Lt Matt Galante is an officer in The 1st Battalion The Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment. He commands a Police Advisory Team (PAT) in Southern Nahr-e-Saraj district, Helmand province. This is Matt’s second tour of Afghanistan.
The first three months of Operation Herrick 15 have flown by, and life remains both hectic and enjoyable for us. There is so much to write about and so little space; worse still, the blokes have caught wind that I am writing a blog and are now all bullying me to get their names in cyberspace. Cheers lads. So without further ado I bring you part four of “Police mentoring in Nahr e-Saraj”…
Mountain of rugs
Where to start? It has, in the space of 48 hours, gone from an Indian summer to utterly freezing in Helmand: the rains have kept their distance, but the temperatures have dipped below zero at an alarming rate. Patrolling the soggy fields and dusty tracks of our new home town in 100lbs of equipment keeps us fairly toasty, but the same cannot be said for our Afghan partners who are enduring the cold nights with only a blanket, Chai and the kind of robust nature that typifies the Helmandi people. We are providing them with heaters to complement their new Afghan-issue police overcoats, but I can’t help feeling sorry for the patrolmen we meet on our morning checkpoint visits as they huddle around their communal Chai flask under a mountain of rugs.
As for our own checkpoint, we are living by the mantra that “any idiot can be uncomfortable” by carving out our own little palace in the middle of Helmand. The darts league between Colour Sergeant Richie Swain and Sergeant Dave Whitfield is becoming ruthlessly competitive, with more than just a round of brews at stake for the loser but the shame of coming second in the Paind Kalay championships. Captain Giles Walsh has somehow ‘acquired’ the classiest Christmas tree outside of Harrods to decorate our ops room, and Colour Sergeant Richard ‘Eddie’ Edwards has a steady stream of ridiculously expensive food parcels from young officers he used to instruct at Sandhurst (yes young Lieutenants, if you haven’t sent him anything yet then get cracking). Meanwhile, Lance Corporal ‘Paddy’ Korovou (one quarter of our resident ‘TeamFiji’) is pushing for either an MBE or a place on Masterchef by continually creating works of genius out of a clay oven and some tinned meat. Lance Corporal Matt Little is busy beasting Craftsman Rob Lambdon in our fully-stocked gym in his quest to finally get Rob some shoulders, while Lance Corporal James Alldread is slowly eating his way through the hundred or so Pot Noodles his Grandfather keeps sending him.
As for our police counterparts, I am pleased to say that they are stepping up to the mark in all respects. Lieutenant Mohammad Wali has been equally industrious in his quest to spruce up his side of our shared checkpoint, by creating an enormous furnace in his ‘shura room’ to keep his many local visitors warm. Built from spare vehicle parts and running from old engine oil, it sounds like a jet engine and looks moments from exploding every time it gets fired up but has become a focal point for the AUP and locals alike. When the room is in full swing, the only noise that drowns out the ridiculous din of the furnace is Wali’s Frank Bruno-style laugh.
More police patrols
The police are achieving more than just good central heating though. In terms of successes on the ground, a particular highlight recently has been a patrol we undertook into the former insurgent stronghold of Kakaran. A platoon from B Company 1 PWRR, led by Captain Chris Gardiner, had recently been engaged in weeks of fierce fighting in Kakaran, a small village near the Helmand river. Every time they entered the village, locals would hurriedly drop their farming tools and flee – leaving Chris and his team alone in the eerily empty fields, waiting for the first crack of machine gun fire to zip overhead. After many excursions into Kakaran, B Company finally had the insurgents on the run. However, the village was still a mystery to the outside world: who lived there? Were they friendly villagers caught in the crossfire, or hard-line Taliban supporters? Enter the police – local faces with the best interests of the people at heart. Within two hours, the Kakaran village elders were pleading for more police patrols to keep insurgents at bay and restore peace, and the AUP returned to their checkpoint rightly proud of having made a difference to an entire community in a single day.
There is a great deal of success that has come from our first three months out here, and I am looking forward to more of the same in 2012. However, as Christmas approaches we all remember the families who are missing loved ones this festive season and offer our heartfelt condolences. On a personal front, I would like to mention two men in particular whose loss has been felt deeply by myself and my team: Private Tom Lake of B Company 1 PWRR – the Battalion’s first loss on this tour; and Lieutenant David Boyce of the Queen’s Dragoon Guards – a colleague and friend from eight months in Bovington and Brecon. My thoughts are with the loved ones of both these great men at this time.
Moving forward, the team and I have a busy week lined up so I look forward to updating you on life inHelmand in the New Year. Merry Christmas