Out on the ground in Afghanistan

Captain Leanne Christmas is the Media Officer for 21 Engineer Regiment, part of Task Force Helmand for Operation HERRICK 12. She writes about going patrol base hopping in southern Helmand.

I have spent the past two weeks in a forward operating base (FOB) and on the forward line of enemy troops (FLET) which has been a welcome change to the constraints of Camp Bastion.

I went to cover an Operation, from a Royal Engineer perspective, and so spent my time out on the ground with 2 Troop, 1st Armoured Engineer Squadron. So thank you to them for hosting me – I had a great time.

I went to a FOB via Merlin helicopter which was a great little flight. Flying over the green zone was surreal – a belt of green in the middle of a desert. I staggered off under the weight of my kit and was greeted by two girls who I had only met once before on the pre-deployment training. It was really nice of them. I spent a couple of days in that forward operating base to gather thoughts and find out what was going on before heading out the gate in a convoy to a PB (patrol base) where the troop was waiting to be given the green light.  They had commandeered a corner of the PB, pulled the Engineer vehicles around it and set up a decent “home”.

A few hours later and all the activity started. The troop was moved down to the next patrol base by “Titanium Taxis” the name given to the Mastiffs that transport personnel around theatre, when a sandstorm swept in leaving half the troop at the old PB. There was no warning but it was really quite remarkable – the sky went from blue to black in seconds.

Once the troop were again reunited they set about getting ready for the task – a temporary build of another PB but further south designed to hold the ground just won by the infantry.

The troop spent just over 24 hours making the compound secure and habitable by building sangars, firing points and installing ablutions. They worked through the night with rounds being fired overhead – at one point, an attack on the compound was imminent but all the troop could do was sit there and wait, leaving the Infantry to deal with the threat. In the end, nothing happened.

The troop then extracted, exhausted, but having successfully completed one task before moving on to another.

When I got back in from that operation I stayed to help cover the Ministers’ visit. It was good to see the newly elected  in person and speak with them, if not a little daunting walking through a district centre with no helmet on. Nonetheless, seeing the local nationals and meeting the district community council was encouraging – there are good, well meaning and helpful people here.

I thoroughly enjoyed my time with 2 Troop – hopefully I will get to repeat it.