Afghanistan… preparing to deploy

Lieutenant Tom Shorland-Ball, Second-in-Command of B Squadron, Royal Dragoon Guards (RDG), is preparing to deploy to Afghanistan on operation HERRICK 17. The Royal Dragoon Guards will have two, quite separate roles during their tour. One Squadron will be working as the Warthog Group (a brigade-level asset) with the remainder working alongside Afghan police forces as part of the Police Mentoring Advisory Group (PMAG). Over the course of this tour, soldiers and officers will be describing their varied experiences in this blog.

Here, Lt Tom Shorland-Ball describes the build-up to deployment.

Afghanistan… here we go! As I’ve watched Alma Lines slowly emptying over the last month or so, the anticipation of what is coming has been mounting, not only amongst my call sign, but the whole of B (The Black Horse) Squadron and indeed the Royal Dragoon Guards. Needless to say, we have been hearing back from the troops who have deployed early, but nothing will match one’s own boots hitting the desert. For some, myself included, this is a first tour and so anxious excitement has been mounting throughout the whole of the Mission Specific Training (MST) package which has run from January but for the old hands, who have the legacy of Op HERRICK 12 and one or even two Op TELICs before that, it is the familiar rotation of preparation, reassurance to the tour first timers, and goodbyes.

A Squadron, Royal Dragoon Guards, carry out casualty evacuation training during the final exercise..

A Squadron, Royal Dragoon Guards, carry out casualty evacuation training during the final exercise.

Morale is good – I never thought I would see the day where I listened to young soldiers with wives and families tell me that they just wanted to go, but then I suppose the sooner you leave, the sooner you get back. I joined the Regiment in September 2010, at the beginning of Hybrid Foundation Training, having finished at Sandhurst the previous month and so I have been fortunate to have been put through the full two year training rotation, which includes nine long months of MST.

One of my soldiers arrived from basic training last week, yet he too will soon be qualified to deploy and will be doing so with myself and the main body. MST, the long tailed beast that it is, has entailed everything from exercises in Thetford and Salisbury plain to obtaining too numerous to count weapon and vehicle qualifications and driving around the countryside of North Yorkshire on patrol with the NYPD (North Yorkshire Police Department!).

Families and friends get up close and personal with a Challenger II main battle tank on the Dettingen weekend in June.

Families and friends get up close and personal with a Challenger II main battle tank on the Dettingen weekend in June.

Basic survival in Afghanistan

One of the memorable occasions that sticks in my mind during this training was the celebration at Families Day on the Dettingen weekend in June. Not only was this a chance to celebrate the British-German allied victory against France in 1743, in which our antecedent regiments were instrumental, but it was also an opportunity for families of members of the Regiment to gather in a casual environment and enjoy themselves on the various stands, looking at vehicles, weapons and enjoying a few drinks, games and rides. It was a rare opportunity to meet the soldiers’ families and friends, and was as important to me as any of the MST exercises, as it put into context all of the soldiers that I have the pleasure of working with on a daily basis.

These training events have given us the chance not only to hone the necessary skills and drills for basic survival in Afghanistan, but allow one to build relationships with the other units which will be on the ground with us. As a Police Advisory Team (PAT) you are required to visit multiple Afghan police checkpoints daily and spend a lot of time moving from one to the next, and it is only with a good relationship with the other troops on the ground that this can safely be achieved. I can confidently say that I am looking forward to working closely with 40 Commando Royal Marines and Delhi Company, 1 Royal Gurkha Rifles.

Finally, am I nervous? Naturally the answer is ‘yes’, but this is heavily outweighed by the fact that I am about to deploy on a trip that I have been wanting to go on ever since I started craving to wear green in about 2000. I am excited and I feel ready. I am sure it will be good. Let’s just see.

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