New Year begins with charity moustache wax-off

Cpl Paul Birkett

Cpl Paul Birkett

Corporal Paul Birkett is a Communications Systems Operator (CS Op) currently stationed with 1st United Kingdom Armoured Division Headquarters and Signal Regiment (1 (UK) ADSR) based in Herford, Germany. He recently deployed on Op HERRICK 15 where he is employed as Communications Centre (COMMCEN) Operator/Commcen IC.

He is responsible for transmitting, receiving and distributing messages within Main Operating Base (MOB) Lashkar Gah. Secondary duties include providing support via telephone to outstations around the area and monitoring the communications systems.

 

American friends

Christmas is now over and the Troop enjoyed the festive period the best that we could. On Christmas Day we had a late start with everyone getting together in the morning to open our presents from friends, family and some kindly donated welfare boxes. It was a very relaxed day with everyone sharing their gifts.

That said, there was still work to be done and this was shared amongst everyone, to ensure that we could all take part in the day’s activities. All traditions were met on the day especially Christmas lunch. The chefs put in a lot of hard work and it was a fantastic meal. Once everyone was full from the turkey dinner we departed the table and we went to see Santa. We received a gift donated by ‘UK4U’, which was packed full of little gadgets, followed by a photograph with Santa. 

LCpl Chris Simpson organised a day of activities for everyone. In true military fashion he turned the occasion into a competition involving our American friends, who work downstairs. The day consisted of a variety of sports and a quiz in the evening. The only thing that was missing on the day was the good old celebratory drink; however this didn’t stop us from enjoying the day.

Waxed off for charity

New Year has got off to a good start and it was all quiet with no surprises. LCpl Beck had grown his moustache in ‘Movember’ and waxed it off for charity. The event itself was successful with him raising about £500 for Help for Heroes and The Army Benevolent Fund. As people gathered round to see the event it appeared that he was starting to get second thoughts. However with the pressure on and in true military fashion, he cracked on and commenced the removal process. With the pain and blood evident he kept a brave face – with momentary lapses. After around five attempts the moustache had been removed.

LCpl James Beck has his top lip waxed.

LCpl James Beck has his top lip waxed.

Recently, the boss has decided to stop the PT in the mornings, as it is too dark for him to get out of bed. People are happy with this concept as they’re not getting up before the birds start singing. However, he has decided to take individuals out to do PT throughout the working day. So the idea of ‘no organised PT, supposedly implying no physical activity’ doesn’t pass muster with the boss.  The OC has also started a charity darts competition for the Troop and the wider Main Operating Base.

I am now just about halfway towards my R&R and I am looking forward to getting back to see my family and friends and more importantly my girlfriend.

I hope that everyone back at home managed to have a great Christmas and we wish them all a Happy New Year.

Thoughts return to home this Christmas

Cpl Paul Birkett

Cpl Paul Birkett

Corporal Paul Birkett is a Communications Systems Operator (CS Op) currently stationed with 1st United Kingdom Armoured Division Headquarters and Signal Regiment (1 (UK) ADSR) based in Herford, Germany. He recently deployed on Op HERRICK 15 where he is employed as Communications Centre (COMMCEN) Operator/Commcen IC.

He is responsible for transmitting, receiving and distributing messages within Main Operating Base (MOB) Lashkar Gah. Secondary duties include providing support via telephone to outstations around the area and monitoring the communications systems.

Below freezing

During December the temperature has dropped rapidly. In our accommodation which was lovely and air conditioned during the summer, the thermostat has now been changed over to heat the room in order to keep us warm. A few of the lads were reluctant to get out of bed in the mornings as it was below freezing, but we are just happy to have some heating, as most Forward Operating Bases (FOBs) do not.

The time has also come where members of the Troop are starting to depart on their two-week Rest and Recuperation (R&R). The two-week break back home enables us to relax and catch up with friends and family. The first two personnel to go are Cpl Andy Southwood and SSgt Paul Smith who will be home for Christmas. For Sgt Taff Lewis this will be a relief as he will be getting much needed respite from the daily banter which has been relentless since our arrival in theatre.

Sgt Lewis and LCpl Andrews have had to deploy out to a number of the Patrol Bases (PBs) that we are responsible for, in order to do some equipment upgrades and engineering checks. LCpl Andrews was not too impressed as he struggled to keep warm during the road moves; as an open top Jackal is not the warmest of vehicles in December. Maybe he should go onto a crash weight gain diet as there is hardly anything to him.

Striped pyjamas

We had a rather interesting and amusing morning last week when the boss and I were awoken by an explosion. I jumped out of bed cursing, but I was glad I made it up first, as I managed to see the startled boss don his helmet. He left the body armour off preferring his striped pyjamas instead – very dashing I must say. We then realised it was not so close to our location, but some 500m away.

Christmas is now approaching fast and becoming more noticeable as the gifts and presents are starting to fill our communications equipment room. LCpl Chris Simpson is organising a day’s activities for the Troop on Christmas Day to keep us full of spirits and entertained. I’m sure we will have fun on the festive day, although our thoughts will be with our families back home.

I would like to say a happy Christmas to my darling girlfriend Carol and sorry for not being home.

Exploding cola and a bag of clean washing

Cpl Paul Birkett

Cpl Paul Birkett

Corporal Paul Birkett is a Communications Systems Operator (CS Op) currently stationed with 1st United Kingdom Armoured Division Headquarters and Signal Regiment (1 (UK) ADSR) based in Herford, Germany. He recently deployed on Op HERRICK 15 where he is employed as Communications Centre (COMMCEN) Operator/Commcen IC.

He is responsible for transmitting, receiving and distributing messages within Main Operating Base (MOB) Lashkar Gah. Secondary duties include providing support via telephone to outstations around the area and monitoring the communications systems.

Op GET MASSIVE

We are now in December and unlike back at home, the temperature throughout the day is a comfortable 23 – 24 degrees. The Troop has now settled in well and we have started to think of ideas to make the tour a little more enjoyable. The boss, Lt Thorpe, has instigated PT at a bright and early 0600 hours on a Wednesday morning. We conduct our PT early because generally everyone is busy throughout the day.

Darts “Darts during some much welcomed downtime”, Lt Thorpe, Cpl Paul Birkett and LCpl Danny Attwood
Darts during some much welcomed downtime

However if there is further time to get away to the gym we make the most of it and do our own ‘Op GET MASSIVE’ sessions. LCpl ‘Tash’ Allonby organised a well received games night for the Troop to further help us relax and spend some quality time together, the night consisted of a number games of poker, with darts in the background. I have also instigated a darts ladder for the entire troop to participate in for the remainder of our 6 months. Considering he wasn’t interested at first, SSgt ‘Paul’ Smith is getting into the flight of things. Although, to date, he has played the most games he still hasn’t left the bottom rung of the ladder.

LCpl Andrews and LCpl Simpson inspect a number of power distribution systems

LCpl Andrews and LCpl Simpson inspect a number of power distribution systems

I am now comfortably within a routine working within the communications centre – with things ticking along nicely. Recently I experienced my first sangar fortunately nothing much was going on. The only exciting incident of the duty was observing a pack of dogs moving around and about my sangar position and 3 or 4 vehicles transiting up and down the main road. However, most importantly, I am doing my part for the security of the MOB.

Plans

Recently, within the troop office we experienced our very own IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices), with the victim being SSgt ‘Paul’ Smith. He removed a can of coke from the fridge and when he opened it, much to his surprise, it exploded everywhere. He temporarily lost his sight, but the unluckiest victim was the Tp OC, his work area and his bag of clean washing.

Unfortunately, we have had to sadly lose 2 members from the Troop, LCpl ‘Shakka’ Hislop and Sig ‘Sam’ Wall; this is due to them being required elsewhere by the Helmand Signal Squadron. We hope this is only for a temporary period and we get them back soon.

We have also begun to establish plans for members of the Troop to go and visit some of the deployed communications detachments in the near future. This will enable to meet the personnel that we work alongside and better understand the equipment that they operate.

Arrival and handover at comms HQ

Cpl Paul Birkett

Cpl Paul Birkett

Corporal Paul Birkett is a Communications Systems Operator (CS Op) currently stationed with 1st United Kingdom Armoured Division Headquarters and Signal Regiment (1 (UK) ADSR) based in Herford, Germany. He recently deployed on Op HERRICK 15 where he is employed as Communications Centre (COMMCEN) Operator/Commcen IC.

He is responsible for transmitting, receiving and distributing messages within Main Operating Base (MOB) Lashkar Gah. Secondary duties include providing support via telephone to outstations around the area and monitoring the communications systems.

Settling in

Reality of the deployment hit approximately one week prior when my entire room in Herford was packed away in cardboard boxes. The time to deploy loomed closer and the only possessions left in my room were a mattress and a laptop. I was now eager to get on the transport and start the adventure in Afghanistan. After a very long couple of hours and feeling rather tired we finally checked in and then proceeded to get a little sleep in the departure lounge.

After the long haul we touched down, deplaned and were immediately penned into a tent to receive a short brief. We were then allocated temporary accommodation and filled out forms to check into theatre. This felt like an eternity as we had been travelling for about 16 hours and just wanted a bed and some proper sleep. However some good news arrived, we were informed that we would have a day off before starting an intense five-day initial theatre entry package which consisted of the following:

DAY 1 – This consisted of lectures and although long, it involved many interesting and pertinent points regarding the elements of operations that are relevant to everyone.

DAY 2 – The second day was more practical than the first, with ranges and a few briefs as background activity. We commenced the day with a 2 km march to acclimatise. Even though temperatures were not too hot we still managed to break a sweat, as the body armour is not exactly light.

WO2 (SSM) Cattle,  LCpl ‘Shakka’ Hislop, LCpl Dave Andrews, LCpl Ben Hinchley

WO2 (SSM) Cattle, LCpl ‘Shakka’ Hislop, LCpl Dave Andrews, LCpl Ben Hinchley

DAY 3 – I really enjoyed Day 3, but I hope that I would not have to put the training into practice, as it involved searching for and confirming Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs). That said it was a very interesting day and I picked up a lot of useful information that would prove vital if I was to encounter such a situation.

DAY 4 – Again another interesting day as we were taken through the procedure of recording biometrics of personnel such as retina scans and finger prints.

DAY 5 – In typical military fashion the final day was a confirmation day covering what the week had taught us. This was done in the form of an exercise containing a mixture of scenarios and we even had the pleasure of operating alongside an infantry call sign.

On completion of the theatre entry package we packed our bags, just leaving out the essentials (wash kit etc…) for the morning, as we had an early start. Thankfully it was only 20 minutes or so to Lashkar Gah. On arrival into Lashkar Gah we dropped off our kit in the tents and went for some lunch. After lunch we pretty much went straight into the HOTO with 21 SR (AS). The HOTO started with a brief to inform us of the role of the Troop followed by an orientation of the camp. Each Subject Matter Expert took their counterpart through the relevant systems.

The job itself was relatively easy to pick up and the hardest thing over the next few days was actually accounting for the equipment. After three days in location the handover was complete and we were now confidently in the driving seat. We can now look forward to settling into the job, getting into a routine and welcoming the remainder of the Troop in a few days. This will be the first time that the troop will be in the same location, at the same time, as we have all been away conducting our own individual pre-deployment training.

I must say, it’s good to have us all together.