Returning to Afghanistan

Lt Matt Galante

Lt Matt Galante

Lt Matt Galante is an officer in 1st Battalion The Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment.  He commands a Police Advisory Team (PAT) in Southern Nahr-e-Saraj district Helmand province.

Returning to Afghanistan has been the focus of my life for the past five years.

I realise that, for most people, Helmand Province is hardly the holiday venue of choice, but since I first came here in 2006 I have been desperate to return. I was a Territorial Army soldier back in those days, juggling my work commitments with a degree at Leeds University (with somewhat questionable results at times). Having finally graduated, and on realising that I am more at home in a wet Welsh field than a cozy dry office, I joined the army ‘full-time’ to endure the joys of the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst. I emerged 44 weeks later as an officer in the Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment, and swiftly found myself preparing to head back to the country that captured my imagination some five years ago.

Beast of Bastion

On arrival at Camp Bastion in late September, I was astounded at how much can change in a relatively short time span – and how much can stay the same. The fine dust that coats your nostrils and destroys your electrical goods had unfortunately remained, as had the oppressive heat. But the beast that is Bastion had grown to unimaginable proportions, with fast food chains and air-conditioned shops aplenty. Despite the relative comfort I quickly became restless to deploy forward, and within a week found myself on a daringly low and fast Chinook ride to my new home of Nahr-e-Saraj, nestled along the banks of the river Helmand.

Lt Matt Galante talking to children in Paind Kalay

Lt Matt Galante talking to children in Paind Kalay

I was finally back to the landscape that had so captured my imagination five years ago, and was pleasantly surprised at what greeted me. Thankfully, the landscape remained unchanged: characteristic mud compounds thoughtfully decorated with items from the land, unnaturally blue streams meandering through irrigated fields crammed with six-foot maize, and the ever-present river Helmand cutting jagged rocky cliffs into the desert landscape. The cliffs are a beautiful foreground to an impressive sunrise, which is accompanied by the haunting sounds of morning prayers dancing through the still morning air. I instantly felt privileged to be back here.

Cheeky smiles

What was more of a surprise was what had actually changed since my last visit. To place the following observations into perspective, let me remind you of the scenes in Sangin five years ago: in all my time, I only saw one civilian family – fleeing their home village in terror. Everybody else – every single soul – was hostile towards me. Every moment on patrol was a fraught affair, as we moved through a landscape all but destroyed by months of fighting.

Yet here I was on my opening patrol of 2011 utterly gobsmacked: by the pristine tarmac under my feet, the sheer number of children running around me with cheeky smiles asking for a ‘Kalam’ (pen), the farmers waving and laughing as my team stumble across an adjacent ploughed field like Bambi after eight pints… This change is incredible, and after five weeks of patrolling I am still delighted to see the progress made. Even if it means that I have to contend with screaming kids every time I go static on patrol.

Lt Matt Galante on patrol in Paind Kalay with Afghan Uniformed Police

Lt Matt Galante on patrol in Paind Kalay with Afghan Uniformed Police

My job on this tour is as a multiple commander with the Police Mentoring  and Advisory Group, 1 PWRR. Essentially this means that I am in command of 16 soldiers whose key task is to mentor and assist the Afghan National Police in their efforts to bring security to Nahr-e-Saraj and the wider Helmand region. I will go into a little more detail as to our daily routine and the more memorable characters we meet (of which there are many!) in a later blog, but in the meantime it’s about time I signed off as I’m on patrol in an hour…

I look forward to keeping you updated!

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18 thoughts on “Returning to Afghanistan

  1. Pingback: Returning to Afghanistan « The Official British Army Blog | Armyslags – Blog Network

  2. i love to read about your storys more so when good things happen i think its great what you and all the rest off the fella partners do it brill and i take my hat off to you all. and its more so when you no where you want to be and what you want to do keep up all the good work and you will want to be back when you get home if you have been there that long so i gather that will be home for you, and other soldiers. but ill close my script for now and hope to read more about you and all your soldier friends good luck and keep safe all off you a fond friend xx


  3. Hi Matt,

    I remember being at Chilwell with you in 2006 as we mobilised at the same time, never thought I wouold be calling you Sir one day.

    Look after yourself


  4. It’s good to see the engagement with the children and to read of the perceivable changes from your view.
    Keep up the good work
    and be safe


  5. Pingback: Returning to Afghanistan « The Official British Army Blog | Light Dragoons

  6. Hi Matt,

    My son is currently out in Helmand doing exacly what you are, so reading this gives me a much better understanding of life out there and the current conditions. The photos help too! I have printed the information off to show my other son aged 12, so that he can see what his big brother is up to.

    You are all in our thoughts and prayers.



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