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Gurkhas train for Helmand

Soldiers from 1 Transport Squadron, 10 The Queen’s Own Gurkha Logistic Regiment (10 QOGLR), have showcased their versatility by transforming…

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Soldiers from 1 Transport Squadron, 10 The Queen’s Own Gurkha Logistic Regiment (10 QOGLR), have showcased their versatility by transforming themselves from logisticians into highly-skilled infantrymen in readiness for a vital role assisting the Afghan National Police (ANP) in Helmand province.

Attached to the 1st Battalion Welsh Guards and based in Lashkar Gah, the unit’s mission represents a significant departure from the vehicle patrol duties they carried out on Op HERRICK 11.

While troops fine-tuned their new skills on Salisbury Plain, Lieutenant Dex Bransby explained the fresh challenge ahead for members of his team:

We will be teaching and advising locals on police matters in order to get ready for the transition to Afghan control,” the serviceman said.

Normally we would be doing combat logistic patrols, working from Camp Bastion as we did on our last tour, but it’s good for us to be getting out and doing this new type of work.

To transform transportation experts into deployable infantrymen, the squadron has been put through extensive training. In their latest serial, the soldiers worked with unfamiliar vehicles and on foot patrol techniques.

Using Vallons (metal detectors), they carried out 360-degree sweeps of vulnerable points and extracted casualties at high speed during mock explosions. Commenting on the ability of those under his leadership to adapt to their duties, Lieutenant Colonel Tim Blackmore, Commanding Officer of 10 QOGLR, said:

Given their primary role as logisticians, this has been a demanding training period for the squadron as they prepare for an infantry-focused deployment.

Gurkhas are renowned for their versatility and professionalism; as such I have every confidence that they will prove ideal mentors.

The unit will form three police advisory teams, which will focus on building a rapport with the ANP and persuading its commanders to lead patrols.

With the Gurkhas’ ability to speak Urdu, conversation between British troops and Afghan National Security Forces will be easier than communicating via interpreters, improving an already strong relationship.

Private Nar Gurung, who will be working in one of the groups, said:

I feel great about doing this because it’s a challenge and I am looking forward to interacting with Afghan people, which was something we didn’t have a chance to do on our last tour.

If we can teach the ANP our skills to enable them to work on their own, and if we come home safely, then we will have achieved our mission.

Lance Corporal Volaman Limbu added:

Last time I was a point man driving a Jackal so this tour will be entirely different. I am pleased to be working with Gurkha blokes and I know we will be effective.

It will be good for the brigade to show that we can do any job at any given time.

The impressive manner in which these men have adjusted to their new task comes in the wake of reductions to Army manning under the redundancy programme following on from the Strategic Defence and Security Review .

But Major Edward Osborne, Officer Commanding 1 Transport Squadron, explained that savings measures had not affected troops’ focus on the mission in hand:

They are well aware that soldiers have lost their jobs but at no time has that distracted them from what they are doing, which is utterly admirable,” he said.

Their dedication and professionalism is unparalleled and it’s hard to praise them enough without sounding sickly, but they are fantastic soldiers.

Alongside QOGLR personnel, each training team will include two members of the Royal Military Police to provide specific knowledge of crime-fighting.

Lance Corporal Phil Macphail from the Royal Military Police explained:

Britain’s contingency plan for leaving Afghanistan hinges on the country’s national security forces taking control, so we need to transfer our skills to them.

In our unit we are police officers in our second role so we understand about forensic awareness and patrols and can help with that side of things too.

A major drive for police advisory teams on Op HERRICK 16 is to coach as many of the Afghans at the Lashkar Gah Training Centre as possible in order to build a robust and successful force:

We will be focusing on getting the ANP to look as professional as possible and ensuring their arms, forensic awareness skills and action at crime scene drills are in place,” added Lance Corporal Macphail.

With British combat troops set to leave Helmand province in two years’ time it is vital for the region’s future that its own security forces can defend against the Taliban and other offenders.

Until then, British servicemen and women will play a crucial role in the gradual transition from international assistance to home control:

Knowing that we are coming out in 2014 gives a fixed target,” explained Major Osborne. “The Afghans understand that we’re not an infinite resource and therefore part of our role is to assist them in becoming self-sufficient.

Operation HERRICK 16 will mark the last operational deployment of 1 Transport Squadron, which will cease to exist following the reconfiguration of 10 QOGLR under the Army’s ongoing structural changes:

This unit has transformed itself for a new role and its personnel are now on a par with their infantry counterparts,” added Major Osborne. “This underlines the complete diversity of the Gurkhas.

Ready to prove their versatility at the sharp end, the squadron is determined its final assignment will leave a lasting legacy in Helmand.

This article by Joe Clapson is taken from the March 2012 edition of SOLDIER - Magazine of the British Army.

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Published 6 March 2012