Female bandmaster swaps music for mentoring in Kabul

Female bandmaster swaps music for mentoring in Kabul

Bandmaster in Afghanistan

Warrant Officer Class One Esther Freeborn, Bandmaster from the Corps of Army Music

Part 2

Warrant Officer Class One Esther Freeborn is a Bandmaster in the Corps of Army Music. She has performed music at venues around the world and in front of Royalty on many occasions. She is now assigned to work with the Afghan National Army at their Officers’ Academy in Kabul.

International World Women’s Day at the Afghan National Army Officer Academy

Two months in – five to go

Well, I am in my second month at Camp Qargha and everything is going well. My fears of coping in this small vicinity and with a small amount of comforts have been allayed. We are very lucky to be able to receive post from friends and family, and from internet companies that will deliver to a British Forces Post Office. Receiving post generates enormous morale for everyone here, whether you have received a letter from a loved one, or a box full of toiletries from your mum. It’s amazing how grateful you can be for a nice bottle of shower gel!

Women’s Day

At the beginning of March, I was very honoured to represent our site at the Afghan National Army celebrations for International Women’s Day. It was amazing to see how many women were involved in the Afghan Armed Forces, including the first Afghan female pilot. The Afghans are obviously very passionate about Women’s rights and quite insistent on developing roles for women in all services.

Generating lesson plans in multiple dialects

I have many responsibilities here at Qargha, but mainly deal with the production and development of lessons for the Afghan National Army Officer Academy. As you can imagine the lessons for its 42-week course consist of anything from Foot Drill to Afghan Military Tactics. The British Army and partner nation forces mentors immerse themselves in the Afghan doctrine (policy) and write the lessons. Obviously, the lessons are written in English, and, although the Officer Cadets learn English as part of their course, all lessons have to be translated. The Afghanistan population speaks many different dialects, often depending on what part of the country they are from. Dari and Pashto are the two most spoken dialects, but the Academy has chosen for all lessons to be in Dari. Although I cannot speak Dari (apart from ‘hello’ and ‘how are you’), I find that I can recognize certain words and I have even learnt how to write ‘hello’ – سلام.

Command tasks at the Afghan National Army Officer Academy

Command tasks at the Afghan National Army Officer Academy

Small location could drive you mad

It is amazing how many different people you meet whilst on operations, in a camp that is only the size of a few football pitches. As I mentioned previously, there are partner nations here, such as Australian, New Zealand, Norwegian, Danish and American who perform many different roles.

I have to say, my favourite section is the dog section. I have a Springer Spaniel called Tyler and I miss him very much; fortunately I am able to visit the dog compound and give all the dogs a fuss.

esther3

Kenzie the Springer Spaniel who used to visit me. He has now gone back to Camp Bastion

I think the most interesting part of the job is being able to talk to the Afghans, both military and civilian, learn about their families, what type of house they have, and even the type of cars they drive (usually a Toyota!) It is only unfortunate that we are unable to explore the surrounding areas a bit more, and see life on the streets of Kabul for ourselves. Nevertheless, I am content with my surroundings and the beautiful view of the Kabul mountains as the snow slowly melts in the gradually warming spring weather. The job is not too bad either!

Read more CAMUS blogs

Find out more about the Corps of Army Music

Driver and Crewman in Kabul: Let’s get on with it!

Sig Tonkinson

Sig Tonkinson

Signaller Tonkinson is a Communications Logistic Specialist (CLS) currently stationed with 1st United Kingdom Armoured Division Headquarters and Signal Regiment (1 (UK) ADSR) based in Herford, Germany. She is deployed on Op HERRICK 15 where she is employed as both a driver and crewman as part of Souter Force Protection Transport Company (SFPTC), stationed at Camp Souter in Kabul.

It’s been a good week in comparison with last week; the new CO arrived so we have spent a lot of time driving him around the city showing him the various locations and the area in general. There were some weird sights seen whilst driving around, a cyclist with a bull’s head tied to the back of his push bike and a tuck tuck (a three wheeled motorbike crossed with a van) with some sheep on the back doing about 50mph. I have never seen 50mph sheep before! There has also been quite a lot of routine work to do on the vehicles, the lads in the LAD have started their R&R and there’s been extra work required due to the wintery weather conditions.

50mph sheep

50mph sheep

Let’s get on with it!

Signaller Eltringham finally got off the ground for his R&R only a few days late but at least he got there. He was closely followed by Sgt Locking and the OC Major Veron, who got on the first available flight, going slightly early just in case! Typical, the seniors escape for R&R just when things turned nasty within our area! The Americans made a huge mistake of burning the Koran, an unforgivable act in Afghanistan. Unfortunately our new MTP uniform is the same colour as the American Army. In the past we have been mistaken for the Americans while on foot patrol. As you may have seen on the TV the Afghan population reacted with riot’s around Kabul City, attacking American camps in protest at what they had done.

Here at Camp Souter the threat level went through the roof, extra guard posts were stationed and extra security at the front gates as the protesters moved from camp to camp around the city.  This was the real deal! Our multiple was on Quick Reaction Force (QRF) constantly at 15 minutes notice to move, MAXIMUM! As the protests escalated I was temporality stationed on an extra guard post until re-enforcements arrived. The re-enforcements came in the form of anyone on camp who wasn’t on mission-critical duty. Basically anyone resting was to arm themselves and be prepared for tasking, everyone was up and ready.

I stood on guard listening to the crowds of Afghan’s chanting in the distance, firing their weapons to intimidate us and I observed the fires being started which created black smoke attempting to prevent the security cameras from seeing what was going on.  I could then hear the crowds getting closer, heading our way. It came over the radio that the crowds where moving towards the end of the road where our camp is based. At this point I was replaced and ordered to return to my multiple who were waiting at the front gates armed and with riot gear and with a dog handler at the ready with an attack dog.

Ready to move out with riot gear, dog and handler.

Getting prepared with riot gear, dog and handler.

We stood awaiting the order to move out, adrenalin running, along with a lot of other things running though my body and into my pants, double checking everything while I had chance. Did I have everything? Is my weapon prepared properly? Going over in my head the different scenarios and what could happen, what would I do in response? In the distance we could hear the crowds getting closer. Thinking about it wasn’t a good idea, I knew I had everything; I knew my weapon was in order, ‘stop thinking about it and let’s just get on with it’! Then we noticed the crowds’ chanting was getting further away, the gun fire had stopped as if someone had flicked a switch

The order came to stand down. It took a while for everyone to wind down, we were still on QRF until the next evening when we would change over to guard.  Over the next few hours the attack alarm went off a few times. Whenever it went off we rushed around to prepare to go out to the gates only to find it was a false alarm. Over the course of the next few days everyone was on edge waiting for something to happen, luckily there has been no trouble at Camp Souter yet.

Driver and crewman in Kabul: Snow causes havoc in Camp Souter

Sig Tonkinson

Sig Tonkinson

Sig Tonkinson is a Communications Logistic Specialist(CLS) currently stationed with 1st United Kingdom Armoured Division Headquarters and Signal Regiment (1 (UK) ADSR) based in Herford, Germany. She recently deployed on Op HERRICK 15 where she is employed as both a driver and crewman as part of Souter Force Protection Transport Company (SFPTC), stationed at Camp Souter in Kabul.

 

Mickey mouse

The snow is still here but now it is causing a lot more problems, the airport has cancelled flights, which has put a downer on those waiting to go home on R & R. This has meant that  LCpl Terri Cartledge has spent her 21st birthday on camp Souter, I suppose it’s been one to remember, for all the wrong reasons!

Our new honourary member to the multiple, our friendly mouse (Mickey), has given us some giggles this week, he left one room, asually strolled down the corridor and disappeared into Craftsman ‘bums’  Brundel’s room. Upon entry Mickey conducted an immediate U-turn as if to say “No way, I am not living in there”’. Mickey obviously has high standards and the luxury of being able to choose who he wants to live with. As yet no one has managed to take a snap shot of Mickey – he seems a little camera shy and quite nimble on his feet.

Hopefully the snow will lift soon to allow people home on R & R, and particularly for Cpl Matt Wright who while here found out he is to become a dad.

 

Back on track

It’s been a quiet week, with us all having to stay inside camp for the majority of the time. The suicide bomb threat has gone up so there is to be no unnecessary movement outside of camp. Luckily we managed to get the next sortie of lads off on their R & R before the limitation was put in place. Any movement outside the gates now needs to be authorised by our higher formation. In some aspects this is not a bad thing, as we have managed to get some more hands-on training and experience with the vehicles.

On opening the doors to the first vehicle, inside was not what I expected to find – I was greeted by a mound of snow! Someone had forgotten to close the gunner’s hatch and the snow had come down heavily overnight. After a couple of hours clearing the snow we were back on track. The vehicle inspection started by checking all liquid levels, for example: oil, screen wash, transmission fluid, water coolant and break fluid. We soon moved on to tyres, seatbelts, greasing and oiling the moving parts and finally headlight checks the list goes on –  basically it’s a mini MOT.

It was great to get my hands dirty and being under a vehicle adds to the experience of being a driver – it was good getting to know my vehicles and understanding them in much greater detail.

The week slowly came to an end and the snow is still on the ground presenting us with additional problems of ice on the road, especially when driving the 15-tonne Enhanced Platform Loading System (EPLS). Due to the diverse conditions that I am facing, I now feel that I am a lot better at driving the EPLS than before I deployed on tour.

The first 72 days: Driver and crewman in Kabul

Sig Tonkinson

Sig Tonkinson

Sig Tonkinson is a Communications Logistic Specialist (CLS) currently stationed with 1st United Kingdom Armoured Division Headquarters and Signal Regiment (1 (UK) ADSR) based in Herford, Germany. She is deployed on Op HERRICK 15 where she is employed as both a driver and crewman as part of Souter Force Protection Transport Company (SFPTC), stationed at Camp Souter in Kabul.

 

My story so far…

Hi, let me tell you a little about myself and bring you up to speed, my name is Signaller Tonkinson and I am a Communication Logistic Specialist in 1 United Kingdom Armoured Division Headquarters and Signal Regiment [1(UK)ADSR].  I am part of Souter Force Protection Transport Company (SFPTC), this is my story so far.

I arrived in Herford,Germany, 10 months after my phase two training; to say I hit the ground running would be an understatement. Before September was out I would be qualified as a Team Medic and fired every weapon from a GPMG down to a pistol. On top of that I was issued with all my tour kit went on two exercises, driven a land rover in the pitch black with night vision goggles and manoeuvred a children’s go cart round an obstacle course while blindfolded! There was little respite in October as I had to pass my Enhanced Palletised Loading System Operators Course (EPLS).

My job as part of SFPTC would be a driver, but not just any driver. I would be trained in all lower rank roles, foot patrol, top gunner and the very important team medic. Despite all this training I felt excitement and fear rolled into one, after all I was the new girl! That fear was tamed a little when I realised I wasn’t the only one deploying on tour for the first time. More importantly the lads had become my adopted family. Oh, and there was another girl going to.

Kids in tow

Before I knew it, it was early November and the tour was upon me. My first impression of Camp Bastion was a good one. After a quick load-up of the bags and issue of weapons, we jumped on to a coach for a short bus ride to the accommodation, the tents had air conditioning with eighteen to a tent and the ablutions were converted ISO containers, which was much better than expected. There was not enough time to explore more than the laundry tent and the NAAFI before we headed to Kabul.

We went straight into a hand-over period from 21 Signal Regiment, getting to learn the local area on foot and vehicle routes to other friendly force camps, on my first foot patrol I  experienced the swamping of the local kids, asking for pens, chocolate and anything else they could think of. As myself and LCpl Blundell were positioned at the rear of the patrol, we seem to get all of them. Kids seem to come from everywhere which was a good sign for us as this meant it was unlikely there were any IEDs within the immediate area. Eyes still peeled we moved round a maze of streets, kids in tow I must add! We did manage to give the local kids something by the end of the week, fixing a water pump in the local school.

Taliban still very much present

It was not all work we celebrated our first tour birthday by getting the birthday boy (LCpl Ben Sarafis) dressed up in a protection suit and chased by a military attack dog. Not quite the birthday present he had been hoping for but well done for being such a good sport. I also got to perfect my bartering skills in the market getting a watch reduced from $25 to $15. I was quite pleased until the strap fell off the next day.

It was starting to feel like Christmas when it all went wrong. Not even the Christmas tree sent from home could soften the first blow. A suicide bomber killed 48 people and injured over 100 others at a festival in the centre of Kabul. SFPTC were to take a back seat and be ready to move if required, giving advice, letting the ANP and ANA take control of the situation. The ANA and ANP handled the situation well, our presence was not needed. The events of the week were a reminder of how the Taliban are still very much present within the area and how they can still manage to influence people into doing such things.

Mickey

A real effort was made to keep spirits high over Christmas. In the morning we were greeted at our guard post by senior personal with a gift to hand from UK4U. This was a surprise and a morale boost. Entertainment was organised in the NAAFI during the evening. During the day the guard shift was covered by senior personal and I finished guard 30 minutes early so we could join the rest for dinner. I think everyone enjoyed dinner, especially the food fight. However, I seemed to pay the price later in the evening. I was starving as I had used all my food in the fight and not eaten much! After dinner it was off to bed for that all important Christmas snooze before going back on guard for the evening. After guard I spent some time talking to my family over the phone which really helped lift my spirits again and then it was back to bed.

I did manage to get the New Year off on the right foot distributing aid to the locals and making a new friend Mickey. Mickey is a mouse who is now resident in SFPTC accommodation; he is a little camera shy, but great for morale. With Mickey to keep me company lets hope the rest of the tour goes a fast as the first 72 days!

A lot of lives and limbs have been saved. A good week for Helmand.

Lieutenant Colonel Tim Purbrick, the spokesman for Task Force Helmand, blogs about visiting the British Embassy in Kabul and a good week for Helmand. 

Lt Col Tim Purbrick and Lt Col Herve Pierre of the French Marines

Lt Col Tim Purbrick and Lt Col Herve Pierre of the French Marines

The Entente Cordiale arrived in Task Force Helmand in the shape of Lieutenant Colonel Hervé Pierre of the French Marines who is about to become the Military Assistant to the Chief of the French Army Staff in Paris. Hervé came on a month long attachment to see how we are conducting operations in Afghanistan, a reflection of the growing rapport between our respective Armed Forces. I did put down a little marker for a return attachment to the Ministry of Defence in Paris to ‘understand the French approach to Media Operations’…..

When I flew up to Kabul in March the Hindu Kush was covered in deep snow. This time the barren landscape, now snowless, looked just as uninhabitable except for the thin strips of green either side of a mountain stream or river. I wondered what life must be like for the people in the middle of such inhospitable and remote places as those little valleys. Maybe they’re all watching the shopping channel on satellite TV or maybe they’re hardy, independent people living a very traditional lifestyle.

Up in Kabul Wing Commander Pat O’Donnell, the Director of the Joint Media Operations Centre (JMOC) in Camp Bastion, and I were met by Wing Commander Mark Harding, the Strategic Communications Officer at the British Embassy in Kabul, along with the Embassy security detail who whisked us through the Hyde Park Corner style traffic to the relative calm of the Embassy. That afternoon we met with some of the new staff who are dealing with the media in Kabul and attended a press conference given by Mark Sedwill, the Foreign Secretary’s Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan. At 6,000ft, Kabul is twice as high as Lashkar Gah and quite a bit cooler which made a pleasant change from the 45-50 deg C that is our daily fare in Helmand during the hottest part of the summer. Never one to miss an opportunity, I had a splash in the Embassy swimming pool and then we were back at the air head for the flight back to Bastion.

Two Bost 170 operators take chemical samples from the largest find ever made in Helmand
Two Bost 170 operators take chemical samples from the largest find ever made in Helmand

Back in Helmand there was good news. We turned up the largest find of home-made explosive chemicals ever found in the Province when intelligence from the National Directorate of Security (NDS), the Afghan MI5, led to the recovery and destruction of more than 4,000 kgs of ammonium nitrate. According to our Counter-Improvised Explosive Device Task Force this could have made more than 800 IEDs. The operation to interdict the chemicals was led by the NDS’s elite counter-terrorist unit, Bost 170, and partnered with Task Force Helmand’s Brigade Reconnaissance Force. The 80 strong combined force dropped in, almost on top of the hidden cache, in two RAF CH-47 Chinook helicopters. Having examined the haul and taken samples for evidence, they blew it up leaving a 10m wide crater in the desert for the insurgents to think about. A lot of lives and limbs have been saved. A good week for Helmand.

Lt Col Tim Purbrick takes Misty the search dog for a morning walk in Lashkar Gah

Lt Col Tim Purbrick takes Misty the search dog for a morning walk in Lashkar Gah

When I returned to my desk in Task Force Helmand’s Headquarters there was a huge parcel waiting for me from No 10 Downing St. It had been sent by Vickie Sheriff, the Prime Minister’s Deputy Spokesman and a TA officer in the MOG(V). The parcel contained tins of No 10 Downing St branded sweets – we’ve now all got a tin on our desks here in the office. I’ve got some of them left over for ‘influence’ gifts. I might just say, as I give them to someone, ‘the Prime Minister asked me to give you this as a small token….’

Taking the dog for a walk is something that a lot of people do at home every day but being able to take the dog for a walk when you’re deployed on operations in Afghanistan is not something that really crosses your mind. Military working dogs are a tremendous force multiplier, searching for explosives, drugs and protecting soldiers and sites, and we have some of them based with us in Lashkar Gah to search vehicles. For the last few days Misty the search dog has been dragging me around the camp at 7.30 in the morning before we both start our day’s work. Her tour has lasted two years and she’ll be returning home next month.