LCpl James Hylands (39), from Shaw, Oldham is a TA soldier who is currently serving with 8 Troop, 73 Armoured Engineer Squadron (AES) on Operation HERRICK 17. He deployed along with the rest of 21 Engineer Regiment (21 Engr Regt) as part of Task Force Helmand Engineer Group, at the beginning of September 2012. Whilst on tour the squadron is know as Engineer Close Support Squadron 1, which covers the northern areas of operation of Task Force Helmand (TFH).
Change of scenery
The troop requirements at Patrol Base (PB) Clifton have taken a different turn of direction within the last week. Task requirements from further afield in Helmand have been made, and the original group of 28 men has now been reduced to ten to continue with PB jobs. For some members this will be a look at life in other Check Points (CPs)/PBs, and a change of scenery, which will break the monotony up of a six-month tour nicely, for others it will be the challenge of a new task albeit in a new location. Certainly up to Christmas it looks like troop movement to other areas will be happening, some members have been ear-marked for larger projects taking them into 2013 before we will see them again, they have already packed and gone.
PB life is a mixed bag of events to be honest; you have to experience it to appreciate the effects it can have. The full spectrum of emotions which humans display are touched in one way or another, from the highs of completing a task or being a dangerous environment to the lows of missing friends and family at home, all are experienced from one day to another here. The sight of poverty in the surrounding areas is evident and it often reminds you how lucky we are back home, essential basics and sanitation to locals are in denial but life just continues as normal.
Life and luxuries
As a quick insight into PB life, the run of the mill pace of life we have (excluding large tasks and projects) the days normally starts around 6.30am. Your own physical training is the norm most mornings, which lasts around 45 minutes followed by a shave and shower. The shower facilities consist of a tent with shower heads dotted around inside it. Water is pumped from a bore hole well (deep in the ground) through a series of filter units (Stella meta units) into two 5000 litre water holding tanks (pillow tanks), from here it is feed into a kerosene heater which provides heat to the water. Outside the shower areas, directly to one side is the wash sinks. These are like large trough tubs with a number of taps attached providing warm water, it’s clean enough to drink but people choose not to.
The site has been winterised so is covered by large aggregate to aid in drainage, this in its self is a struggle to walk in from one area to another and can only be compared to walking in deep snow back home. The accommodation on camp consists of a row of ten-man tents located behind a series of blast walls; these provide ample room for cot beds which come complete with fly nets surrounding them. The floor is a plastic based surface which sits about 25mm high consisting of a flat surface with slots on top followed by a honey comb base underneath, this design in its self keeps it clean and any dust on the surface clears away quickly.
Electricity is supplied on site through mobile units 415v, 240v and 110v is available so electrical products can be used and charged up for personal use in the accommodation areas. Toilet facilities are in the form of a wooden hut complete with a toilet seat inside; a chemical type bag is presented over the top of it which is later disposed of in a burn pit once used. A ‘desert rose’ (urinal) is used frequently which is a deep hole with a drainpipe embedded in it, to which ‘wriggly tin’ roof sheets are used as a urinal draining away into the pipe, this in itself is adequate and clean enough for the usage it gets.
Finally the cookhouse which co-incidentally is the lad’s favourite place is a tent housing a choice of food served daily on paper plates with vacuum packed sealed cutlery provided with every meal. Served three times per day there is plenty of choice and the standards are similar to a good hotel back home. I hope this has shown a light on the way we live until next time.
Read about James here: Lance Corporal James Hyland