Lance Corporal Ryder from 3rd Battalion The Mercian Regiment (3 MERCIAN) blogs once more. Back in Afghanistan after his mid-tour rest and recuperation (R&R) period he considers the unit’s ever-changing home and role, and the sad loss of a fellow soldier.
The majority of my time since my last blog has been taken up by my R&R (rest and recuperation) period. It’s a 2-week space which is allocated to every soldier in theatre, around the middle of their tour. The aim is to give us time to (as it says on the tin!) rest up and recuperate – and it is, by far, the highlight of every soldier’s tour!
My R&R started in early June – however, due to being incorrectly booked onto a cargo plane I was delayed for a further 3 days. Eventually I landed at RAF Brize Norton on 4 June. The 12 days I had off were really busy, with catching up with family and friends, moving into a new apartment and also trying to consume my own body weight in fast food and alcohol! The one thing I’d forgotten was that because my body had gone 4 months without alcohol, I would have a different tolerance compared to before I left for Afghanistan. The result: my first night out I went out at 10pm and was in bed by 1am! I definitely learnt my lesson there. The English weather was typically English throughout, which was brilliant – it felt good to be able stay in bed past 8am without feeling like you’re lying in an oven. Overall my R&R was awesome – the best 2 weeks of my year yet, and it gave me ample time to freshen up, focus and catch up on some much-needed sleep.
In true RAF style, there were no delays in getting us back out to Afghanistan and we flew back out to Patrol Base Lashkagah Durai. I spent most of my first evening back settling back in and reorganising my kit. I also needed to get re-orientated, because in the 2 weeks I was off the place has almost doubled in size. It’s gone from being a small Patrol Base with a few people cooking on an wood-fired oil drum, to a fully-functioning operations base. The speed at which the engineers have achieved the current state of the PB is admirable by anyone’s standards. They’re up every day at the crack of dawn, and don’t finish until late at night, operating in full kit outside the wire all the way through the heat of the day. So for those of you who moan about a hard day’s work at the office, I urge you to live a day in their job!
My second day back in the PB started off with normal routine patrols and guard duties. Around mid-afternoon the Company Sergeant Major informed us that Private Bellingham from C Company had been killed in action. This hit everybody hard. When a unit loses a soldier even those who did not know him are affected. It’s like losing a family member. Private Bellingham was a popular lad around the battalion, and so was well known by many of the lads in B Company, including myself. I think it took all of us a while to actually believe what we had heard. Some of us tried to convince ourselves it was an error and that someone had heard wrong, but deep down we knew it was for real. We felt numerous feelings – anger, sadness, bereavement – but nothing compared to what his family would be feeling. ‘Bell’ will be sadly missed by all those who were privileged enough to know him, and also those unfortunate enough not to. RIP mate.
That aside, we still have a job to do, so everyone is cracking on. The last few days have consisted of ground domination patrols, vehicle check points, and also overnight stays on the ground in order to show our physical presence and deter any insurgents within our area.
Overall, things are good in our PB, our ever-changing job is keeping us on our toes and with the R&R plot in full swing, morale is high as people are returning weekly refreshed from a few weeks off.