Major Simon Doyle is the Officer Commanding C Company of 1st Battalion the Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment (1 PWRR) known as the Tigers. Simon has responsibility for Area of Operations Centre-South, as a part of Combined Force Nad e-Ali, headed by 3 SCOTS.
November is on us already – time is passing very quickly for the company here in Helmand with everyone keeping busy and focussed on the job at hand. In the last 2 weeks alone we have closed our first checkpoint, had fun developing our relationship with the ANA and conducted our first large aviation operation into the desert.
More than capable
There are many reports in the media that Nad-e-Ali District will transfer to GIRoA lead security at the beginning of 2012 – this is excellent news and a reflection of the progress being made by the Afghan Army and Police as well as the stable security environment across much of the District. As a result of this stability we have been able to identify areas where the Afghan Army are more than capable of taking the lead for protecting their people. In these areas we are able to either close checkpoints or transfer them across to the Army or Police.
We have seen this process at first hand through the closure of Checkpoint Azadi in the centre of our company area of operations. This checkpoint was originally home to Sgt Turagavou and his multiple of men (a multiple is a grouping of 13-14 men commanded by a Sergeant or Lieutenant) as well as a section of Mortars from 3 SCOTS. In order to close the checkpoint the men have had to clean, account for and box-up every item of serial-numbered kit issued and collapse all accommodation and facilities until they were living out of just their webbing and rucksacks.
A few days of relative austerity followed, whilst shipping containers holding their equipment were removed by a fleet of trucks and the check point was collapsed around them. When just four bare walls of Hesco remained the soldiers withdrew to another check point and Afghan contractors arrived to strip-out the Hesco using wire-cutters and shovels; rather them than us! All in all this process provided a visible signal to the local population that ISAF’s presence across the area is reducing and that their long term trust and confidence must be invested in the ANSF who continue to patrol the area.
Whilst the closure of Checkpoint Azadi was progressing other elements of the company have been involved in training the Afghan National Army (ANA) at Patrol Base (PB) Samsor. We share this PB with 45 ANA soldiers commanded by Captain Najibullah, a very likeable Afghan Officer with a professional attitude and a wicked sense of humour. Whilst our advisors (Captain Billy Russell and Staff Sergeant Jones of the QDG) take the lead with the ANA, daily partnering sees most of the company interact with them on some level. This week there has been a surge of training, particularly map-reading training and Vallon training to detect IEDs. The ANA are very keen to learn new skills and practise their use with ISAF, so they make good students.
As well as training the ANA also challenged the company to volleyball, a very popular game in Afghanistan. The first inaugural ISAF vs ANA volleyball competition took place on 27 October at PB Samsor with the ANA fielding a strong team including their Mullah (religious teacher) in full white dish-dash and several players wearing only sandals. The ISAF team included Privates Lake and Finch, Lance Corporal Jallow and the star player Private Cokanalagi. It was a close game, with many multi-shot rallies of the ball and some impressive ’Top-Gun’ moments from ISAF soldiers sporting dog-tags. However the ANA were the eventual winners, receiving a bag of fresh pomegranates for their efforts. There will be a re-match in the near future to see if the Company can reclaim the title of PB Samsor volleyball champions once the ANA have completed their Eid celebrations in the second week of November.
Of note, during the last two weeks we have broken our record for mail delivery – one helicopter arrived at a very unsociable hour in the early morning delivering over 250Kg of mail and parcels from home, all of it very much welcomed by the Company! As a result of this influx of mail we had a very festive Halloween in PB Samsor and the checkpoints; thank you to all of the friends and family who sent treats, table decorations, masks and especially the dismembered rubber hand which now doubles up as a prop for medical training! On the subject of mail, we have been told out here that the last safe day for posting Christmas parcels to Op Herrick is 2 December, so please bear that in mind if you are sending your soldier Christmas gifts!
It is of course not all sport and training and fun over here as was brought into focus when the company conducted an aviation insertion and patrol operation into the Western Dashte, the desert bordering the west of our area of operations. For this operation half of the company came together at PB Samsor for orders and rehearsals before boarding two Chinook helicopters as dawn broke across Helmand Province.
The Chinooks took the Company Group for a ‘joy-ride’ through the cold morning sky before landing at our chosen spot in the desert just as the local national population were waking and beginning the routine of their day. Over the next 5 or 6 hours the company patrolled on foot back towards PB Samsor taking the opportunity to talk to the nomadic people that live in the desert and the disenfranchised population that effectively ‘squat’ in the desert in illegally constructed compounds. The open, gravelly desert that we moved through was in open contrast to the normally cultivated fields of the green zone that the company are used to.
The people however appeared identical to those we have become familiar with in the green zone – generally good honest people focussed on scraping a livelihood from their fields and giving the best opportunity for their children. Shoulders and legs were beginning to tire by midday as we crossed through the water of the Nahr-e-Bugra Canal however the cooling effect of the water was incredibly welcome and invigorated the patrols for the remaining time before the return to the welcome sight of PB Samsor. There will be many more of these sorts of operations in the coming months to demonstrate ISAF and ANSF security to all of the people across the District.
OC C Company
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