Signaller Mike Leonidas is a Communications Systems Operator (CS Op) currently stationed with 20 Armoured Brigade HQ and Signal Squadron (200), based in Sennelager, Germany. He is deployed on Op HERRICK 15 and is working with A Company Estonian Ops Team.
In Mike’s second blog he tells us about learning multiple languages, keeping communications open, and bonding with his Afghan and Estonian camp mates.
It’s now my second week and I’m settling into life in my Patrol Base, or PB. It’s basic living here and everyone has to muck in, from officers to junior ranks. At this level it’s all about working to together and sharing out tasks such as cooking and cleaning. There are no fast food joints or takeaways like on Camp Bastion. You basically eat what you are given, along with whatever treats the chef will let you get away with. I’m glad that I’ve had the chance to live like this.
We are sharing our PB with the Afghan National Army (ANA). I try to engage them with small talk and they try their best to reply. I always find it funny when I say ‘Salaam’ and they turn and say ‘alright mate’? I’ve spent a lot of time speaking to the Afghan interpreters as I want to try and understand the culture and day-to-day life of the normal Afghan. They are a very proud people with a rich set of beliefs which really varies from village to village. One of the interpreters has told me that being polite or learning a few phrases of Dari and Pashtu goes along way with the Afghans. Speaking the local language helps the locals to respect and trust you. They are also more likely to offer you important information about their local area. I’ve started to volunteer for extra duties and I’ve decided to do as much as I can on this tour, as I’m really not here for that long.
The medic here is teaching me bits of Estonian too. Learning how to say ‘12 months’ is always a funny one. Maybe in a few months I will be able to hold a conversation in two languages. We have had a few quiet periods recently. It’s almost possible to forget that there are insurgents in the area, but we have also had our busy times when the threat has been close at hand.
I work in the Ops room on a shift pattern now. I get a few hours off a day to have a cold shower or hand wash my kit and relax. Communications have been relatively stable so far, but when something does go wrong it can be very frustrating. We have issues with big vehicles ripping out cables, overhead cables. Some of the antennae we have set up might look a bit rudimentary but they all work really well. If the Army ever stopped issuing tape and zip ties I dread to think what would happen.
I’ve also encountered a novel approach to recycling. Anything that can be used in the PB will be used for something useful. Chairs and other useful things are made from all manner of different recycled objects. At the moment we have an ongoing project of making a TV area out of things we can find on camp.
With three nations sharing such a small camp you might think that there would be more problems and personality clashes. But everyone does their best to get on and we are continuously bonding over shared experiences. Our mascot, a cat, imaginatively named Mr Cat, has also become the subject of much shared affection.
I’m really looking forward to getting to know people more and I think it’s going to be one of the highlights of my tour.