A shopping trip to Camp Bastion

Trooper Jonny Ritchie gets back to a few home comforts in Afghanistan.

After finishing our duty on QRF in PB2 it was back to the lavish surroundings (OK, lavish is over-selling it, but it has better conditions than PB2) of Camp Price. The next day we had a run to Bastion with equipment and men.  The troop leader hasn’t been with us this week as he is with another group of Mastiffs, so Corporal Stead has taken charge. My new commander is Lance Corporal Lawton with Trooper Patterson gunning.

My new commander, Lance Corporal Lawton

My new commander, Lance Corporal Lawton

The atmosphere in our wagon has been electric. Indeed, having myself (Northern Irish), Patterson (Geordie) and Lawton (Yorkshire) the banter is unstoppable and there’s been many a debate on board about accents and which one is more attractive to the opposite sex!  I know it’s mine, so no worries there!

I digress.

Getting to Bastion this week has allowed the lads to cash cheques, buy treats and even enjoy a trip to the American PX (shop) to stock up on my personal obsession, which is beef jerky.

I’ve finally admitted to my new commander that his Mario Kart timings on my Nintendo DS are unbeatable, much to his amusement!  Of course, being a very understanding fella he hasn’t rubbed it in my face at all (I’ll never hear the end of it) but if it was the other way around I’d do the same!  As we look to the end of this week we are still waiting to find out what next week’s assignment will be.

Until then that’s all for now.

Namaste – a general greeting in Nepalese

Trooper Jonny Ritchie is from 3rd Troop, B Squadron, of the Royal Dragoon Guards, which is currently the Mastiff Group for the 1st Battalion, Royal Gurkha Rifles battle group. Here he writes about a week on the move in Afghanistan.

Riding shotgun in Afghanistan

Riding shotgun in Afghanistan

So what has happened since we were assigned to the Gurkhas two weeks ago?  We left Camp Price to go to Patrol Base 2, taking over as the Quick Reaction Force from the Troop Leader and his merry men. I say merry because as they left I could definitely see their happiness at returning to Camp Price and its extra facilities! Once they had left it was straight to work for our call signs. I had only just started to unpack my kit and unravel my sleeping bag when we were called out on a Combat Logistic Patrol to Patrol Base 4 and CP (checkpoint) Elliot.

On returning to PB 2 and sorting out my admin (sleeping bag, bed etc) we were tasked to run guard command through the night making sure the guard sangers had communications, that there were people on guard, and passing on information from the guard tent to other locations throughout the PB.  After guard duties finished at about 7am on Tuesday morning we had a rest period until lunch time. After lunch we had a briefing about a two day exercise that we were to be part of. We left camp around 2pm on Tuesday to set up snap VCPs (vehicle check points) and once nightfall came we went into all round defence.  In-between guard duties the lads played cards, slept or ate. Personally, as a driver I caught up on sleep as in my job it is important not to be tired.

On returning to PB 2, and excited about fresh food, we were informed that we were still on ration packs!

The next day we took the Commanding Officer of the Gurkas to PB1 to take part in a shura with locals. While the meeting was going on I showed the Gurkhas correct hand movements at night using cylumes (neon glow sticks) or torches, as during the two day operation there seemed to be some confusion as to how to guide vehicles at night. Trooper Ritchie and his ‘bread and butter’ skills to the forefront!

So it has been a week of long hours, a lot of movement and a little more knowledge of Nepalese. When the Quick Reaction Force week is over I look forward to going back to FOB Price for all the little things we often take for granted like fresh food, proper showers, cold cans of pop and sweets. If there’s one thing being in Afghanistan does, it makes you appreciate things back home.

Op MASTIFF versus Op MASSIVE

This is Trooper Jonny Ritchie’s first blog for 3rd Troop, B Squadron, of the Royal Dragoon Guards –  currently the Mastiff Group for the 1st Battalion, Royal Gurkha Rifles battle group.

Riding shotgun in Afghanistan

Riding shotgun in Afghanistan

Well, where to start?

After saying our goodbyes to friends and family back in the UK we made the long journey from Catterick Garrison to Manston in Kent.  We arrived to find the airport was closed!  Being in desert combats and with the bus dropping us off in the cold we had our first challenge; trying to stay warm and entertained.  (At this stage we hadn’t even left England!) Some opted for their sleeping bags as protection and the rest listened to hilarious old stories, passing the time and taking our minds off the chill in the air.  LCpl Wright and Sgt O’ Fee delivered most of the entertainment and before we knew it the security opened up the airport.  We booked in with our bags and the journey to Afghanistan and the next six months began….

The Troop touched down in Camp Bastion, the main camp in Helmand Province, Afghanistan.  The first six days was our training package, which consisted of perfecting our skills and drills that we had been taught and practised during pre-deployment training.  The training days are run by the people who have been out here before us and they make sure our skills are up to scratch, and update or change drills that may have altered since we were taught them, keeping us at the top level of training which is expected of British soldiers.

Once we finished our training package we were ready to head to Main Operating Base (MOB) Price which will be our centre of operations during this six month tour, with a team rotated through a PB (patrol base).  We awaited a pickup from the Kings Royal Hussars (KRH), the group we were taking over from.  What does a takeover mean?  Well it consists of signing over the KRH mastiffs (large, well protected vehicles), moving into their previously occupied tents and learning what tasks they have completed in their tour.  After the takeover we returned the last of the KRH lads to Camp Bastion to await their  well-deserved flights home.

That is the basic set up of the tantalising first few steps into life for us in Afghanistan.  I know what you may be thinking, and I will try and make the next few paragraphs more interesting!  What is the standard of living in MOB Price and the PB?  First I will talk about MOB Price.  The tents have the best air-conditioning you could ask for, which is a godsend after a long day in the heat.  The camp also has proper showers and sinks with portaloos beside.  Also, within the camp is a gym, laundry service, cookhouse, Danish cafe (which has TV, darts, table tennis, barber and games console), NAAFI, internet/phones and during the week locals set up a mini market.  On to the PB where life is a little less comfortable!  There is a small gym, the usual phones/internet, a welfare tent with a TV, there is also cookhouse in which ration boxes are used, and toilet and washing facilities can only be described as basic.  A trip to the toilet is always an interesting experience.  We split our time between these locations and although life is not always comfortable, and everything is covered in sand, we are all making the most of it.

Hopefully that has opened your mind to what the camps are like out here.  Next is our role, and the jobs we have been doing since takeover.  We are involved in a variety of tasks, including CLPs (Combat Logistic Patrols) in which we escort RLC (Royal Logistic Corps) so they can travel safely with valuable and much needed kit from one location to the next.  We have also been used for moving people from different locations as Mastiff is the safest form of land transport out here.  Also our Mastiffs have been used in OPs (Observation Posts) so that the American engineers could clear IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices) in safety.  This meant that both local nationals, and troops could travel in safety along the route.

Well as you can imagine life is not all work, work, work, out here.  In our free time we work on our tans (yes, mostly Troopers Edwards and Patterson) and overdoing the gym for those all important topless photos (Trooper Cook).  One of the lads has outdone himself at making the connection between the Gurkhas and ourselves with his fluent Nepalese.  Trooper Eglintine has earned the Gurkha nickname of Onda (which means chicken egg) after a particular evening involving some homemade Gurkha curry…

The higher ranks, they have also played their part since our arrival.  The troop leader, Lieutenant Walton-Rees for best-kept moustache and the Troop Sergeant, Sergeant  O’Fee for morale and life guidance (“Oi! Trooper, tie your boots!” and “the best way to write a letter is with a pen”). What would we do without him!  Until our next thrilling instalment…