Training Afghan Medics: The Language of Healing Pt7

Lisa’s Diary 2014

Captain Lisa Irwin

Captain Lisa Irwin

Captain Lisa Irwin is a REME Reserve Officer currently on a three-year Full Time Reserve Service commitment with the Defence Cultural Specialist Unit.  She has spent 15 months learning Pashto and Dari before deploying to Camp Bastion to be the 2 IC of a team of medical personnel set up to mentor Afghan medical personnel. This is her third tour of Afghanistan and her second blog, as she blogged during her last tour in 2010/2011, when she was deployed as a Female Engagement Team Commander.

 

29 Apr

left behind

As I sit in my tent typing this it feels very odd as everyone else in the tent is packed up and ready to go back home. The Med Group personnel are changing over so it is out with the old and in with the new, apart from a small number of people that will endure like me. Many of the people going have become my friends and I shall miss them, and most of the Med Dev team have changed over so there will be a period of adjustment for all of us. My new OC (Officer Commanding) is a good bloke so I think we will work together well and the new CO (Commanding Officer) of the hospital seems to be good too, and he understands the importance of what the ANSF Med Dev Team does and will support us in our endeavours.

The new team are bedding in to their roles at the moment so the atmosphere at Shorabak is very different when we go over; the guys are finding their feet and our Afghan colleagues are assessing them and seeing how they work. It takes a bit of time to develop a good relationship- and the previous team had an excellent relationship with the Afghan medics and doctors- so I am sure in time the atmosphere will be as it used to be. There is some continuity with me still being here as 2 IC (Second-in-command) and our 3 British clinicians will not change over for a few more weeks. It does feel as though I am being ‘left behind’! I will go through this again in July too as most medical personnel only do 3 months at a time out here so later in the year I shall witness another changeover.

Hi, I’m Lisa

 

I got to meet Al Murray, who was performing a show.

I got to meet Al Murray, who was performing a show.

I was lucky enough to see Al Murray perform when he came out here recently. More than that I also got to meet him in his dressing room before the show. I stumbled somewhat over introducing myself as I thought ‘Hi I’m Lisa’ was perhaps a little too informal, but ‘Hi I’m Captain Irwin’ was too formal. So, instead I looked a bit of an idiot when shaking his hand as I said ‘Hi, …….I’m………Lisa’! The show was excellent though, including the 2 support acts. I haven’t seen many shows whilst deployed, as I haven’t been in the right place at the right time, but they are always excellent for morale so well done to the artists that volunteer to come out.

7 May

There has still been little kinetic activity (fighting) out here, as the Afghans and insurgents have been focussed on harvesting the poppy, so that has meant few casualties. The harvest finished recently and there still hasn’t been much of an increase. It is a difficult one as we are glad that less people are being hurt but it also means less opportunity for the team to mentor the Afghans in difficult medical situations. There have been instances of casualties arriving at Shorabak whilst we are there and that happened again recently with one of the medics telling me ‘casualties are coming’ as the ambulance pulled up at the Emergency Department door. The casualties were 2 ANA that had been burned when a cooking pot exploded. We watched how they dealt with the casualties, who mainly had burns to the arms and face, and interjected with advice on occasion, and the casualties were dealt with promptly and efficiently. It perhaps was not how we would do things but their way worked for them and the casualties received appropriate treatment and are now recovering well.

With our time left out here rapidly reducing we need to make the most of every opportunity that we have to mentor so that we can leave the ANSF trauma care in as good a state as possible. To enable that we sought permission to mentor at night too and that permission was recently granted and was enacted tonight. An ANSF casualty came in to Bastion via helicopter and his injuries were such that the ANA doctors in Shorabak would not quite be able to manage him on their own but would be able to with some of our team mentoring them. After several phone calls made by my OC and I the casualty was transferred over to Shorabak, a small team of mentors was sent over ( with Force Protection) and I am happy to say that the case went well and the casualty is now recovering. It was the first reactive mentoring case carried out at night and the team, plus everyone else involved with ANSF Med Dev, felt it was a step forward in the mentoring process.

14 May

The past week has been a bit of a blur as I have been very busy. Not only have I been busy with the usual tasks of my job but I also volunteered to teach basic Dari to anyone interested in the Medical Group (though primarily the ANSF Med Dev team). Dari is not my best language (Pashto is much easier for me) and I am not a qualified language teacher, but the classes seem to be well received and the small things that I teach enable the team members to communicate better with their Afghan colleagues and thus help to develop their relationship.

An Afghan Warrior is treated by Afghan medics.

An Afghan Warrior is treated by Afghan medics.

We had a day last week when there was an influx of ANSF casualties presenting both to Bastion Hospital (having been evacuated by ISAF helicopter) and to Shorabak Hospital. The first I was aware of the casualties coming in was via a phone call at approximately one in the morning which necessitated me dressing quickly and heading in to work. There I met the OC and our clinicians waiting for the casualties to arrive. The next few hours passed in a blur of phone calls, discussions about treatment and where the casualties needed to be treated (ie did they need to stay in Bastion or did Shorabak have the capability to manage them) and a host of other things. Suffice to say I had 2 hours sleep that night (my OC had less!) and still worked a full day the next day. I think I was running on adrenaline!

This week my OC and I were introduced to an Afghan Major General who commands the ANA 215 Corps (the ANA we work with belong to his Corps). As usual I was wearing my headscarf, which he commented on as good because it showed my respect for their culture, and I had a conversation with him and then gave him a brief on the Shorabak hospital and its capabilities- all in Pashto. At times I was uncertain if I had the correct word but I looked to the interpreter who nodded at me to carry on and the General listened intently and thanked me for my brief. The interpreter reassured me it was good Pashto and I felt really pleased. My language ability has definitely improved during my tour- although I am far from fluent I can definitely get by.

I shall be moving to a new job next week to cover someone’s R&R and I think it will be another varied and interesting job- even if I am only doing it for 2 weeks. It involves working as an advisor with some of the Afghan Doctors who are responsible for training frontline medics, to ensure ANA casualties receive the correct care when they are first injured. It will enable me to develop a deeper understanding of the whole casualty care piece, from point of wounding to receiving treatment at Shorabak (or in some cases at the moment in Bastion) and so I am looking forward to it very much. Particularly as the doctors appear to know of me and are looking forward to working with ‘Touran Leila’, as I am known in Shorabak (Touran is Dari for Captain, Leila is my ‘Afghan’ name).

 

Pt1: Lisa’s Diary 2014

Pt2: Lisa’s Diary 2014

Pt3: Lisa’s Diary 2014

Pt4: Lisa’s Diary 2014

Pt5: Lisa’s Diary 2014

Pt6: Lisa’s Diary 2014

Read Lisa’s previous blogs from 2010/2011:

Lisa’s Diary 1: October-December 2010

Lisa’s Diary 2: January-March 2011

‘Hello’, this is me

Corporal Si Longworth in Afghanistan

Corporal Si Longworth in Afghanistan

Corporal Si Longworth is one of only 38 trained British Army Photographers.  He left a career in aviation to pursue his passion for photography; capturing everything that military life has to offer. He is currently in Afghanistan as the Task Force Helmand Photographer, on Op HERRICK 18.

So here I am… Blogging… It’s a day I thought the world would never see, but nevertheless, here it is.

I have decided to open up to the blogging world from a land, it seems time forgot. Somewhere in Central Asia, and somewhere I am all too familiar with. But more of that later.

Let me introduce myself:

My name is Si Longworth and I am a professional photographer (yes, the Army has those). I am one of 38 photographers (photogs or phots) for the Army, covering media operations globally.

Although I have been making pictures in one form or another for little over 20 years, I have only recently joined the photographic trade (Royal Logistic Corps) within the Army. I saw it as a calling to do something that I have always loved. I have been in the Army since seventeen and a half; dropping out of college to pursue a career in the Royal Military Police. Since then my career has seen many highs and lows –  but more of that to come. After all, you have me for the foreseeable future.

I’d like to take you on a journey and invite you to join me as I describe how I got here and what it’s like to be a British Army photographer.

For now though; ‘Hello’ from me.

More tc…

Read Si’s other blogs here: Life Through a Lens…

Sunset silhouette - It's a picture of me. By Sgt Baz Pope, RLC.

Sunset silhouette – It’s a picture of me. By Sgt Barry Pope, RLC.

Pressure, partnership and progress

Lt Gen Adrian Bradshaw CB OBE

Lt Gen Adrian Bradshaw CB OBE

Lieutenant General Adrian Bradshaw CB OBE is Deputy Commander of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan. In the first of an occasional series of blogs, he reflects on recent visits to Helmand and Eastern Afghanistan and the gains made by ISAF over the last year.

Last week I was on patrol with British Servicemen in Helmand and, as ever, I was deeply impressed by their courage and dedication. With remarkable coolness, they remarked that the area in which we were patrolling is subject to improvised explosive device (IED) emplacement by the Taliban. The servicemen showed me where an insurgent had blown himself up trying to lay a bomb in the track just a few days before. My guides were wary of the risk, of course, and proceeded with understandable caution – but they were also confident in their drills, their equipment and their ability to stay ahead of the threat.

Most importantly, they know they are putting relentless pressure on the insurgents. They stand shoulder to shoulder with their Afghan comrades, who are stepping more and more into the lead. The strength of our relationships was very evident during my patrol in Eastern Afghanistan last week to visit US-mentored Afghan Local Police (ALP).

Friendship and mutual trust

Here the ALP block enemy routes from Pakistan, and are frequently attacked by insurgents who resent the restriction on their freedom of movement. As the ALP pointed out to me, they always see off the insurgents. The friendship and mutual trust between ALP village guardians and their US advisors, built through standing together against shared dangers, was obvious and intense.

In the last year, ISAF have made significant gains. Although by no means defeated, the Taliban are under real pressure. Their attacks are down 11% on last year, and in Helmand, where most of the British Forces are, security has expanded into areas which were formerly safe havens for insurgents. Soldiers who were here a couple of years ago say that places which used to be incredibly violent and dangerous are unrecognisably better now.

Despite two recent attacks in Kabul, the first for nearly six months, the life of the capital and the work of government are going on more smoothly than in many a city. The failure of several hundred attempts to attack Kabul over recent months is testament to the efficiency of the Afghan Intelligence Service and security forces in and around the city.

Trust and understanding

Trust and understanding

Significant impact

There is much left to do, but we now have more and more reason to believe that the third-of-a-million-strong Afghan National Security Forces really can take the job on – and what’s more, they believe it too. The efforts of British troops in Helmand and our allies elsewhere have had a significant impact. We should be proud of what they have achieved and what they continue to achieve on a daily basis.

ISAF slaves and naughty locals

Sergeant Steve Blake RLC

Sergeant Steve Blake RLC

Sergeant Steve Blake is a professional Army Photographer with the Royal Logistic Corps. A trained soldier, Steve is currently serving a six-month tour of Afghanistan as part of the three-man Combat Camera Team (comprising a trained journalist, photographer and video cameraman).

Steve and the team are based at Camp Bastion in Helmand province but will spend most of their time out on the ground, capturing life on the front line.

The Ring of Steel

Well, what an awesome week we have had. We have just returned after a five-day trip out to the Danish Area of Operations (AO) in Nad-e-Ali North. Situated on the edge of the vast and well known ‘Green Zone,’ Patrol Base (PB) Clifton was to be our new home. This would be where we capture both the Danish and British Engineers working on Medium Girder Bridges, across a waterway 500m from Clifton.

After a slight flight delay, we set off, in the dark, on the the Royal Air Force’s Merlin Helicopter. I always find flying in the dark slightly weird in helicopters. Their tactical flying always leaves me a touch confused over which way we are heading, and sometime which side of the aircraft is banking over heavily. Nevertheless, helicopters are a brilliant piece of kit, and normally provide an enjoyable, high adrenaline flight.

After a heavy tactical landing in Forward Operating Base (FOB) Price, we were heading for PB Clifton. Within what seemed like two minutes flat, we had arrived, with a big thump, again! Being pitch black, we had no idea what the PB was to be like until sunrise. So after a quick brew and a smoke, we were shown to our luxury accommodation, the newly built Operations Room (Ops Rm). Although it wasn’t quite finished, it had walls and a roof, which was 5* compared to what we were expecting. We soon got settled for the night, as the next day was to be an early start.

Danish Infantry provide top cover

Danish Infantry provide top cover

At 0500hrs we were up and trawling through the kitchen area for some rations to eat before heading out. The sun was rising, and the air was full of morning mist. Great picture opportunities to be had here, just before the sun becomes too bright.

We loaded up into the Danish Armoured Personnel Carriers (APC’s) and drove into the nearby PB Bridzar. From there, it was a short walk to the bridge. By this point, our protection, called ‘The Ring of Steel’ was already in place, provided by the Danish Infantry Company from Clifton. This meant we were safe to commence work. We also had several air assets, and snipers watching our position, and beyond, for potential Taliban threats.

Work starts early to avoid the heat

Work starts early to avoid the heat

Due to our earlier flight delay, we had missed the British bridge being erected, by 7 and 8 Troop 35 Engineer Regiment, but still had time to capture the Danish one being removed, and the work that these two forces do together.

These bridges are in no way shape or form easy work. The blokes were working in full Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), humping tonnes of metal between them, in what looked like an absolute jigsaw of a bridge. As the temperature raised by mid morning, these blokes were absolutely sweating. Hats off to them all, they work bloody hard!

By about 1000hrs the heat was really kicking in. For some reason, once you leave Bastion, the temp during the day is hotter, but on the flip side, it’s colder at night. Can’t have it all I suppose.

Danish Engineers fitting stakes for the barb wire to connect to

Danish Engineers fitting stakes for the barb wire to connect to

‘ISAF Slaves’

The bridge got dismantled a lot quicker than we had expected. It was almost complete by 1100hrs, with loading it onto the flatbeds as the last job, ready for the Danish to drive it away.

While we were out, the area was very quiet. We did start seeing movement, but these were mostly children. 

We were briefed prior to that day’s Operation, and were told that interpreters from PB Bridzar had intelligence that the Taliban were watching them work the previous day. They called the Engineers the ISAF Slaves, the ones that do all the ground work for the troops. We did find this slightly amusing, so did the Engineers. They also had information on a Taliban Dicker/Scout/Spotter, whatever they are called now, who was nothing more than an 11 year old boy. This boy, was later amongst us while we work, with all his friends, trying to steal our pens from our body armour and ask for sweets. The children below are not him, before anyone asks!

Children playing close by the Engineering works

Children playing close by the Engineering works

 So, by lunchtime, the work was done. All that was left was to bring in the ‘Ring of Steel’ that was over the water, and return to Bridzar for a coffee, then head back to Clifton when the vehicles were ready.

The 'Ring of Steel' returns across the newly built British bridge
The ‘Ring of Steel’ returns across the newly built British bridge

Having never worked alongside the Danish, we weren’t sure how they would take to us, or indeed us to them. What can I say, brilliant blokes, with a massive English vocabulary, and even a good Squaddie sense of humour to go with it. They were an awesome bunch of guys.

Lunchtime morale

Lunchtime morale

‘Naughty locals’

The Ops Room that we were staying in had to have more aggregate put on the roof, then a waterproof cover over that. So that was their next task. By this time, the midday heat was roaring. The lads were going through bottles of water like there was no tomorrow. It was HOT! But more work still needed to be done.

Another section of blokes had already started on the outer walls of Clifton. They had to remove a big chunk of Hesco, and replace it with bigger, newer stuff. This is no quick task, and eventually took them two days to get this done, in between other jobs.

For us, we had the story in the bag that we needed, so what to do now? Well, we started helping the Engineers fit out the Ops Rm with plyboard panels, that would eventually have map boards fitted to them. This took most of the day, but was reasonably enjoyable, despite being a very amateurish chippy! The lads were grateful of the help, and it was something different for us too.

Cans only, No paper/magazines

Cans only, no paper/magazines

Our last afternoon in Clifton was pretty chilled, despite half the lads being awake all night listening to firefights at a nearby PB. I donned my 50mm f1.8 lens (camera geeks will understand this) and dotted around camp getting some PB Life imagery. The Danes have a great sense of humour, and like a lot of things that our British Squaddies do too. Such as Nuts/Zoo magazines and silly signs for stuff. Most of these just pass the time of day for the blokes, but provide great pictures for us.

After getting several pictures of what was inside the PB, I threw on my body armour and headed to every Guard Post to get a view of the outside world. The area was quite vast, with the odd splattering of compounds here and there, but generally life in Clifton was quiet. I saw a small boy herding some cows up the hill, a tractor drive by and two women and a small toddler visit the nearby cemetary. That was it! 

So what do the Danish guys on guard duty do to entertain themselves for hours on Stag while the outside is so quiet? They graffiti the Sangar and everything in it! Ha

'Throw this in case of naughty locals'

'Throw this in case of naughty locals'

The guy on the front gate took great pride in showing me his ‘naughty local’ rock. He was even more chuffed to tell me that it should have Version 2 written on it, as Version 1 has already been used! Brilliant!

Well our work here was almost done, just a Merlin flight and a brief stop off to get back to the office, where I spent the next 12 hours glued to my MacBook Pro editing. Loved every minute of it though. The trip was great, but to edit pictures that are great too, is very pleasing!

Up we go!

Up we go!

Until next time.

Thanks for reading

Steve

A new career in journalism

Lieutenant Colonel David Eastman MBE REME is currently serving as the Task Force Helmand Spokesman and SO1 Media Operations with 16 Air Assault Brigade in Lashkar Gah on Operation HERRICK 13. In his latest blog he looks back on going out to report personally on an operation.

We have had an extremely busy week since I last reported – unfortunately it has also been a sad one: we lost one of our Royal Engineer Search Team members, Corporal David Barnsdale, and a Danish soldier working with Task Force Helmand, Private Mikkel Jørgensen.

With much of the focus of the Brigade on Operation OMID CHAR in Nahr-e Saraj, I had no resources left to cover another operation (Operation ZMARAY SARAK 5) with the Royal Highland Fusiliers (2nd Battalion The Royal Regiment of Scotland), so I took one of our cameras, donned my gear and  embarked on a new career in journalism.

At 5 o’ clock in the morning I joined a 2 SCOTS convoy, in the back of a Ridgback protected mobility vehicle, heading out to a rendezvous – or RV – with the Afghan National Security Forces.  As dawn broke we approached the RV and were greeted by the sight of hundreds of Afghan National Police, Afghan Border Police and National Directorate of Security troops in their 4×4 wagons and Humvees waiting for us to join them.

Me with Colonel Kamalluddin

Me with Colonel Kamalluddin

The aim of the operation was to clear through a large area to the east of Lashkar Gah that was suffering from Taliban oppression and a lack of engagement from the Government. The operation had been put together by Colonel Kamalludin, the District Chief of Police for Lashkar Gah, and was being supported by his British Army mentor, Lieutenant Colonel Dougie Graham, the Commanding Officer of 2 SCOTS Battle Group.

Within minutes of the operation beginning we found our first Improvised Explosive Device (IED) not far from where we stood in the RV. Luckily for us a local national had seen the Taliban placing it and he came over to point out where it was before we set it off – a promising start if all the locals were going to be this cooperative. Colonel Kamalludin sent his men off in all directions to the compounds surrounding our Line of Departure and we sat with him in the centre on an old blanket in true Afghan fashion discussing the plan, coordinating the troops and drinking tea.  After half an hour of discussion it was time to move on. Given the potential for insurgent activity we had intended to mount our vehicles for the 10km or so route to the limit of exploitation for the operation, but Colonel Kamalludin had other ideas. “We must walk,” he said, “firstly because it is healthy and secondly to show that we are not afraid.”

ANSF troops preparing for Operation ZMARAY SARAK 5

ANSF troops preparing for Operation ZMARAY SARAK 5

Our luck continued for the rest of the day and on nearing the end of our planned route, the locals came to our assistance again, warning us that the area ahead of us was “seeded” with a large number of IEDs and insurgents waiting in ambush – this was not to be their day. By the end of the operation, Colonel Kamalludin’s troops were able to capture a member of the Taliban, including one of their prestigious white flags, three drug runners with 250kg of heroin and some weaponry, and we were attacked only once.

From my perspective, this operation was very much a glimpse of the future. Afghan conceived, planned and led with cross-government support from the Afghans and minimal support from our troops, an area that was formally under the control of the Taliban is now firmly in the sights of the local Government. There is much more to do here, and more operations of this type will be necessary to ensure that the population is protected from the insurgency; there is also much scope for infrastructure development, but the mere fact that the locals were willing to talk with the Afghan Security Forces and ISAF troops, helping us to locate insurgents and their IEDs provides significant hope.

Building relations with my ANA commanders

Some of the ANA soldiers I advise

Some of the ANA soldiers I advise

Lieutenant David Duffus is a Platoon Commander living in a patrol base in Sangin, advising the Afghan National Army, for Operation HERRICK 12. Here he writes about getting to know his ANA counterparts.

Now three months into my tour of Afghanistan on Operation HERRICK 12, we have seen significant changes to our patrol base, our Afghan National Army (ANA) counterparts as well our own ISAF Team. We have now built up strong relationships with our counterparts, the ANA and the Royal Marines as well as the local population.

The heat is already verging on unbearable and is only going to get worse. Our patrol base is situated to the south of the Sangin bazaar on the fringe of the Green Zone in the Sangin DC. We are co-located with the ANA Heavy Weapons Company (HWC) Headquarters, and a patrols platoon from the HWC. I have a small advisor team that consists of roughly 8 men, which is the bare minimum to be able to deploy on the ground in order to mentor the ANA command element on patrols. We are fully partnered with a troop from the Royal Marines who are situated a couple of compounds away.

On every patrol we deploy with roughly 8-10 ANA ‘warriors’, my advisor team and a team of Royal Marines. Between us and the Royal Marines we have already experienced everything from suicide bombers and IED strikes to insurgent ambushes.

Me and my interpreter talking to locals on patrol in the backstreets of Sangin

Me and my interpreter talking to locals on patrol in the backstreets of Sangin

We have built up a strong relationship with the ANA and I am now advising my 3rd ANA Company Commander due to R&R and injuries, At the start of Herrick 12 my counterpart was Lt Fahim who is the Heavy Weapons Company second-in-command. I worked with Lt Fahim for two months and established a strong relationship with him, as well as a good understanding of each other. About 10 weeks into my tour Lt Fahim left Sangin for Kabul on his R&R. Just prior to Lt Fahim’s departure the HWC Commanding Officer, Captain Ashraf, returned from his R&R. Just eight days after his return we were caught up in an insurgent ambush. The insurgents hit our patrol with rocket-propelled grenades and multiple bursts of small arms fire. Capt Ashraf was shot in the head but miraculously escaped with only minor injuries. He went back to Camp Bastion hospital for treatment. Although Capt Ashraf had only been in situ for a short period of time, the good relationship that I had established with Lt Fahim had carried over. However Capt Ashraf had a different approach to things and I was just beginning to understand his methods when he was shot. Lt Alladaat took over as commander. He was previously a platoon commander within HWC. This meant that I had to build another fresh relationship with him. I have been working with Lt Alladaat for nearly a month now, and after a number of arguments and disagreements we now have a good relationship.

Me and one of my advisory team, Corporal Dennis Skinner

Me and one of my advisory team, Corporal Dennis Skinner

The relationship between the Advisor Group and the ANA, especially the ANA commander is by far the most critical component to a successful tour of Afghanistan. If you do not have a good working relationship with the ANA it is almost impossible to accomplish anything: both ANA development and having a positive effect on the population.

My ability to be able to interact with the ANA in Dari has been a huge factor in the strong relationship we have with the ANA. The task would have been a lot harder had I not had a good understanding of their culture and the language.

The 40-week language course I completed was not just about learning the language. With learning the language came learning the Afghan culture. If anything my understanding of how the Afghan culture works, and how they themselves work, has been more important than the language itself. When we have an argument or disagreement, I can calm the situation or change the subject myself, rather than having to go through the Interpreter. The luxury of not having to use an interpreter when speaking to the ANA is a big bonus.  You can get a lot more across speaking directly to them than if you are using an interpreter. The ANA can also approach you themselves, and more frequently, as they are not having to find or wait for an Interpreter.

When out on patrol is the time when I really realise how beneficial being able to speak Dari actually is. If we get attacked by insurgents, or experience an IED strike, I can liaise with the ANA directly and immediately. In the situations we have been faced with out on patrol this can make all the difference between life and death. A misinterpretation between you the ANA and the Interpreter can have huge consequences.

Although Sangin is predominantly Pashtu-speaking, a small proportion of the locals can understand some basic Dari. This means that when I am on patrol I can engage with the local nationals. The local nationals are much more inclined to speak to me in Dari than they would be if I spoke to them in English through an interpreter. As the tour has progressed I have found that local nationals are comfortable speaking to me and providing me information knowing that I can speak Dari and understand their cultural point of view.

All in all, living alongside the ANA day-in day-out as well as having experienced all of the situations we’ve been faced with together, has all contributed to a strong relationship between the ANA and the Advisor Team and hopefully one that can continue throughout the duration of our tour.

Building bridges with the ANA

Sergeant Stewart Plummer is an engineer with 21 Engineer Regiment. He is attached to 1 SCOTS for Operation HERRICK 12, running a Combat Engineer Course for Afghan National Army soldiers. Here he writes about teaching Afghans to build bridges.

The third week of the combat engineer course with the ANA engineers is now over, but it actually feels like a lifetime with them already. We have been teaching them non-equipment bridging. Before we could start we had to quickly ensure that they could safely lift the steel beams, so with a quick lesson on manual handling done to our satisfaction we proceeded with the remainder of the teaching.

Building bridges with whatever is to hand

Building bridges with whatever is to hand

Our first job was to place and fill the Hesco which would form part of the bridge abutments, which to our surprise was done very quickly and to a very high standard. With the Hesco in place the rest of the abutments could be built under the supervision of the instructors. Whilst this was being done the ANA said we weren’t doing it right. When I asked “Why?”  they said it didn’t look exactly like the demonstration bridge next to us. I explained that it wasn’t always going to look the same because it depends on the equipment you can get. I think this satisfied them for the time being.

With the abutments done it was time for them to build the superstructure of the bridge using the ‘I’ beams. We needed to teach them the cantilever method for launching the beams across the gap, which was met with cries of “This is not safe!” from the ANA.

The ANA soldiers had to be convinced this was safe

The ANA soldiers had to be convinced this was safe

I pulled the ANA Sergeant Major to one side and explained that we would never teach his soldiers anything that was unsafe, and this was the method I was taught as a sapper 16 years ago. After a quick word from the Sergeant Major the soldiers decided to give it a go and to their amazement it worked.

With this done it was time to split them into teams and have a timed race which was greeted by some cheers. However trying to explain to them that the empty gap in front of them was actually full of water and they could go in it was a whole different kettle of fish talk. Imagination is not their forte. Both teams completed the build in reasonable times.

The last day of the bridging phase would see our American counterparts come over with some of their modular assault bridges which are very similar to our own.

A bit of American bridging

A bit of American bridging

The ANA seemed to enjoy building the bridge but one soldier did comment that he preferred to build the non-equipment bridge rather than the little foot bridge, which again reassured us that the walls where coming down further and they were enjoying the training.

All that remains for them now is the fourth and final week which is a confirmation week where all their skills will be tested.