The dangerous and vital role of getting food, kit and supplies to 4th Mechanized Brigade's front line troops in Helmand during Op HERRICK 17 will be conducted by some very special soldiers. Shell Daruwala reports.
12 Logistic Support Regiment (12 LSR) provides logistic close and general support to 4th Mechanized Brigade (4 Mech Bde), and will deploy with the brigade in October. Its men and women are responsible for the supply chain which allows British forces to maintain operations on the front line in Afghanistan, engaging with local villagers and supporting the Afghan National Security Forces as they strike right at the heart of the insurgency.
To get the supplies out from Camp Bastion to the patrol bases and forward operating bases across Helmand province, it is 12 LSR’s role to plan and execute the huge armoured convoys, or Combat Logistic Patrols (CLPs), which fight supplies through areas which remain among the most hostile and dangerous in Afghanistan.
It is hardly surprising that among the soldiers you will find in this line of work are some pretty remarkable characters.
Corporal Lucius Edward, ‘Ninja in a truck’
Corporal Lucius Edward, a driver with 12 LSR, has been in the Army for five-and-a-half years and has completed tours in both Kuwait and Afghanistan during that time:
I joined up so that I could get some action,” he admits with a reassuring honesty.
The tall St Lucian is a man of few words, but Cpl Edward’s actions have spoken volumes, earning him the praise and respect of his peers and commanding officers. Just last year, while still a private, he was named Carmen’s Soldier of the Year 2011 by the Worshipful Company of Carmen - a historic fraternity of drivers and one of the Livery Companies of the City of London - at their annual Military Awards.
Cpl Edward’s citation for the Carmen’s Royal Logistic Corps Cup reads:
“He conducted high-threat combat logistic patrols to Kuwait and the Al Faw peninsula, facing small arms fire and an IED strike against his vehicle. Volunteering for Operation Certain Shield, he conducted dismounted border patrols with 1st Battalion The Duke of Lancaster’s battlegroup. As 2 i/c [second-in-command] of his section, he delivered a demanding PT [physical training] regime, fought logistic support across central Helmand, then deployed with the 1st Battalion Scots Guards, delivering logistic moves against determined enemy action in Lashkar Gah and Nad ‘Ali with charisma and boundless enthusiasm. He provided peerless motivation, his professionalism unparalleled in his regiment - a multi-talented, dedicated and selfless logistician.”
One of his senior officers calls Cpl Edward ‘a ninja in a truck’:
He can reverse and drive a truck into the most confined space you’d imagine possible - somehow defying gaps to deliver stuff.
From about the age of seven he was driving trucks around his parents’ quarry in St Lucia,” explains his commanding officer, Lieutenant Alexandra Lawrence.
Cpl Edward is feeling positive about the coming deployment:
I am looking forward to this one because we got such a high standard of training,” he said, adding that “the vehicles are more armoured, so I’m feeling a little bit more safe now.
And the Afghan winter, which can see temperatures plummet to well below freezing, doesn’t worry him either:
As a logistics man, we’ve got all the right kit - so we’re ready for any kind of weather conditions; extreme weather, it doesn’t matter,” he said.
Lieutenant Alexandra Lawrence, Logistic Element Commander
Making sure Cpl Edward has everything he needs to get the right supplies to the right places will be the Logistic Element Commander, Lt Alexandra Lawrence.
Lt Lawrence has been in the Army for just two years. HERRICK 17 will be her first operational deployment:
I’m in charge of 35 to 40 drivers ranging from the rank of private soldier to staff sergeant, and my role is to organise the distribution of equipment and kit across Helmand province,” she said.
I’m based in Camp Bastion and I’ll do daily patrols within the vehicles and take any supplies and stores, ranging from ammunition to fuel, water and rations, and then also any engineer equipment stores or any spares that the REME [Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers], the vehicle mechanics, need forwards - I take them all forwards into the patrol bases and forward operating bases.
And then as well, because of the drawdown in Afghanistan, my role will be to collect any spare equipment that’s forwards and bring it back to Camp Bastion so it can be taken back home if it’s required.
My role within that is to make sure that the vehicles have the right drivers in them, have the right weapons mounted on the top of them, and have the right equipment in the back of them so that whatever the load is that I’ve been told to distribute forwards is in the right place.
Hers is a huge and important role which might seem daunting to many, but Lt Lawrence says she is well-prepared for the deployment:
I joined this regiment in May 2011, and since then I’ve spent a month in Germany on exercise; I’ve also spent two months in Canada on exercise. I then spent two months in Kenya on exercise, so my first six months was just on overseas exercises learning how to do my job.
I then came back to the UK in January and spent six months on Mission Specific Training, so we got different kit, different vehicles, different uniform and learned how Afghanistan is quite different. But everything in the last two years has set me up for this - I’m ready for the challenge.
What better thing to do at 25 than to command soldiers on operations?” she asks. “I think it’s the biggest command responsibility I can imagine, and I just hope that all of the training makes this a brilliant reward.
Lt Lawrence says that there are many challenges to overcome even before any of her soldiers set foot in theatre:
Before we arrive in Afghanistan the hardest thing is just making sure that all of my soldiers are trained correctly,” she said. “It’s my responsibility to make sure that they’ve done all of the mandatory tests, from medical things - having their vaccinations - to having the driving licenses that they need, to having the weapons licenses that they need - so just to make sure that the administration is sorted out.
And, once in Afghanistan, Lt Lawrence said her focus will be firmly on the task at hand:
If we have any enemy action on our routes it’s so important that that doesn’t affect us, because we have to get to our destination. If we don’t get to our destination, then the guys that we support aren’t going to have their food, aren’t going to have their water, aren’t going to have their ammunition, so the focus of our task is to supply, and unfortunately we’ve just got to deal with the enemy along the way.
Helping ensure that the CLPs make it to their destinations safely are the brave vehicle mechanics of the REME, whose job it is to quickly retrieve vehicles which have been immobilised or become stuck during the mission; at times under fire from insurgents:
The REMEs come out on our patrols with us, so we’ll get four to six vehicles of the REMEs under my command,” said Lt Lawrence. “I’ll liaise with them, so we all know the same actions for if something happens en route.
Corporal Richard Street MC, REME Vehicle Recovery Mechanic
Known as ‘Strasse’ to his colleagues, a nickname which dates back to his time in Germany, decorated soldier Cpl Street, from 1 (Close Support) Battalion REME, will be one of the vehicle recovery mechanics who are prepared to put themselves in the firing line to keep the CLPs moving, and ensure that the troops on the front line are supplied.
Having served 17 years in the Army, Cpl Street has deployed to Northern Ireland, Iraq in 2003, and to Afghanistan in 2007 on Op HERRICK 7; a tour which earned him a Military Cross for his brave actions:
At the time I was serving with the King’s Royal Hussars,” Cpl Street said. “We were out on a routine patrol and I was following them in my Foden recovery vehicle. We went through a certain area in the Musa Qal’ah wadi. Got contacted. The squadron leader decided we’d push through and get through to the other side. It turned into an ambush. During the ambush, the squadron leader’s vehicle became disabled and I was pushed forward to recover the vehicle.
The rest of the packet then pushed on to get out the other side of the ambush, but the forward elements realised that the road ahead wouldn’t withstand the vehicles that we had, so we had to then turn round and go back through. Of course them [the insurgents] knowing the ground, they knew we couldn’t get that way, so they just set up another ambush for us coming back through, and we came through the same ambush again.
Cpl Street recovered his squadron leader’s stricken vehicle and made it through the ambush, twice, with the patrol. He is expecting his second deployment to Afghanistan, in October, to be a little easier:
There’s going to be a massive difference,” he said. “With the training that we’ve done, the amount of kit we’ve got now, it’s so up-to-date; it’s basically been designed for Afghanistan and the job that we’re doing over there.
The vehicle mechanic says his biggest challenge on the deployment will be the heat:
The toughest thing about Afghan as a whole is the climate really, just the hot weather,” he said. “Because we’re not used to the hot weather over here it takes a bit of time to get used to - you’re never 100 per cent with it; it’s still quite hard working in the hot temperatures through the day.
In terms of new kit, Cpl Street is looking forward to getting to grips with the new SV(R) [Support Vehicle (Recovery)] - a major upgrade from the Foden vehicle he was ambushed in during his last tour:
The SV(R) is a new recovery vehicle with a completely armoured cab, so it’s a lot safer - a lot better bit of kit,” he said. “We have got the capabilities with this vehicle to recover any vehicle platform that’s out there at the moment. We could have something like 40-42 tonnes of weight on the back and actually tow it.
Cpl Street said that the protection the SV(R) provides is head and shoulders above anything that he has ever been in before:
It just gives you that little bit of peace of mind really - it’s one less thing to worry about when you’re actually out there in the cab driving around.
4th Mechanized Brigade will replace 12th Mechanized Brigade in October as the lead formation of British troops in Helmand province.