Lieutenant Colonel David Eastman MBE REME has deployed to Afghanistan as the new Spokesman for Task Force Helmand. In his first blog post, written in the Departures lounge at RAF Brize Norton, he looks ahead to the next six months.
So, once again I find myself sitting in the departure lounge at RAF Brize Norton, the RAF’s somewhat sparse but functional gateway to the rest of the world just outside Oxford. I can’t remember how often I have sat in this lounge contemplating what is to come over the coming months, but in my 21 years of service in the Army it is probably too long. I bade farewell to my ever stoic wife and children yesterday leaving them in Germany where we have been based for the past 2 years. Waving goodbye never gets any easier, but having now deployed to Bosnia, Kosovo, the Falkland Islands, Northern Ireland, Afghanistan and Iraq as well as a number of exercises in far off places like Canada, the Ukraine and the US, my wife, Corina, is more than used to looking after our 4 children (all of whom are under 8 years old) without me around. The military system is very supportive of our families, and our community always pulls together when one of the family is deployed so I know that they are in very good hands. I’m not sure that the children really understand what is happening in any case, given that they were more interested in getting back to Star Wars on the Wii than in saying farewell to their absconding father – at least I know where I sit in their list of priorities!
In the somewhat surreal way that the military works I am currently between jobs. Last week I was the Commanding Officer of 2 Close Support Battalion REME supporting the “Desert Rats” , 7th Armoured Brigade, in Bad Fallingbostel just south of Hamburg, Germany. This week and for the next 6 months or so, I will take over as the Spokesman for Task Force Helmand based in Lashkar Gar in Helmand province, southern Afghanistan. I will be responsible for coordinating all media coverage of the Task Force and its operations, as well as acting as the media spokesman on behalf of the Brigade Commander. You can say many things about life in the Army but it certainly keeps you on your toes and on the edge of your comfort zone at times. To be fair, I have carried out some media training – the Army dug around to find the most Rottweiler-ish journalists that it could to ensure that I received a sound grilling during all of our preparatory exercises, and I have had the pleasure of visiting Sky News and the BBC to see how the news is put together, and meet some of my potential interrogators.
I was last in Afghanistan in 2006 as the Deputy Chief of Staff of 16 Air Assault Brigade working for Brigadier Ed Butler as we first deployed into Helmand, also based in Lashkar Gar. Lash is the provincial capital, seat of governance and the centre of economic activity for the province. I will be returning some 4 years later with the same Brigade and it will be extremely interesting to see just how much has changed in the interim period. Apart from anything, when I was last here we had 3,100 troops to cover the whole of Helmand province. We now have three times as many focused solely on the central development zone around Lashkar Gar as well as a huge increase in support from both the Foreign Office and the Department for International Development, and of course, the US Marine Corps have also arrived en masse into Helmand. Things have definitely changed.
As with all troops deploying on operations then, I sit waiting at RAF Brize Norton filled with a mixture of trepidation in anticipation of my role as the Task Force Spokesman, sadness at leaving my family behind, but also a sense of excitement to be doing what I joined up to do. Once in Afghanistan I will spend the next 4 days carrying out basic administration, testing and zeroing my rifle and then being briefed on the latest tactics, techniques and procedures by the outgoing brigade, before finally being let loose on the press.