Stepping into the shoes of 1 SCOTS: a 1 MERCIAN perspective

Lieutenant JJ Sudgen, serving with A company of the 1st Battalion, The Mercian Regiment (Cheshire) (1 MERCIAN), based in Sangin for Operation HERRICK 12, writes about taking over command of his new patrol base.

On 11 April 2010, the formal handover and takeover between B Company, 1 SCOTS and A Company, 1 MERCIAN took place. This meant that Forward Operating Base (FOB) Wishtan and the surrounding area was now our responsibility, which in turn falls under the 40 Commando Battle Group. A Company have had a long hard slog to get to this point, with a lot of training exercises and a lot of time away from home and loved ones.

It began with 1 MERCIAN’s deployment on Exercise Grand Prix in Kenya in September 2009 which was perfect training in terms of the heat and the skills and drills learnt. This was then closely followed by a cycle, which saw A Company exercising all over the country in its continued build up to Afghanistan. It was not until relatively close to A Company’s deployment that we actually discovered where we were going. However, due to the diversity of our training, and from the information trickling back from B Company, we felt confident that A Company was more than capable of taking on the upcoming challenges.

The A Company advance party arrived in theatre on 20 March, which gave us a valuable head start for the handover/takeover. We completed the initial training package in Bastion, which involved some helpful last minute training and updates, fresh from the subject matter experts. The main advance party came forward to FOB Wishtan on 29 March and were made to feel welcome by a very hospitable B Company 1 SCOTS.

Prior to the handover, elements of A Company were fortunate enough to conduct joint patrolling with the Scots which helped no end. This is where we came to experience the ‘Grand National’ technique for moving around the area, over compound walls.

The handover ceremony itself was marked with an emotional remembrance service and a number of readings, paying homage to those who had given their lives in this area. A two minute silence was held, with the bugler being provided and proudly played by a member of A Company. Although an emotional occasion, it was during the two minute silence that children could be heard playing in the surrounding compounds. It is clear from this that things are certainly improving and can only continue to do so.

A point that is worth mentioning is about the Wishtan area itself. There is a lot of bad press that goes with the area, and whilst there is a threat from insurgent activity, it is not as bad as we expected it to be. It is quite feasible to overcome and defeat the IED and insurgent threat. But one must not become complacent. You must constantly remain vigilant regardless of how hot and tired you may feel.

The A Company flag now flies high and proud over FOB Wishtan and will hopefully see a productive and fruitful tour in what promises to be a challenging but rewarding six months. As members of A Company we are here to do the job and do it well, and we are proud to represent our Battalion and our families.