Afghanistan: “It’s like being in a sauna”

Lance Corporal Robert Duncan is a member of B company, 1st Battalion Scots Guards (1 SCOTS GUARDS). He is spending six months in a patrol base in central Helmand Province.

Me in our patrol base

Me in our patrol base

Well, here I am in a Patrol Base just north of Lashkah Gar in Helmand. This is my second tour in Afghanistan and I’ve seen a real change since my last time out here in 2006. It seems a lot quieter and we’re getting fewer people shooting at us – there’s been a definite improvement. The local nationals seem a lot more comfortable with us; I get the sense that they feel protected by our presence.

For this first blog, I’ll give you an overview of life in our patrol base and what we get up to on a ‘normal’ day.

My role is second-in-command of a ground-holding patrol, which means I’m responsible for making sure everyone in our patrol has the right kit before we head out on the ground. That’s stuff like plenty of ammo, radios, enough spare batteries, water and rations for the duration of the mission. It’s also my job to make sure everyone is drinking enough water during the day to cope with the heat out here – it’s already in the high thirties and only going to get hotter. With the weight we carry, you’re sweating like you’re in a sauna before you’ve even left the base and dehydration is a real issue on patrol.

The patrolling itself is fascinating – we’re encouraged to speak with the locals, using a ‘terp’ (interpreter) to translate for us, to build up a rapport with locals and ask them about any issues they have, such as intimidation from insurgents, or wells that need repairing for clean drinking water, or culverts across roads that need repairing. These are all things that we get involved with, to win over the support of the local people and bring them a better life.

Pretty much every patrol we’ll get mobbed by some of the local kids. They’ve got a school here – not every area does – and they have English lessons, and are really keen to show us their school books and practise their alphabet on us. Guaranteed they’ll ask for sweets too – or better still chocolate, although that melts in seconds out here – but they also really want pens and pencils, as they just don’t have any of this stuff here.

Living conditions in the base are pretty basic, but we’ve made it comfortable with cot beds covered by our mossie-net domes. And we have a well with a hand pump to wash at – or we use it to fill our solar showers, which are big 20 litre bags with a shower hose at one end, which we fill up and leave out during the day to heat up in the sun and get a really good shower in the cool of the evening when we come in off patrol. It’s almost too hot to eat at midday so the big meal is at night, when we all gather in our ‘welfare’ area which has some makeshift benches and a table and our No 7 Burner. Some of the guys have turned into pretty good chefs and we supplement our ration packs with food sent from home. Post comes in when there’s space on an inbound heli and is a mega morale boost – being out here really makes you appreciate small things like news from home and a can of Coke. I hope that’s given you an idea of what life in our PB is like! I’ll leave it there for now and come back later.