All the time it’s still been here

In her first blog, Lance Corporal Kelly Wolstencroft writes about the start of her tour as a dog handler in Afghanistan.

Lance Corporal Kelly Wolstencroft, with Kevin

Lance Corporal Kelly Wolstencroft, with Kevin

30 March

At Midnight on Saturday 5 March, Kevin and I deployed together to start the gruelling journey to Afghanistan on a C17. We arrived in Camp Bastion on Sunday night at 2015hrs. We were met by 104 Squadron (whom we were to take over from), who took Kevin and the rest of the dogs to the kennels while we sorted ourselves out into bed spaces etc. After doing the normal arrivals paperwork I got my hands on a satphone and managed to give my girlfriend and Mum a quick call to let them know all was well.

The next morning I woke up and we went straight to the kennels to exercise the dogs. It was strange walking through Bastion again, and seeing how much this place has grown since the last time I was here in 2008/9. We only had Bastion 1 back then – Bastion 2 was still under construction and mainly occupied by other nations. Now Bastion 2 is fully formed and Bastion 3 is established and growing by the day! This also gave me doubts to whether we will actually be out of here by 2014. As I walked around I saw things that were still in the same places they were on HERRICK 9 – like the prison next to the old kennels and the cookhouses (tents). It was quite strange because once I finished my tour back then, I kind of put this place to the back of my mind. All the time it’s still been here, being used in the same way while I was back home in barracks, on leave or on holiday… It’s plain to see that even though I had left, the  job here was/is far from over! So here I am again to start the 6 months and 21 days tour all over again!

Over the next few days we attended training where we were updated on all the recent threats “outside the wire” [outside Camp Bastion].  I was dreading the training as it was “death by Powerpoint” on my last tour, but if I’m honest even though I was tired for the first week, the training was excellent and I found myself very interested in most of the briefs! However I was still itching to get it behind me so I could concentrate on starting work with Kevin and seeing how he would cope with the desert conditions and heat.

On 10 March we got up at 0300hrs and paraded to say our goodbyes to Liam [Lance Corporal Liam Tasker] and pay our respects as his coffin was carried past us, up the ramp and onto the plane. The last post was played and this was when most people broke down, myself included. Then the tail closed and we fell out. When I looked over my shoulder as I walked off the flight line and the engines were powering up, it really hit me that Liam was gone. Saying bye to Liam and cracking on with work the very same day was one of the hardest things I have ever done, but we had no choice. If the dogs were going to be ready in time for 104 Squadron to leave and finish their gruelling tour, we HAD to get on with it!

I’m writing this on 30 March. It’s a few weeks on from when we first arrived here now and things are starting to come together. The dogs are slowly but surely getting used to the change of climate and the guys have adapted well to working in the heat, although trying to train dogs in this heat can be quite testing, especially if your dog’s name is Kevin! However the training facilities for the dogs here in Bastion are excellent. With a little imagination and knowing the right people you can have a training session with your dog which actually mimics to a tee the kind of searches you will be tasked to conduct outside the wire. This is filling the guys with confidence in their dogs. Basically, if your dog can do it in here, then they can sure as hell do it out there!

104 Squadron have now returned back to the UK for some much needed leave and 103 Squadron have taken over operational duties here in Afghanistan. Most of the guys are licensed with their dogs now and out on the ground (outside the wire) doing what they do best and living by big boy rules (sat in a forward operating or patrol base,  wearing tailored hats, shorts, flip flops, topping up their tans with no sun cream on and growing as much facial hair as physically possible) while waiting for their next tasking.

Kevin and I and a few other teams on the other hand are still in Camp Bastion doing some extra dog training and living by what is known as camp rat rukes – wearing factor 50 and untailored floppy hats. (Well, I’m wearing factor 50 as my untailored floppy hat gives enough shade for Kevin to utilise too!) Big boy rules are within arm’s reach though as the dogs are looking good and if Kevin pulls his socks up and stops locking himself in ISO containers and just being Kevin in general, then we should be licensed in no time.

Hopefully the next time I write my blog Kevin and I should be licensed, tanning ourselves and getting massive in a FOB or PB somewhere in Helmand. Wish us luck!

Kelly and Kevin xx