Treating the locals on patrol

Lance Corporal John Zoumides, a medic with 1 SCOTS at a patrol base in Sangin, writes about treating local Afghan children on patrol.

Working in a crowd

Working in a crowd

We had a nice patrol into Gumbatty where I ended up treating about seven children with minor cuts and bruises, and two more who had some very nasty burns to their feet.

Injured foot

Injured foot

Poor little guys. They must have been only about four years old but they were so, so brave. Try getting a British kid to sit still, almost in wonderment, whilst a stranger lances huge blisters and oozes fluid from them. I made sure they got one of the bright pens I had to give out. The gratitude on their faces was quite tear-jerking.

Brave little fellas!

Brave little fellas!

I got Corporal Skinner to take lots of pictures of the treatment. I will make a reporter yet!

I have been given a video camera now so I can make video blogs. Because we have no computers in our PB, let alone internet, I have had to write everything out by hand and then send it by road to FOB Jackson. I haven’t written so much in ages. So now I can record what I am thinking in person and post it here.

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I am still doing most of the cooking for the lads – except three of them who don’t like my arty-farty creations.

My arty-farty creations

My arty-farty creations

They cook their own bland fare instead. But I am very glad my yiayia (Greek for grandma) taught me a little bit about cooking as did my German grandma.

We had Sky news to stay in our PB for a few days and that was a welcome change of scene. I am told they did loads of stories on us but we haven’t been able to see them of course. Hopefully someone will have taped them and I will see them when I am on R&R – which is VERY soon! Can’t wait.

Afghan soldiers get to grips with knots and razorwire

Sergeant Stewart Plummer is an Engineer with 21 Engineer Regiment (21 Engr Regt). He is attached to 1st Battalion The Royal Regiment of Scotland (1 SCOTS) for Operation HERRICK 12, running a Combat Engineer Course for Afghan National Army soldiers. He writes about his week.

We were worried the soldiers might cut themselves on the razor wire

We were worried the soldiers might cut themselves on the razor wire

The week started on a fairly sombre note as we said farewell to two of our comrades, Lance Corporal Baz Buxton and Sapper Daz Roy. Gone but not forgotten. R.I.P.

As we started week two of the Combat Engineer course which I am teaching, to my surprise the Afghan National Army soldiers turned up 90 minutes early!  When I asked why they had turned up so early I found out they have a big parade on a Saturday morning and they didn’t want to attend it. So just like ‘squaddies’ worldwide, they don’t like parading.  But on the other hand, it was reassuring that they would rather sit on the training ground waiting for the training to start, which tells me they really want to be there.

An ANA soldier learning new skills

An ANA soldier learning new skills

With the medics on standby out came the razor wire to begin the fencing lesson. Miraculously nobody cut themselves or their clothing, however the knots and lashings lesson was slightly more challenging for them and resulted in a few ANA tying themselves in knots which was slightly amusing.

By far the most interesting day was the basic carpentry day which we thought would be more challenging than it was. The day’s training was extremely productive. Credit to them, their accommodation now has a nice new range of furniture.

The course has just finished its second week and it’s starting to show with some of the students beginning to wane a little.  Our hardest challenge is keeping them engaged when they are not participating in the task at the time. A manful effort. It’s a good job I am blonde, otherwise I would be grey by the end of the course with all the stress of keeping it on track!

Starting a Combat Engineer School for the Afghan National Army

Sergeant Stewart Plummer of 21 Engineer Regiment (21 Engr Regt) writes about the challenges of passing on all his engineer skills to Afghan National Army soldiers.

Sergeant Stewart Plummer

Sergeant Stewart Plummer

For Operation HERRICK 12 I have been attached to 1st Battalion, The Royal Regiment of Scotland (1SCOTS), who have formed 3/215 Brigade Advisor Group, which was formerly known as the Operational Mentoring and Liaison Team Battle Group (OMLT BG). The Advisor Group works closely with the Afghan National Army (ANA), advising and training them in all military functions.

When I heard that I was going to be doing this I was at first a little apprehensive, because of reports that previous engineer units had been used as infantry soldiers rather than in their primary role, as engineers. However, once we arrived in theatre we soon found out that this tour was going to be a little different.

When we had completed our handover/takeover, I discovered that I would be employed as the Training Sergeant, to which I replied “What does that entail?”  Well, I soon got my answer.  The plan was to run a basic Combat Engineer Course for the ANA Engineers. This would enable them to be able to partner the Joint Force Engineers on tasks within Helmand Province. So with this in mind I set about planning the course with the ANA.

After a few disagreements we settled on the course content and started  organising stores and equipment.

British Army Engineers pictured with their Afghan National Army students, holding certificates

British Army Engineers pictured with their Afghan National Army students, holding certificates

Whilst all this planning was going on we had a 4-man team deployed in a patrol base advising the team of ANA Engineers there, which they had deployed with, how to enhance the existing set-up.

While the team was away it was decided that the soldiers they had with them would be given their certificates to denote that they were qualified engineers.

There were big smiles all round.

Training the Afghan National Army in basic medical drills

Lance Corporal John Zoumides, a medic with 1st Battalion, The Royal Regiment of Scotland (1 SCOTS) at a patrol base in Sangin, writes about teaching medical skills to soldiers of the Afghan National Army.

This week we went out on a lot of patrols in the so-called “Green Zone” in Sangin, where we are based, for lots of different missions. It is very green up here, with lots of crops growing and irrigation channels everywhere.

Lance Corporal John Zoumides on patrol in Sangin's "Green Zone"

Lance Corporal John Zoumides on patrol in Sangin's "Green Zone"

We spend a lot of time walking in the water which always makes me worry for the guys’ feet. I don’t want them to develop trenchfoot. We make sure we dry everything thoroughly after every patrol. It helps that it is so hot.

Because I am the team medic I have to be ready for any eventuality and I carry about 25kg  of medical equipment and supplies in my rucksack. I also carry one of the ladders we use to get up and over compound walls because a lot of my guys have packs far heavier than mine. It can get really hot so it is far better if we patrol in the early morning or evenings.

Lance Corporal John Zoumides

Lance Corporal John Zoumides

People ask me if it worries me, dealing with injured people, especially when it is your friends. But you really do go into work mode and nothing matters except getting everyone to safety and looking after anyone who has been hurt. It helps that this isn’t my first tour. I have already done two tours of Iraq and I have been in Afghanistan before. So you do get a bit inured to it all. And on most patrols my medical skills are not required at all.

Lance Corporal John Zoumides on an Army quad bike

Lance Corporal John Zoumides on an Army quad bike

One day a week I train the Afghan National Army (ANA) Officers who share our base in medical skills. I teach them how to control arterial bleeding and the importance of checking airways if someone is hurt. They always listen very carefully. I don’t think anyone taught them this stuff before.

I also look after their health if they are ill. They know to come and seek me out if they need something. Usually it is just cuts and bruises. But if it was something else I would treat them. We work as a team and we share the resources.

A small flock of sheep and a local Afghan girl

A small flock of sheep and a local Afghan girl

Because our base is close to the 611 we see a lot of the locals, which I really like. The children are so beautiful. Most of the locals are friendly. Sometimes we have to stop them and talk to them and they are always polite.

Chocolate and pens: meeting the locals

Major Mark Suddaby, a Company Commander with 1st Battalion, The Royal Regiment of Scotland (1 SCOTS), writes about meeting the Afghan people.

My forward operating base is home to not only the 1st Kandak, but also 1st Battalion, The Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment, known as 1 LANCS.  They are the ISAF Combined Force for Nad-e’ Ali, who work in partnership with the Afghan National Army (ANA) and Afghan National Police (ANP) to provide security for the farming communities of this district.  All I have to do, with my four Advisor teams collocated with Afghan Tolays, or Companies, is provide the Kandak with some British Army expertise and advice.

The Afghan Warriors (soldiers) are brave and willing, but it is a new revamped army and you can’t grow an army overnight.  It’s taken the British Army (and I serve in its oldest line infantry regiment) nearly four hundred years to develop and we are still learning!  The officers try to keep up with us but lack the training and experience of a Western military machine.  So, good soldiers but lacking in key skills. This is a country ravaged by over thirty years of near continuous conflict.  It is poor and the people resigned to being the ball in a tennis match of political and religious rivalry.  It does not help that Afghanistan sits in such a strategically vital location where East meets West, with almost no natural resources, but that’s history and I’m drifting off the point.

It was clear that I needed to improve the living conditions of the Warriors and help them get equipment through their own logistics chain.  So, me and my small team of utterly determined men (and a woman – our medic) are now setting about the Kandak like a whirling dervish, peeking into every process and under each procedure to get the Afghans what they need to fight and defeat the insurgents, or enemies, as the Afghans call them (there is no word for insurgent in Dari).

One of the Jackals we use on patrol

One of the Jackals we use on patrol

I get out with my six man company headquarters, mounted in two Jackal patrol vehicles, pretty much every other day, to visit my teams or attend shuras, or meetings, with the local population.  The Jackals ride high but are open which I like as you can interact with the locals.  We drive slowly, so as not to kick up too much dust into the faces of the locals on bikes, and I realise that this little piece of Afghanistan is not so different from the wheat fields of home.  Clearly the people are dressed a little differently and there is very little traffic, but squint and I could just be back home.

But you know what, it’s the children.  It always is; as it was in Bosnia and Iraq.  They have nothing.  The older girls are “mums” to the younger kids.  They have nothing; no toys, no mobiles, no Game Boys.  But whenever we come along they rush out of the fields or compounds, dropping water cans or rakes, waving and jumping around as if we are something special.  It’s no surprise that one of the only English words they know is ‘chocolate’.  But the other, used far more often is ‘pen’.  They need them for school and the schools, along with ISAF and the Afghan Army, have returned.  For these children school is a blessing; a path to a life free from oppression and poverty, and pens, books and bags are prizes to be cherished.  But it is the smiles of delight on their innocent faces when the exotic and other-worldly men in their big noisy, funny-looking truck-things appear that is priceless.  They are the future and that future hangs on a pen.  Or two.  This is Advizer 10A off to steal some pens from the Battalion Headquarters stationery cupboard.

Afghanistan: “Runner Up” destination

Corporal Simon Leigh of 12 Logistic Support Regiment (12 LSR) describes how hard it is to leave home to go to Afghanistan.

9 March 2010: Sitting in RAF Brize Norton trying to get the internet to work. Really hate airports. I just started to fall asleep when there’s a familiar shout: “All those boarding flight RR4405 to the ‘Runner Up’ destination called Afghanistan, please have your boarding cards ready.” I said goodbye to the wife on Facebook and realised this was where it all begins!

Sometimes I wonder why I bother doing this?  Then I remember 9/11 and 7/7 and I realise it’s my duty to help prevent these tragedies happening again.  My main role as a Driver in 12 Close Support Logistic Regiment (CSLR), Royal Logistic Corps (RLC) is to provide real life support to the brave frontline soldiers of the British Army and other coalition forces.

Throughout this blog I will try to paint a picture of life as a soldier within 12 CSLR on Operation HERRICK 12.

Heading to Afghanistan: A shock to the system

Major Mark Suddaby, a Company Commander with 1st Battalion, The Royal Regiment of Scotland (1 SCOTS) writes about leaving home for Afghanistan.

Me and my crew after arriving in Afghanistan. I am second from the right.

Me and my crew after arriving in Afghanistan. I am second from the right.

I left Edinburgh on a bitterly cold night.  It had been a long winter and for the men and women of the 1st Battalion, The Royal Regiment of Scotland, known as 1 SCOTS, it had been one spent on exercise in some of the worst conditions I had encountered in my many years in the Army.  And, all in preparation for a summer tour of Afghanistan!

I’ll admit that I was pretty apprehensive as I packed the last of my kit and drove the short distance from my house to the barracks that night.  I hardly spoke a word.  What would Afghanistan be for me?  Would it make me, or break me?  Would I even come back?  Writing ‘those’ letters was hard too; but delivering them and explaining the contents far harder.  But, as always when you live and work with such a close knit bunch of motivated and professional people, the minute I walked into the high-ceilinged, amber glow of the battalion gym, and saw the banter, the bravado and the camaraderie of my Jocks, I knew that it would be fine.  With them around me the war in Afghanistan seemed a little further away; a little less dangerous.  Of course, the feeling evaporated pretty sharpish when, eighteen hours later, I was climbing out of the back of a C-17 Globemaster into the dusty, dry night of Camp Bastion.

Before you can deploy forward of Camp Bastion you have to complete eight days of in-theatre training.  These were long hot days after the winter that went before.  But it was quickly done and again I found myself, along with the advance party from my company, flying low over the fertile fields and the uniform beige squares of compounds that make up Nad-e’ Ali’s artificially irrigated ‘green zone’.  More dust, more lugging of kit, more hot sunshine and I had arrived, sweating and tired at my home for the next six months.

My job?  To command an Adviser team charged with developing the 1st Kandak, or Battalion, of the Afghan National Army, who have been fighting hard in Helmand Province for the last four years.  To turn them into a modern Army Unit, equipped and capable of bringing real and lasting security to Afghanistan long after the international community has completed its mission and gone.

No pressure then.

This is Advizer 10A off to find some respite from the heat.