COLUMN: Afghan Diary with Lt Rosie Brooks

1 Tp getting ready to dismantle the sanger at Patrol Base 1 (S)
1 Tp getting ready to dismantle the sanger at Patrol Base 1 (S)

This week, Rosie takes a look at the work of the Talisman Squadron who have endured extremely austere conditions carrying out their night-time work in the desert as well as 1Tp dismantling a patrol base.

The majority of the Regiment’s troops operate from Patrol Bases (PB) across the Helmand Area of Operations.

While many of these are extremely austere with only basic living conditions, most have toilets and hot water.

This however is not always the case for the Talisman Squadron, who on numerous occasions spent the night in the Afghan dashte (desert). Not too dissimilar to camping, they have all the basic requirements and are completely self sufficient. On regular occasions the troop will corral their vehicles in the dashte forming a well protected location (harbour area) to settle down for the night. The first priority is to ensure that the harbour area is well secured; rotas are drawn up for the manning of the radios, weapons and camera systems all of which are manned constantly, especially throughout the night. Concurrently the remainder of the troop set up their bed spaces which are quick and easy to arrange; camp cot, sleeping bag and poncho.

This gives them a little respite from the operation to gain some well-earned rest and prepare for the following day’s activity. Having spent a number of nights in the dashte, Cpl Trish Hughes (33) said: “This is fairly arduous country and each Talisman vehicle crew will have a number of top tips for staying out on the ground.

My personnel favourites are firstly, a good sleeping bag, also known as a dozzer, maggot, or gonk bag. Second would have to be a good portable stove for cooking your rations and brews in and added to this would be a suitable digger, or spoon. My third and final tip would have to be the ability to sleep with one eye open and be ready to react to any situation that a Talisman mission throws at you!”

The simple poncho does have its downside as it doesn’t provide protection from sideways rain as the troop experienced on one of their more recent missions. With the vehicles corralled, security set and the sun setting, the heavens opened and the troop were treated to an early evening spectacular lightning show in the distance. As the storm drew closer the winds picked up driving the rain sideways. With little else to do the troop pulled their sleeping bags up over the heads and waited for the storm to blow through. What greeted them in the morning was a stark contrast from the night before; the sun baked dashte had turned to a sea of mud.

Undaunted by the mud and rain washed body armour the troop quickly and efficiently prepared themselves for the day’s activities. Lt Sarah Honey (26) has taken her troop out on a number of occasions and said, “Having travelled the majority of the Province on a multitude of operations my troop are now fully conversant with making the best out of any temporary patrol harbour. No matter whether dry, dusty desert floor or sat under three inches of armoured steel in the close country of the green zone, the Sappers of 12 Troop are happy to spend many a night under the starry Afghan skies”.

Last week has been a busy period for the Talisman Sqn with two of their three troops deployed on operations. 10 Tp were involved in an operation led by 40 Commando which saw the troop deploy on the ground for a considerable period providing route proving and clearance support across the dashte. The second Troop, 11 Tp, have been supporting an operation in which the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) took the lead. ISAF forces played a supporting role allowing the Afghans to plan and execute the mission which saw the police move into suspected insurgent compounds to conduct arrests. This was hugely successful and finished ahead of time with minimal ISAF assistance.

Meanwhile 1 Tp, 73 Armoured Engineer Squadron (AES), have been hard at work shutting PB 1. This is not as easy as it sounds as the PB has to remain operational whilst it was dismantled. The troop, lead by Lt James Eadie (24), were given two weeks to carry out all the remediation works and return it to its original state. Due to the insurgent threat, the sangars were to come down last and the remaining work had to be carefully choreographed. Two Hesco bunkers which housed the Medical Centre amongst other departments were the first to fall victim to the 1 Tp’s tractors during a task which saw the medical facility relocated into a 40’ ISO container!

All sandbags were stripped out as were the mortar firing pits much to the satisfaction of the engineer troop. The ablutions were burned, the burns pit tidied up and the water borehole capped before the sangars were eventually pulled down. This was done at night to afford the soldiers the best protection when working up high in full view of the ground outside the PB. So as not to draw attention to themselves, the troop used only red light until they were down beneath the protection of the Hesco walls. Slowly the sangars were dismantled and packed away ready to be returned to Camp Bastion where they are reconditioned and stored for future operations.

On the last morning the resident infantry company flew out leaving the troop and a company of Ghurkhas to complete the final works. Apaches circled overhead providing protection until 1 Tp boarded helicopters leaving PB1 for the last time. Another successful closure completed and ticked off the list before the end of 2014. Elsewhere 5 Tp, 4 AES, have been working with the Afghan National Police (ANP) in Forward Operating Base (FOB) FOLAN in Lashkar Gah District Centre. On this occasion they constructed some training lanes to assist the ANP with their patrol skills. A first rate facility which in the words of a US Marine Corps advisor will “not only save lives but also improve the overall security of Helmand and Nimruz Provinces”. Well done 5 Tp!