Heat and dust: An Afghan baptism

Lieutenant James Wakeham, Press Officer for 4th Regiment Royal Artillery (4 Regt RA) describes his first impressions of Afghanistan.

Welcome to the first update from the ‘North East Gunners’ on Operation HERRICK 12. With all of the deploying troops now in Afghanistan we have gone through the RSOI package, standing for Reception, Staging and Onward Integration, which is essentially the last part of training before deploying onto the ground.

Eating dust during RSOI training

Eating dust during RSOI training

Taking between four and eight days, depending on each person’s role, it covers essential skills such as ensuring the sights on our weapons are set correctly, defence of a Forward Operating Base, and ensuring all troops are acclimatised properly. This is hugely important as temperatures are already hitting 35 degrees in the shade and it is set to get hotter. Part of acclimatisation is getting used to carrying weight, and so we marched to the ranges wearing body armour. This made it clear how important fitness will be in this environment as the Osprey body armour and attached essential kit is very heavy. It was also an experience to see the afternoon dust storms in Camp Bastion, and that gave us a real insight to how tough an environment this country will be to work in.

Along with the main range-based lessons there were also several briefs covering life in Afghanistan.

Camp Bastion is an impressive place, both for those new to it and even some returning troops. It seems to extend forever in every direction. It has grown since the last time 4th Regiment was here and now has excellent facilities with a coffee shop, NAAFI, phones, internet and even a Pizza Hut and Indian takeaway! The tents in the temporary accommodation were fairly full with every soldier new in theatre staying there, but they were air-conditioned and everybody found a bed.

From Bastion, the batteries have deployed throughout Helmand attached to the separate Combined Forces. They will be providing essential artillery support to Afghan and Coalition forces in different areas of Helmand. We are now looking forward to getting on with the jobs that we have trained for, and putting everything we have learnt into practice. There are, of course, some nerves and anxiety but these are overridden by an eagerness to succeed and perform well. Wish us luck!