Courage, discipline and “balls”

Sergeant Dale of 3 MERCIAN blogs from Afghanistan about a dramatic encounter with insurgents.

Sergeant Dale

Sergeant Dale

In 2008, whilst on a battlefield tour with some recruits from the Infantry Training Centre, Catterick, I got speaking to a British World War 2 veteran. He told me that during his time in the Army, the one thing they couldn’t teach him and his friends was how to get up and move forward when the rounds of the enemy were landing on and around their position. He went on to tell me that it took pure courage and discipline to do so – or as he put it, ” a lot of balls”. This is as true today as it ever was – as members of 4 Platoon found out, when they found themselves helping the Afghan National Police (ANP) fend off an attack on to their Check Point to the south of the village of Pupalzy. The ANP found themselves being attacked by what was assessed to be approximately 20-30 Taliban fighters.

Corporal Taylor patrols through an irrigation ditch in the Green Zone.

Corporal Taylor patrols through an irrigation ditch in the Green Zone.

Fortunately for the ANP, as the Taliban were manoeuvring into a position to launch a final assault on the Check Point (CP) itself from the last line of compounds to the north, a couple of Warriors [armoured vehicles] from 4 Platoon were passing by. Corporal Taylor was the Junior Non-Commissioned Officer (JNCO) in charge of the dismounts contained within. He quickly deployed with his men and moved into a position from which he could support the ANP. Initially, upon arrival of the men of 4 Platoon, the Taliban showed no signs of ending their assault and continued to suppress the CP with effective fire. Corporal Taylor made the assessment that he and his men would need to move forward and take the fight to them. So with the support of the Warriors, he launched an assault that even Colour Sergeant Instructors at the Infantry Battle School in Brecon would struggle to find fault with.  Amidst all the confusion and noise, in the heat of battle and with effective fire support from the ANP, the men moved forward and successfully caused the enemy to withdraw, rapidly. Even when outnumbered, the courage, discipline and “balls” of the Mercian soldier, coupled with the ability and determination of the ANP, proved to be too much for the insurgents. When all of these factors are combined with selfless commitment and the mutual respect shared between the ANSF and ISAF troops, it really does demonstrate to the local population that there is no place in Afghanistan for the insurgent and that the ANSF are well on the road to providing the much-needed security by themselves.

The past month or so has shown a decrease in contacts with insurgents and has seen 4 Platoon continue their normal routine of Patrol Base life, local patrols and Operations, all partnered with the ANP. On one such helicopter-borne partnered operation, in the vicinity of the Arghandab river valley, 4 Platoon and the ANP had a succesful find. The ANP – and their ability to search compounds and outlying areas effectively – is another clear demonstration that the ANP are becoming more and more capable as time goes on. In one instance, the ANP proved that they understood insurgent practices and came across a cache of approximately 1,000 rounds of ammunition, radio parts, clothing and a notebook full of written information, in a melon field used by the insurgents to move to and from a number of compounds out of view.

Time in theatre for 4 Platoon is gradually getting shorter and shorter, with the majority of the Platoon already having taken their 2 weeks of rest and recuperation time (R&R). Morale still remains high, particularly as the many many “chuff charts” are starting to show less and less days. And the parcels from friends, family and the generous groups and organisations back home in the UK continue to arrive, particularly for a couple of certain individuals within the Platoon.

In summary, 4 Platoon continues to work hard and remain fully focussed as the preparations for the end of tour handover are about to begin.

I went out at 10pm and was in bed by 1am!

Lance Corporal Ryder from 3rd Battalion The Mercian Regiment (3 MERCIAN) blogs once more. Back in Afghanistan after his mid-tour rest and recuperation (R&R) period he considers the unit’s ever-changing home and role, and the sad loss of a fellow soldier. 

Lance Corporal Ryder

Lance Corporal Ryder

The majority of my time since my last blog has been taken up by my R&R (rest and recuperation) period. It’s a 2-week space which is allocated to every soldier in theatre, around the middle of their tour. The aim is to give us time to (as it says on the tin!) rest up and recuperate – and it is, by far, the highlight of every soldier’s tour!

My R&R started in early June – however, due to being incorrectly booked onto a cargo plane I was delayed for a further 3 days. Eventually I landed at RAF Brize Norton on 4 June. The 12 days I had off were really busy, with catching up with family and friends, moving into a new apartment and also trying to consume my own body weight in fast food and alcohol! The one thing I’d forgotten was that because my body had gone 4 months without alcohol, I would have a different tolerance compared to before I left for Afghanistan. The result: my first night out I went out at 10pm and was in bed by 1am! I definitely learnt my lesson there. The English weather was typically English throughout, which was brilliant – it felt good to be able stay in bed past 8am without feeling like you’re lying in an oven. Overall my R&R was awesome – the best 2 weeks of my year yet, and it gave me ample time to freshen up, focus and catch up on some much-needed sleep.

In true RAF style, there were no delays in getting us back out to Afghanistan and we flew back out to Patrol Base Lashkagah Durai. I spent most of my first evening back settling back in and reorganising my kit. I also needed to get re-orientated, because in the 2 weeks I was off the place has almost doubled in size. It’s gone from being a small Patrol Base with a few people cooking on an wood-fired oil drum, to a fully-functioning operations base. The speed at which the engineers have achieved the current state of the PB is admirable by anyone’s standards. They’re up every day at the crack of dawn, and don’t finish until late at night, operating in full kit outside the wire all the way through the heat of the day. So for those of you who moan about a hard day’s work at the office, I urge you to live a day in their job!

My second day back in the PB started off with normal routine patrols and guard duties. Around mid-afternoon the Company Sergeant Major informed us that Private Bellingham from C Company had been killed in action. This hit everybody hard. When a unit loses  a soldier even those who did not know him are affected. It’s like losing a family member. Private Bellingham was a popular lad around the battalion, and so was well known by many of the lads in B Company, including myself. I think it took all of us a while to actually believe what we had heard. Some of us tried to convince ourselves it was an error and that someone had heard wrong, but deep down we knew it was for real. We felt numerous feelings – anger, sadness, bereavement – but nothing compared to what his family would be feeling. ‘Bell’ will be sadly missed by all those who were privileged enough to know him, and also those unfortunate enough not to. RIP mate.

That aside, we still have a job to do, so everyone is cracking on. The last few days have consisted of ground domination patrols, vehicle check points, and also overnight stays on the ground in order to show our physical presence and deter any insurgents within our area.

Overall, things are good in our PB, our ever-changing job is keeping us on our toes and with the R&R plot in full swing, morale is high as people are returning weekly refreshed from a few weeks off.

We were effectively surrounded

Lance Corporal Roberts

Lance Corporal Roberts

Lance Corporal Roberts is a section second-in-command in 4 Platoon, B Company, 3rd Battalion The Mercian Regiment (3 MERCIAN). He is currently based in Check Point Attal on Route 601, the main road to Lashkar Gah. He has previously served in Iraq, but this is his first tour of Afghanistan.

In his first blog he looks back at an operation to take the fight to the insurgents. It was an eventful day…

Recently 4 Platoon, B Company 3 MERCIAN have been involved in operations alongside multiples (half platoon) from the Royals Scots Dragoon Guards (SCOTS DG) and the 4th Battalion the Royal Regiment of Scotland (4 SCOTS).

As the harvests draw to a close it comes as no surprise that we’re witnessing a spike in insurgent hostilities in our Area of Operations (AO). 4 Platoon have been continuing to push into new areas, the no-man’s-land, and take the fight to the insurgents in their own back yard, thus securing our AO and successfully completing our ongoing mission to provide security to the local population.

One key operation is engraved in my thoughts. We were going about our daily routine of patrolling, and as is often the case we received intelligence and an order from Battlegroup Headquarters to conduct a strike operation onto an insurgent shura (meeting).

The shura involved up to 60 insurgents, to the south of Check Point (CP) Yaklang, in an otherwise unpatrolled area. At 1000hrs we hastily departed, and were dropped 4km short of the objective – the location of the shura.

With temperatures reaching 47 degrees, and with 65kg of kit per man, the going was tough. As we advanced on foot towards the objective, atmospherics changed with every step. I distinctly remember turning to the Boss, Lieutenant Cook and saying: “Being point man is the loneliest place on earth”, to be greeted by a wry, knowing smile.

As we pushed on, the insurgent scouting screen was out in force, watching our every step from 1.5 to 2km away, tracking and feeding back our movements. My team went firm on a Built Up Natural Defence line, giving overwatch as another mulitple pushed past. From this position my team tracked 5 men taking up positions around the northern extremity of the shura, with one chap moving from man to man relaying last minute orders – an insurgent team commander. As is often the case we also saw families moving out of the area, knowing the likely outcome of this advance, as well as motorbikes sending messages and dropping men off around the area. Five minutes past and we were on our feet moving slowly but surely towards the objective.

Amazingly we made entry to the reported target building with no insurgents seen – those occupying the north of the target melting away into the surroundings.

Lance Corporal Roberts and one of his men look out over the Green Zone from the roof of a compound.

Lance Corporal Roberts and one of his men look out over the Green Zone from the roof of a compound.

I moved my team onto a compound roof, utilising the height the roof offered to get a better view. From here I placed the sharpshooter focusing on a compound cluster to our west, then having a Lance Corporal spotting for the general purpose machine guns covering the other directions as we faced a 360-degree threat. From this temporary bastion, the SCOTS DGs pushed a multiple forward to the compounds to the west. It was then that we got positive identification on two insurgents with weapons. I radioed the SCOTS DGs  to get them to pull back as myself and the sharpshooter were in a position to suppress the insurgents with fire – but if the multiple pushed on, our field of view would be obscured and we would no longer be able to engage.

It was too late and the multiple was already in front of us. The silence was broken by the inevitable crack and thump of the insurgents hastily-laid ambush roaring to life. As the exposed multiple dived for cover the arcs opened once again, allowing me and the sharpshooter to both accurately suppress the insurgents.

The fighting continued for 6 more hours, with the insurgents occupying firing points to our north, south, east and west. We were effectively surrounded.

Lance Corporal Roberts and his fire team take up a fire position over the wall of a compound.

Lance Corporal Roberts and his fire team take up a fire position over the wall of a compound.

In the exchange of fire we successfully suppressed the insurgents and prepared to return to our CP. As we prepared to extract I witnessed the most amazing spectacle to date. Two American A10 Tank Busters doing a show-of- force thundering flyby 50m overhead, giving the insurgents the fright of their lives and the lads at our location something to really cheer about. Finally on our extraction, after calling for emergency close air support (ECAS) we got an Apache on station overhead. Loaded with a 30mm gun and Hellfire missiles it created a good incentive for any remaining insurgents – who had so effectively boxed us in all day – not to mess with us anymore.

Thanks to the hard work from all the men on the ground we successfully disrupted the enemy, punched into the heart of the insurgents’ territory, and diminished  their numbers. We extracted  a casualty with a broken ankle (a lad who fell on the way out)  and survived for a prolonged period with limited supplies and no chance of a resupply. A true testament to the professionalism and tenacious character of the British Army.

What you make of it

Sergeant Dale of 3rd Battalion The Mercian Regiment (3 MERCIAN) – currently deployed on Operation HERRICK 14 in Afghanistan – writes from Patrol Base Attal in the Lashkar Gah Area of Operations with an update on life for 4 Platoon.

One of Sgt Dale's men provides security whilst they take a short break in the shade.

One of Sgt Dale's men provides security whilst they take a short break in the shade.

The end of April saw my time in the Green Zone come to an end. I was re-tasked and took over as 4 Platoon Sergeant.

4 Platoon are currently working as part of C Squadron, Scots Dragoon Guards, from Patrol Base (PB) Attal in the Lashkar Gah Area of Operations (AO). The main role of the group is to disrupt enemy freedom of movement along the main route into Lashkar Gah from the East.

I arrived at PB Attal at around 0100hrs on 1 May after spending about 6 hours sat at the helipad in Camp Bastion waiting for my delayed support helicopter flight. As I arrived at PB Attal, I noticed there seemed to be an unusual amount of activity inside. An hour later, as I was sat in the back of a Warrior with all my kit on my back, I realised why. The Squadron Group was conducting a Deliberate Operation in order to detain a number of suspected individuals. The Operation was successful, and several arrests were made.

Life in Attal has continued at pretty much the same pace since my arrival.

The PB itself is one of the more basic I’ve been to. That said, life in a PB is what you make of it. Attal has a number of amenities for the welfare of the troops here. There’s a welfare tent which provides a couple of internet terminals, a text link terminal as well as a rather large TV with DVD player and BFBS, and another with a PlayStation attached to it. Unfortunately for the men of 4 Platoon our taskings are so often that we rarely get the opportunity to enjoy these little comforts. Also within PB Attal is a pretty decent array of gym equipment ranging from spinning machines to rowing machines and a vast selection of weights. Operation MASSIVE is definitely going well in this location!

Food is always a touchy subject. There’s a long-standing joke that the Army Chef training course is the hardest course of all. In fairness, there’s only so much that one can do with a 10-man ration pack. They’re much better than they used to be. In particular, Menu “E” with its bags of chicken. Anyone who remembers the old processed cheese (aka cheese possessed) will be glad to hear it’s exactly the same, just in a different tin with a nice picture on the front!

4 Platoon is now well beyond the half way point of our tour and we’re currently in amongst the throes of the R&R cycle. Listening to the tales of the men as they return is almost as good for everybody’s morale as it is for the individual.

The past 4 weeks have seen the Platoon in a number of encounters with insurgents. The engagements have varied from 600m small arms contacts to 200m complex ambushes. In every event the men of 4 have conducted themselves with the utmost courage, discipline and, when required, courageous restraint.

The end of May saw the Platoon as busy as it saw the start of the month. The variety of taskings has failed to decrease. At some stage in June there will be another Afghan National Security Force-led Operation – the key to leaving Afghanistan in a stable position for the future.

Contact IED

In his latest blog, Lance Corporal Ryder, of 3rd Battalion The Mercian Regiment (3 MERCIAN) and currently deployed on Operation HERRICK 14 in Afghanistan, recounts an eventful week which included an armoured patrol vehicle triggering an improvised explosive device. Thankfully there were no serious injuries, although the insurgents said otherwise…

Lance Corporal Ryder's platoon conducting a vehicle check point on Highway 1

Lance Corporal Ryder's platoon conducting a vehicle check point on Highway 1

This week has been one of the more eventful of the tour.

We started the week with a focus on vehicle check points (VCPs) along Highway 1 and route 601. VCPs serve as an effective deterrent to any insurgents wishing to use the main highways and routes for things such as drug running, weapon and improvised explosive device (IED) transportation. It also gives us a perfect opportunity to collect biometric information from the population of Afghanistan. Due to Highway 1 being one of the main supply routes (MSRs) all the way around Afghanistan, it isn’t just the locals who use it. People from all over the country travel along it, around the clock. As with everything we do, the VCPs have been conducted with maximum input, command and control from the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), although at some points we have had to take over and assist them more. The VCPs we conducted turned out successful, and ended  with us gaining a large amount of intelligence about illegal insurgent check points on the MSRs.

Mid-week we conducted a routine ground domination (GDA) patrol around an area called Durai East, which is approximately 1km to the south of our Check Point. The patrol started off like any other, with no insurgent radio chatter or anything. About half an hour in an IED was triggered by the Fire Support Team (FST) vehicle. The force of the blast knocked the Warrior onto its right hand side. When the blast went off soldiers from the second Warrior confirmed people were OK and talking inside the vehicle. At the same time the dismounted troops made best speed over, using the metal detectors in order to avoid any secondary devices. As it turned out all the crew were conscious and not suffering from any serious injury. Whilst this was happening the quick reaction force (QRF) was deployed from the Patrol Base (PB) and assisted in providing protection. The minor casualties were eventually extracted by Chinook helicopter back to the field hospital to be checked over, and the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (REME) recovered the vehicle back to Lash Durai. The insurgents claimed they had killed 7 of us and that the bodies were extracted by a fast jet – Which shows just how accurate they are with their reporting and the propaganda they use to spread misinformation.

Shortly after, our platoon was given a new area of operations, still not far away but completely different in terms of ground and threat. The area we have moved into has been seeing an increase in insurgent activity of late. The last few days have been filled with patrols helping us get used to our new area. We are focusing on how different the ground is – more green zone and less desert – and how the local population reacts to ISAF presence. Also it has given us yet another group of ANSF to work with, this time all Afghan National Police (ANP). They all seem very keen to fight and get the insurgents so we’ll see how things go over the next week.

On a lighter note, I go on R&R very soon! I intend on spending 14 days enjoying the UK and catching up on a few missed beers, and sleep… plenty of sleep. That is, of course, providing this ash cloud the people of Iceland have let us have a bit of (again!) doesn’t stop R&R flights. I may have to tab home in that case!

Contact

Sergeant Dale

Sergeant Dale

In his first blog, Sergeant Dale of 3rd Battalion The Mercian Regiment (3 MERCIAN) – currently deployed on Operation HERRICK 14 in Afghanistan – writes carrying out Operation WILD COBRA on the ground within their area of operations.

Operation WILD COBRA was a deliberate joint company operation with the Aghan Army Tolay (Company) I work with and D Company, 2nd Battalion The Parachute Regiment (2 PARA) to understand the population within the villages in our area of operations (AO).

I was part of a 2-man Tolay Advisory and Training Team (TATT) which was headed up by Warrant Officer Class 2 Gary Latta, who had already been here for a few weeks during the handover period. The Tolay was partnered with D Company 2 PARA for this operation. Over the course of Operation HERRICK 13, D Company 2 PARA showed an excellent approach to partnering and it was clear when I arrived for Operation HERRICK 14 that there was a strong relationship between the Afghan Tolay and the British Company.

The first day of Operation WILD COBRA saw the joint company pushing South from our Patrol Base (PB) in Nahr-e Saraj South District towards the village of Akhonzada – an area which WO2 Latta was keen to inform me was an insurgent breeding ground.

On patrol

On patrol

He went on to say that every time he had been to Akhonzada he had ended up being in a fight with the insurgents. As we pushed through a wadi and started to head west towards the village, we started to get reports of movement from fighting-age males in an and around various compounds in the village. When we finally got into the village, without any incident, we started to notice that the local population were going about their normal daily business. I thought at this point WO2 Latta was trying to employ scare tactics about the area because it was my first patrol here.

The second day of the Operation passed very quickly and with no incidents. We did however have reliable intelligence stating the insurgents knew we were there and that they were there too.

In the village

In the village

On the third day we pushed the joint company towards the Abposhake Wadi where we conducted the same patrol in a village called Shooragas. From the moment we started crossing the wadi we had intelligence that we were being watched and our movements were being reported back to the insurgents. At this point everyone was a little more anxious than normal.

Once in Shooragas, WO2 Latta and Lt Gul Mohammed – the ANA Baluck (Platoon) Commander – conducted a shura with the village elders. Whilst they were all sitting down I was with the ANA assisting in security. It was then that I noticed something not looking quite right. Before I knew it I was on my belt buckle brushing away dirt to see what I had found. Fortunately all was clear.

Once the Shura had been completed we started to move off towards a compound that had been identified by the ANA Tolay Commander as worth a look. It was as we moved between two multiples (half platoons) from D Company we found we had moved into the killing area of a multi-firing point complex ambush as the insurgents opened fire. Both the ANA and D Company Commanders formulated a quick plan and set off to seize the upper hand. The company group was turned to face the firing positions and returned an aggressive initial rate of fire. As I lay in a firing position alongside the Afghan Tolay returning fire towards the now overwhelmed insurgent WO2 Latta informed me that I had now in fact lost my “Afghan cherry”.

During the contact the ANA dispelled quite a lot of myths and horror stories that I had picked up from pre-deployment training. They reacted exceptionally well, were well spaced out, and made excellent use of the minimal cover that was available. Their rate of fire was as I would expect from any British rifle company, and they certainly were not just ‘brassing up’ the area to their front as I feared they may do. The only observation would make would be an RPG gunner who fired off four RPGs with the safety pin fitted with outstanding accuracy, but to no avail. Fortunately WO2 Latta, from the Small Arms School Corps, was quickly on the scene to advise the gunner and ensure further engagements were successful.

The contact soon died down and the insurgents blended back into the Green Zone. We moved forward but were unable to confirm the success of the contact. For us however we had no casualties and were able to continue on with our mission.

The remainder of the Operation continued with no insurgent interference. Perhaps they were cautious after such a good reaction to the ambush. Either way we continued the joint operation, taking it in turns with D Company 2 PARA, to take the lead a point platoon.

Good to finally be doing the job we all trained for so long

In his first blog, Lance Corporal Ryder of 3rd Battalion The Mercian Regiment (3 MERCIAN) – currently deployed on Operation HERRICK 14 in Afghanistan – writes about undertaking reassurance patrols in Maiwand.

This week has been interesting and eventful both inside our Patrol Base (PB) and out on the ground. The majority of the early part of the week was taken up by “Find, Feel and Understand” operations in a village called Camparack, which is to the northw north west of our patrol base.

Most settlements in our area of operations (AO) has been fairly easy to influence and essentially are on our (ISAF) side. However the area around Camparack has not been as easy as the rest, and so it has seen an increase in ISAF presence of late. As a result the villagers and locals seem to be starting to trust us and, more importantly, understand why we are here. The last patrol into the area made it clear to see the positive influence we had are having as numerous locals approached the patrol wanting to talk and get to know us. This is a huge step forward from the early patrols where everyone made an effort to avoid us due to fear of insurgent intimidation.

As well as getting to know the local population, this week has proved to be a perfect opportunity to spend time working with our new Afghan National Civil Order Police (ANCOP) counterparts. By working closely with them we’ve been able to see the similarities and also differences between the way we work on the ground. It’s also been an ideal time to identify areas in which we can assist them and help them improve. We have also successfully started to introduce them to the people of Maiwand, giving the local people a trusted Afghan face and the first port of call should a problem arise.

Life in our PB is ever-changing. PB Lashkamear Durai – being fairly new – is a place that is constantly expanding and improving. We’ve recently had an internet terminal installed so we are now able to communicate home over that rather than just using the satellite phone.

Overall the morale here is high, made better by the fact blokes have started to go on R&R. Everyone’s cracking on with the job at hand and we are enjoying it the majority of the time!

It’s good to finally be doing the job we all trained for so long.