After packing and repacking my bag back at Talbot Barracks in Sennelager, then repacking them again so that all my kit would fit, I was almost ready to deploy Op HERRICK 15. For many of my friends and I, it would be our first operational tour and the nerves were easy to see. The last 9 months or so have passed by in a series of field exercises and comms training which have all been designed to get us prepped for tour correctly.
A classic Army early start meant I didn’t have much time for sleep the night before departure and before I knew it I was on the coach to HannoverAirport for the flight to CampBastion. A few hours later we touched down in the scorching hot dust bowl that is CampBastion.
I can’t say that Mission Specific Training (MST) has flown by or that all the training to get here has been easy, but I was finally here. The last 9 months have been dominated byAfghanistanand I had seen and read countless books, TV news reports and BBC documentaries so it was a great feeling to actually be in the country at last.
On our arrival at Camp Bastionwe were put into transit accommodation before starting our 5 day RSOI package. This is essentially a series of detailed briefs as well as a short field exercise so that you are well versed in the current situation inAfghanistan. The package is designed to remind you of some key skills and drills on arrival and ensure that everyone is up to the basic standard for deployment. The package also contains orientation briefs and lectures on loads of different subjects as well as firing our weapons on the local ranges.
Luckily it wasn’t all lectures and it proved a lot more practical than I first imagined. During the package we covered many areas with a lot of focus on Counter-IED training. We had practised these drills a lot during our build up training so we were very familiar with the procedures for helping us to keep safe out on the ground. We were told that Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) are the biggest problem out here and, as our Squadron OC put it, the next time you will be confirming if it is a IED or not will be for real.
I really believe the facts hit home but we all felt a lot more confident after a refresher on the subject. The RSOI package consisted of really long days but we still had time to grab a coffee and relax in the evenings at one of the coffee shops on camp. At the end of this training we said our goodbyes as most of us separated to our respected Check Points and Patrol Bases.
To the unknown …
Waiting at ‘Little Heathrow’, Camp Bastion’s helicopter air transportation hub, I couldn’t help but find it funny that even in Afghanistan I was getting delayed at Heathrow. It was a Saturday night and a few of us lay on our kit and wondered what our friends were doing at home. After much debating we concluded that this was the best way to spend it – about to fly out on a helicopter to somewhere we have never been to before. We were all nervous but excited and keen to get going. Once on the flight the view was amazing; the lights from each compound glowed beneath us as we flew over towards our final destination. I found myself trying to imagine everyday life for the normal Afghan families living below.
Touch down …
The flight seemed to go really fast and before I knew it I had arrived at my basic Patrol Base (PB) in Nad-E Ali District. It felt quite amazing that for the next few months I would eat, sleep and celebrate Christmas here. I’m currently working with the Estonians and Royal Marines until the 20 Armoured Brigade units start to arrive. The Estonians have been very welcoming and they seem professional but relaxed.
Life is petty basic here, there is no running water and the accommodation is pretty minimalistic. For entertainment we can read books and watch DVDs. A lot of the Estonians and Royal Marines have been spending a lot of time at gym so I’ll be joining them during my downtime.
So now it’s time to settle in and familiarise myself with all the comms systems in the PB. I will be responsible for ensuring that they work effectively so I have a big role to play in making sure things run smoothly. I’m sure it’ll be a great tour though.