The company has now completed one month in charge of AO Centre South of Nad e-Ali District and it is fair to say that we are now well settled into living and working in Afghanistan. The boys have made the checkpoints into comfortable areas to live, decked out with flags and banners from home, pictures of their loved ones and all manner of improvised furniture made from the ubiquitous Hesco cages.
Our days are filled with patrols and guard duties as well as the more mundane camp tasks such as preparing meals, accounting for stores and trying to winterise the camps before the bad weather sets in. Fortunately we have had no rain here yet to speak of and the days remain bright and warm with few clouds in sight; this of course means that it does get very cold very quickly as soon as the sun sets and it is getting harder and harder to get out of bed in the morning!
When the boys head out on patrol they are often accompanied by members of the Afghan National Army or the Police who will lead on engagements with the local people. Of course every time we go out on patrol there are always a large number of children who surround us with cries of ‘Chocolate?’ or ‘Pen?’… Wherever possible the children receive boiled sweets or nuts left over from our ration packs or even toys and gifts sent out by families and friends from home. The children are full of the same energy and vitality as those many of us have left behind, and seeing a smile appear on their faces during a patrol allows us to feel closer to our own children – until your pens disappear from the front of your Osprey body armour after the kids have pulled an Artful Dodger’-like pickpocket routine on you! As well as children there are many other things that can lighten the mood on a long hot patrol, for example turning around the corner of a long wall and being confronted by a football pitch sized marijuana field. This has happened on a number of occasions, with many photos being taken by the soldiers as they pass through this ganja jungle. Needless to say there will be strict kit inspections before we leave theatre…
Morale is regularly boosted over here whenever the mail arrives – this is usually delivered by Helicopter to PB SAMSOR and then moved forward by vehicles to the other checkpoints. As the helicopter lands the doors open and we wait to see how many mail bags are ready to be bundled out – often there are over 15 bags of parcels and letters full of messages and gifts from home. Everything is gratefully received over here with magazines and books passed around after being read and dusty guard rooms made cosier by children’s paintings and boxes of PG Tips! As well as the mail there is the weekly telephone call to look forward to – 30 minutes on the satellite phone is never enough to say everything you want but the phones are always in demand with a queue for the one or two handsets guaranteed every night. As they are satellite phones they only work outside in view of the sky – this was not a problem when we arrived but now a full 30 minute conversation leaves you very chilled, with Christmas phone calls promising to be a bit of a winter survival test!
Lives improving steadily
The other guaranteed way to boost morale here is to have a search dog arrive at the CP for a day or two, ostensibly here to find IEDs or bullets. Almost every soldier here enjoys petting the playful Cocker Spaniels and Labradors, or playing fetch with them once an operation is complete. Everyone is in good spirits at the moment, lucky to be in a quiet area of Afghanistan, where we can really engage with the locals and see their lives improving steadily as a result of the security we are supporting.
It is only two weeks to go now until the first of our R&R flights heads home so you can be rest assured that we are all looking forward to seeing our loved ones again, and are eternally grateful for the wonderful support you have given us so far.