Heading to Afghanistan: A shock to the system

Major Mark Suddaby, a Company Commander with 1st Battalion, The Royal Regiment of Scotland (1 SCOTS) writes about leaving home for Afghanistan.

Me and my crew after arriving in Afghanistan. I am second from the right.

Me and my crew after arriving in Afghanistan. I am second from the right.

I left Edinburgh on a bitterly cold night.  It had been a long winter and for the men and women of the 1st Battalion, The Royal Regiment of Scotland, known as 1 SCOTS, it had been one spent on exercise in some of the worst conditions I had encountered in my many years in the Army.  And, all in preparation for a summer tour of Afghanistan!

I’ll admit that I was pretty apprehensive as I packed the last of my kit and drove the short distance from my house to the barracks that night.  I hardly spoke a word.  What would Afghanistan be for me?  Would it make me, or break me?  Would I even come back?  Writing ‘those’ letters was hard too; but delivering them and explaining the contents far harder.  But, as always when you live and work with such a close knit bunch of motivated and professional people, the minute I walked into the high-ceilinged, amber glow of the battalion gym, and saw the banter, the bravado and the camaraderie of my Jocks, I knew that it would be fine.  With them around me the war in Afghanistan seemed a little further away; a little less dangerous.  Of course, the feeling evaporated pretty sharpish when, eighteen hours later, I was climbing out of the back of a C-17 Globemaster into the dusty, dry night of Camp Bastion.

Before you can deploy forward of Camp Bastion you have to complete eight days of in-theatre training.  These were long hot days after the winter that went before.  But it was quickly done and again I found myself, along with the advance party from my company, flying low over the fertile fields and the uniform beige squares of compounds that make up Nad-e’ Ali’s artificially irrigated ‘green zone’.  More dust, more lugging of kit, more hot sunshine and I had arrived, sweating and tired at my home for the next six months.

My job?  To command an Adviser team charged with developing the 1st Kandak, or Battalion, of the Afghan National Army, who have been fighting hard in Helmand Province for the last four years.  To turn them into a modern Army Unit, equipped and capable of bringing real and lasting security to Afghanistan long after the international community has completed its mission and gone.

No pressure then.

This is Advizer 10A off to find some respite from the heat.