News story

Gunners develop Afghan Army skills

The Gunners arrived in Afghanistan in April 2011 and are nearing the end of their deployment in the southern part of the Nahr-e Saraj district…

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The Gunners arrived in Afghanistan in April 2011 and are nearing the end of their deployment in the southern part of the Nahr-e Saraj district of Helmand province.

When they arrived the Gunners were expecting to provide fire support and artillery for the soldiers from 1st Battalion The Rifles (1 RIFLES), who are the main ground-holding unit in the area.

The battle group has not experienced the level of fighting over the summer that they were expecting and, as a result, some of the Gunners have taken on other jobs to help support 1 RIFLES.

After a few days extra training to refresh their infantry skills, the Gunners have been carrying out patrols and helping to train the Afghan National Army.

Gunner Peter Maina, aged 26 from Plymouth, said the tour has been better than expected:

I’m really enjoying being out on the ground. I’ve met lots of local Afghans and kids. Working with the ANA out on patrols has helped me learn Pashtu which has helped me communicate better and I have taught them some English in return.

Working together, the ANA, Commandos and Riflemen have increased security in the protected community, making life safer for local people.

Captain Dan Davies, who’s 27 and from East London, is based at Checkpoint (CP) Seka:

Through successful operations we’ve pushed out insurgents and secured considerable ground. That’s allowed us to establish checkpoints which are being manned by the ANA. Our presence in these areas is preventing the insurgents from returning.

Many of the soldiers based at CP Seka are on their second or third tours of Afghanistan but have noticed that these six months have been very different to the previous tours they’ve served.

Captain Davies is one of them:

I was last here in 2009 and it’s a lot quieter now, less kinetic. It is what we prefer and it means we are making progress,” he said.

The bases where the soldiers live are small, remote and austere. However, despite the basic living conditions and resources, the men have made the most of things and have tried to make the checkpoints as comfortable as possible.

A large table and seating area forms the hub of the camp where the troops relax, chat and eat. Living on rations with no fresh food available, the young men have to be creative with their recipes and cooking skills.

22-year-old Gunner Scott Appleby, from Manchester, said everyone chips in:

We take it in turns to cook every day. We snack on rations during the day but we try and cook something properly for everyone in the evening. We all dig in together; we are a close-knit regiment.

The oven is a metal box with a stove beside it. One of the soldiers, who used to be a chef, has become popular after making fresh bread from raw ingredients. Another favourite is the homemade fruit crumble: tinned peaches covered with oat cereal.

And it’s not just in the kitchen that the soldiers have been busy making things. Lieutenant Adam Birtwistle is the Officer Commanding at CP Seka. The 26-year-old from Solihull is on his first tour of Afghanistan and he says he’s been impressed with some of the things they’ve come up with:

It can be quite boring for the guys when they’re not on patrol so they make things to keep busy. I helped to make the new shower with one of the lads. For a dustbin with holes in it, it is really quite powerful!

In a few weeks’ time, the Gunners will be returning to the UK to the luxuries and comforts of home. They will then have several weeks’ leave to spend with friends and family.

Published 23 September 2011