Lieutenant Colonel Tim Purbrick, the Spokesman for Task Force Helmand, blogs again from Afghanistan about his experience of recent events including Easter and the Royal Wedding.
The news over the last few weeks has been dominated by the Royal Wedding in London. In our own small way, and thanks to the generosity of a number of companies, we were able to have a celebratory lunch surrounded by flags, bunting, hats, masks, wigs, a life sized Catherine and Wills – raffled off later for the Royal British Legion Poppy Appeal and won by Task Force Helmand Engineer Group who have been ordered to take them on a guided tour of Central Helmand – even some alcohol-free champagne and a great cake by the Lash Cookhouse. It was slightly strange to be joining not only such a personal moment for the new Duke and Duchess of Cambridge but also such a magnificent ceremonial occasion from 4,000 miles away. The distance did not detract from the enjoyment and all of us here in Task Force Helmand wish them a very long and happy marriage.
It was Easter Day not so long ago either. Days seem to merge into each other and you don’t have to be here too long before you completely lose touch with what day of the week it is. It is just that meeting or that report which is the sole indicator of the day and I often find myself ringing up London and getting frustrated at getting no answer only to find its 4.00am on Sunday morning back home. I wish I had a watch that told me the day as well as the date but The Queen only loans out watches with the date.
Easter Day was a flying day for me. Or, rather, a waiting around day. There is absolutely no point in complaining about waiting around for helicopters. Winston Churchill’s words about the Royal Air Force after the Battle of Britain – “never was so much owned by so many to so few” – are as applicable today to the pilots and aircrew of the Joint Helicopter Command as they were to the fighter pilots back then. We jump on the back of helicopters here in Helmand, wokka off to another base and jump off but there guys and girls in the helicopter crews do it the whole time, taking extraordinary risks to make sure that the troops on the ground can continue to do what they do so well and to extract casualties from the battlefield whatever the conditions are there. Anyway, a flight delay at Bastion is a welcome excuse to womble over to the US Dining Facility a couple of hundred metres from the flight line for a deep dive into American cuisine. Easter lunch for me was a char grilled chicken with salad takeaway, a can of pop and my pockets stuffed with Easter goodies. God bless America. So, waiting around for helicopters is never a problem and often a pleasure.
We made it out to a patrol base deep in the Green Zone where B Company, 2nd Battalion The Parachute Regiment (2 PARA) were coming to an end of a hard winter tour. Many sacrifices and much progress. The Padre held an Easter service in the stifling heat and the following morning we attended a Koran sharif – or reading. In these events the whole of the Holy Koran is read in one sitting with many members of the community joining in the reading. The sharif at our patrol base was led by the Afghan National Army (ANA) Mullah supported by Private Omar Darboe and attended by all the local elders with their communities. Private Darboe is a Royal Logistic Corps chef at the Patrol Base. He is originally from The Gambia and he is a Muslim. When he took part in his first Koran sharif in the ANA camp next to his patrol base the locals were completely amazed. Omar said they couldn’t believe that a soldier from the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) was a Muslim, that he could read from the Holy Koran and that he could recite the verses from memory. The contribution and impact of this one soldier to the atmospherics of the local community towards ISAF is difficult to over state. It has led to much greater trust and understanding between ISAF and the local community.
We lifted out of the Green Zone and headed back to Lashkar Gah in time for the Royal Wedding. It was great to see Prince William get married in the uniform of Colonel of the Irish Guards. 1st Battalion Irish Guards were here in Helmand less than a month ago and provided the Queen’s Guard on the day of the Royal Wedding. It is a testament to the flexibility of our troops that they can go from the battlefield to Buckingham Palace and do both with equal passion and professionalism and, being a Guards Battalion, a dash of style and panache as well. Of course, it would be wrong of me to mention that the uniform of the Colonel of the Irish Guards is just a tad better looking than that of a Flight Lieutenant in the Royal Air Force, in which Prince William is currently serving, wouldn’t it?