Private Graham ‘T’ Thurston is a soldier in 5 Platoon, B Company, the 1st Battalion the Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment (1 PWRR) known as the ‘Tigers’. Private Thurston is based in the Nahr-e-Seraj District of Helmand Province as part of the 5 RIFLES Battle Group.
Deploying from Germany
One minute past midnight and I’m waiting for the bus. Cold and nervous, my colleagues will not admit it, but everyone is anxious. We just want to get out there and do the job. We have trained for so long. On the way to Hannover and the anxiety has eased and spirits are high. When we got there it was colder. We had to wait for the aircraft to get the green light. An air traffic dispute in Greece did not help! On the way to Dubai, seven hours of rest and banter to ease the tension. When we got there the heat and humidity hit home that this is what we are going to. Waiting for the RAF to get us onboard a C130 to take us to Camp Bastion, a flight that takes us into the camp and the theatre of operations.
Arriving in Afghanistan
The first day of RSOI [Reception, Staging and Onward Integration] was death by PowerPoint and the info on the Province, the people and the insurgency compressed into one day. This is followed by six days including a day of heavy weapons including GMG (Grenade Machine Gun) and a demonstration of a Claymore (command detonated directional explosive device) which was great as few of us have seen it being fired. After we had all completed our individual shoots on GMG (Grenade Machine Gun) HMG, (Heavy Machine Gun), UGL (Under-Slung Grenade Launcher) and Sharpshooter Rifle we went onto the FOB (Forward Operating Base) Shoot.
This was the first time we fired individual weapons from the sangars and compound walls. The drills and skills we had learned in the past year of training were all put to good use and it was something that went down well with everyone. On day three we had Counter IED (Improvised Explosive Device) training with more equipment and new drills fresh from the frontline put straight into practice on the training area at Bastion.
Getting to the Green Zone
Once RSOI was complete there was a little down time waiting for a chopper. Then the bad news. One was shot at and grounded so the waiting game began. Four days later and after some of my colleagues had finished a course, we got the green light and at Little Heathrow (Camp Bastion Helicopter Airport) we departed the safety of Bastion to go to the Green Zone (irrigated farmland along the River Helmand contrasts sharply with the surrounding desert and is known as the Green Zone).
It is dark and the chopper is high then it drops, skimming the trees and then we are there at the HLS (Helicopter Landing Site) of Patrol Base (PB) Jeker. Waiting for us was Cpl Si Gearing and Sgt Janes on quad bikes so we could put our kit on. The Patrol Base is small but there is a lot here and fresh food is keeping morale high. In Jeker there’s a bit to do and the bed spaces are small but if your admin is good there will be no problems.
My first patrol was to PB Midanbazi where 4 Platoon, B Company was set up 2 Km away from Jeker. It does not seem too bad but going in and out of irrigation ditches it took one and half hours to get there. When we got there, 4 Platoon’s spirits were high even though Sgt Caines’ multiple had just had a grenade chucked over a wall at them. It missed but it shows the risk we are taking.
Our AO (Area of Operations) is small and there is little fighting but ‘shoot and scoots’ are a big threat. With just a few roads and none to Midanbazi, most patrols are on foot with vehicles only used for resupplying (Check Point) Parachut, where 5 Platoon are based, and for long distance patrols out of the AO.
On just my 4th patrol and 2nd resupply to Parachut I was acting as lead Vallon (metal detector) man. As I was going through a small village at a narrow point between two compounds I picked up a reading. When I lay down to confirm I uncovered a plastic bag. Plastic bags are used to waterproof IEDs and cover components. This makes it easy to find once a reading is picked up.
After some time the C-IED [Counter-Improvised Explosive Device] team came down and then my thoughts went to my friend from 6 Platoon in a different AO who unfortunately was injured in an IED explosion just the day before. Our hearts and wishes are with him and family as he recovers back home. Lucky the one I found was not connected and after the C-IED team disposed of it we discovered it was an anti-personnel IED filled with nuts and bolts. The banter is high here now and I won a cup of tea from my Company Sergeant Major for finding the IED. Nice to know that from the top to the bottom all of us get involved!