As we made slow progress on rutted roads, the soldiers passed the time chatting and sharing sweets when I joined the 21 Engineers’ on Boxing Day as they left Camp Bastion to take the regiment’s commanding officer, Lt Col “Jack” Nicholson, to visit soldiers around Helmand.
Travelling the British forces’ area of operation, even though it is around the size of Dorset, is slow and fraught with difficulties.
Journeys rely either on RAF helicopter flights between the bases, constantly in-demand and at the mercy of weather conditions, or road moves which face the threat of roadside bombs and insurgent attacks.
For the 21 Engineers’ “escort multiple” their job is to travel Helmand’s dusty, potholed roads delivering passengers and equipment safely across the province.
Less than an hour into our journey on Boxing Day morning the lead vehicle ran into mechanical problems. Soon after, the truck’s wheel caught fire and the three vehicle convoy stopped.
Inside one of the other trucks, I heard distant gunshots as insurgents spotted the stationary vehicles. Minutes later we were towing the damaged vehicle to a nearby base.
By mid afternoon we were on the move again, but with time against us we stopped at Patrol Base Wahid for the night, where bad weather kept us waiting another two days.
Staff Sergeant Peter Sutton is the escort multiple’s commander. As we waited for clearance to leave the patrol base he spoke about his troop’s job.
“We can be asked to escort people all over the area of operation, or act as protection for advisors who go out on the ground. We have escorted senior officers like the Brigade Commander, and we’ve been used in quite a few different roles.
“We have to be quite flexible and reactive.This is the first time we have had problems with the weather, but it often depends on who we are escorting and if they change their plans. “
Their job means the soldiers of the escort multiple get out and about around the province making them among the most experienced in the regiment, he added.
“The lads like getting out to the other bases, but it’s always nice to get back to your own space at Bastion,” he added.
SSg Sutton joined 21 Engineers just two weeks before they deployed in autumn, part of a squadron attached to the regiment from 28 Engineers usually based in Germany.
“I had never worked with any of these guys before but we’re working well together.
“The guys have got themselves a good reputation by being professional and doing the job,” he added.