focused training for a possible deployment to Afghanistan. This is where the level and tempo of training increased dramatically.

There is no doubt that it does affect your personal life and trying to fit an increased training commitment around a civilian job is not always an easy task, however, it was something that I was prepared for. My Employer was also very onside and supportive ,which helped a lot during what can be quite a stressful time.

Techniques, tactics and procedures

The pre mobilisation training was demanding at times and designed to bring us up to speed with the latest techniques, tactics and procedures (TTPs) being employed in theatre at the moment. Alongside the increase in weekend training we also completed 2 weeks live firing in Cyprus and 2 weeks in Brecon. The 2-week camps help to focus our attention as they are a concentrated package and allow you to forget about civilian work. I often find that during weekend training you have rushed from work on the Friday, spent the weekend training and find yourself rushing about on the Sunday evening before work on Monday. During the training period it was not uncommon do 3 weekends a month in the run-up to deployment.

The paperwork for mobilisation requires us to report to the Reserve Training and Mobilisation Centre (RTMC) Chilwell to complete fitness tests and medicals before reporting to our regular unit. In my case 1st Battalion The Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment.  My regular unit was very welcoming upon my arrival and I quickly found out that there is no such thing as nine to five in the forces! The training stepped up even further but I found that I was well equipped to deal with it after the intensive period of training with the TA. The biggest task was getting to know the lads that I was working with and the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) particular to my unit.

Local children in Nad-e-Ali

Local children in Nad-e-Ali

‘Hey ISAF! Bis-quit?’

I am now 2 months into my tour of Afghanistan and feel I have been well equipped to deal with the challenges that I have faced so far. The pace can be relentless at times with patrols, sangar duty, jobs around camp and general admin that needs to be completed.

Providing security in Nad-e-Ali

Providing security in Nad-e-Ali

The most satisfying thing about the tour so far has been getting to know the people of Afghanistan and the feeling that we are doing some good. The local nationals now recognise us as a security force for their benefit. The children enjoy engaging with us and the constant cries of ‘Hey ISAF! Bis-quit?’ or ‘Pin?’ ‘choc-lit?’ are common on patrol. Local nationals engaging with us freely is a sign that insurgents no longer hold the upper hand. The population will happily talk to us and they don’t want IEDs or fighting the area any more.

C Company on patrol in Nad-e-Ali

C Company on patrol in Nad-e-Ali

There are some parallels between my civilian job and being a rifleman in an infantry company. I found that my training has had a multitude of uses and benefits to my civilian job and personal life so far. I will take a lot from this tour back into ‘civi street’. Whilst the two can often seem worlds apart but the skills and knowledge that I will be equipped with will serve me well in my future endeavours.

Pte Edwards

3PWRR (Att. C Company 1PWRR)