Padre Robin Richardson writes from Afghanistan about meeting Rob, a Parachute Regiment Physical Training Instructor.

Padre Robin Richardson

Padre Robin Richardson

Rob is a quiet man, but wherever he is, things happen. He is practical in ways I know I shall never be, with an eye for detail that means everything he puts has hand to is done well. Rob is also one of 3 Parachute Regiment Physical Training Instructors (PTIs) and so daily ‘phys’ is an important part of his routine. Now, I’m sure that many of you will have an idea of what a Parachute Regiment PTI is like and how he would get the best out of people, and many would be wrong. Rob’s quiet, encouraging nature and his desire to see everyone improve their fitness, strength and endurance means that he skilfully differentiates within what he demands of a group so that all get pushed hard enough to improve, but not so hard as they get injured.

Rob is also keen to keep alive the old form of PARA fitness, long distances, high speed and battle ready at the other end. For his own fitness regime here at Shahzad he has therefore marked himself out a mile-long route that he runs in body armour and carrying a general purpose machine gun (GPMG) every day. He has also decided that he would like to up his challenge by running a marathon in this kit around the uneven and dusty track that he’s been using. That Rob is also 39 years old is also no mean feat, as years as a PARA take quite a toll on the body. Rob sums up in many ways much of what is astonishing about the fitness and determination of paratroopers. Many units have a good number of exceptionally fit individuals serving within them, it just seems within the Parachute Regiment it is almost everyone and for a lesser mortal like me it makes it quite a challenging environment in which to work – but massive fun!

Rob is planning to do the run in February, after he has had been on his R&R and enjoyed some time at home with Jenny and he wants it to raise money for the Afghan Trust and for the NSPCC. It would be great, therefore if any of you read this blog, to make a donation to either of those organisations, and as you do so think of Rob and of all the other members of the Battlegroup and beyond who day in and day out are pushing themselves in amazing ways as they do their best to support the Afghan people, government, army and police.

But also, please think of and pray for all the local people we are getting to know and who we are trying to help whose lives are so tough and for years have been so downtrodden. Attendance at shuras is going up all the time as many of those who had been previously intimidated by insurgents feel confident enough to come and have their voices heard at the meetings. More and more boys and girls are getting to go to school as their parents feel it is safe for them to do so and local medical centres are getting built and supplied with staff and equipment. And all this work is being driven by the local political leaders with whom we are working and that has to be good news for those whom we are serving.

I hope that Rob’s effort in his upcoming marathon in body armour and with a GPMG will make a difference to the lives of people he will never meet through the money he raises, and similarly, it is my hope that the wider efforts of the Battlegroup will make a massive difference to the lives of those whose voices are now not only being heard, but which are also bringing change.

Sad news from Kandahar

Captain Jeremy Hann, an Armoured Vehicle Commander with the Royal Dragoon Guards, is based in Kandahar for Operation HERRICK 12. In this posts he writes about recent events in Kandahar.

Without wishing to erode the gossamer-thin veneer of machismo and testosterone afforded me by current situation… I would like to thank my mother publicly for her recent aid-package, and specifically for the chargrilled artichoke hearts in extra virgin olive oil. Delish. The enjoyment of the second half of the contents was slightly marred by the light garnish of sand, compliments of the ‘120 days of winds’ and the unique, fetid and rank aromas provided by the open sewers. Dining Al Fresco is not perhaps what it is on the Cote D’Azur.

The last few weeks in Kandahar Province have been rather grim. I have mentioned previously the low price upon life by certain organisations operating in this country, and if there had been any doubt, the explosive attack at a wedding ceremony this week, which killed 40 and seriously injured a further eighty-odd surely provides indelible evidence of this sick and saddening perspective. As the temperature has risen so have the number of incidents and attacks. Whilst I have no immediate involvement with everything that falls in this category, where I have it has been a positive sign that the Afghan Security presence is both eager and increasingly capable of dealing with the threat at the tactical level on the streets.

The attack, like many others, has been featured on CNN, and the coverage is extensive. They appear to have a much greater handle on events in this province than either the Beeb or Sky, which is hardly surprising as the majority of the British are to be found west of here in Helmand. The instantaneous nature of the reportage is staggering, and is sponsored and propelled by technology unimaginable during the great conflicts of the twentieth century. If greater media coverage descends on this city over the summer months, as it surely will, the truth may get lost in the throng of multiple-source reporting. Within thirty minutes of our main base coming under attack at the end of last month ‘news’ of it was already being conveyed to the global audience. The efficiency is awesome, (I mean that in the truest sense, not in the way Americans use the word to describe a new pair of sports socks), and equally frightening. Public opinion can be formed in ‘real-time’ before those embroiled in the violence have literally had a chance to pause and reflect on what they have just gone through. This is all a far cry from the weekly cable from Africa that the likes of Lord Deedes would have been sending to his Fleet Street editor, all immortalised as William Boot by Evelyn Waugh in ‘Scoop’.

I suppose the dangerous element is that public feeling can be influenced so readily and easily by media groups which can call upon instant global exposure. I am not saying there is an agenda, just an ability to apply a filter.

Dave from Notting Hill has been in Afghanistan this week and he seems to be much more in tune with the needs of the Armed Forces than his predecessor, which can only be a good thing.

A corpulent Afghan Police Officer has taken a shnning to a few of my soldiers over the last couple of weeks. We often see him at the Governor’s Palace. He has a build often ably demonstrated by the regular perched upon the far right hand side bar stool at any number of Public Houses the length and breadth of England. He has the aspect of one who has benefited from decades of the steady influx of pint after pint of Bishop’s Finger or Old Thumper, is no stranger to a stilton ploughman’s, and has on occasion been caught with his hand in the jar of pickled eggs. Exercise is an infrequent companion and can only be spotted between the armchair and the sofa. This stalwart member of the Gendarme is a jovial chap, who likes nothing more than rubbing his protruding stomach up and down which ever of my men happen to be still long enough, before suddenly thrusting with tremendous force. It is all in a playful manner, and I have encouraged those ‘bumped’ to respond in a like for like manner. I would hate for us to be thought of as not observing the niceties of local customs.

Afghan Diet Club: free membership for all

Captain Stuart Thomas is the Main Troop Commander of 204 Signal Squadron, based in Lashkar Gah for his six-month tour on Operation HERRICK 12. He writes about the fitness craze gripping Lashkar Gah.

Me next to the flower garden in Lashkar Gah camp.

Me next to the flower garden in Lashkar Gah camp.

Main Troop monitors all communications into  Task Force Helmand Headquarters based in Lashkar Gah.  We also have Information Systems Engineers (computer geeks) and technicians who look after the repair and maintenance of the numerous computer and radio systems.

The Troop has been bolstered significantly, with two operators flying in from Catterick Garrison and a couple returning from their adventures on the ground.

We’re trying to raise £10,000 for ABF – The Soldiers’ Charity. To kickstart the charity drive, we have been organising the Lashkar Gah 10km race which will take place this weekend (23 May 2010).  A route around the camp has been cleared and competitors will run 12 laps across sand, stone and shale.  So far about 80 people have signed up and pledged $10 each to run. Some of the troop have been training harder than others and some not at all!

Now two months into the tour it’s working well as a weight loss programme for some. No need for gastric bands here. The heat, the weight carried by those out on the ground and the good gym facilities have allowed the guys to tone up in an attempt to get beach ready (beached whale perhaps?)  for their loved ones back home.  One of the Troop has lost over two stone so far (equivalent to a medium sized toddler?), and by the end of the tour we are going to get one of those photos of him holding his previously tent-sized trousers, and he can wonder how he ever fit into them.

The general election was followed closely, and much like the Olympics, everyone became an expert on all things they previously knew nothing about. If you don’t believe me wait until 2012 and listen to your parents discuss synchronized swimming, and shake their heads in disappointment when a diver attempts a triple pike and double back flip and makes too much of a splash on entry.

I have been explaining over and over again what a Hung Parliament is. After the excitement we had that stewards enquiry (I know horse racing is not in the Olympics!) to find out the winner, and now everyone has lost interest.