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MSSG awarded for humanitarian work in Afghanistan

The tri-Service Military Stabilisation Support Group (MSSG) has been awarded the prestigious Firmin Sword of Peace in recognition of the unit's humanitarian work in Afghanistan.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Members of a British Military Stabilisation Support Team hold a shura with Afghan villagers to hear their thoughts on ISAF and the Government of Afghanistan. Left to right: Lieutenant Colonel Charlie Calder, Major Simon Mason and Flight Lieutenant Andrew John [Picture: Crown Copyright/MOD 2009]

The award was presented to the personnel who made up the MSSG in Afghanistan in 2009, at a ceremony on 23 November, by Lieutenant General Barney White-Spunner, Commander Field Army.

The sword is awarded annually to the unit of each Service judged to have made the most valuable contribution to humanitarian activities by establishing good and friendly relations with the inhabitants of any community at home or overseas.

The award citation read:

Recent operations have highlighted the true value of MSSG’s contribution within the overall campaign as planners, facilitators, advisors, co-ordinators and influencers.

For those deployed on Op HERRICK 10, the true extent of the success and value of MSSG personnel is emphasised by its achievements in supporting the 1st Battalion Welsh Guards, one of the main battle groups involved in Op PANTHER’S CLAW.

The MSSG is a tri-Service unit based at Gibraltar Barracks, Camberley, which comprises of deployable regular officers, warrant officers and senior non-commissioned officers from the Army, Navy and Royal Air Force as well as reserve personnel drawn from the Territorial Army and the Royal Auxiliary Air Force.

The group provides military support to the UK’S Stabilisation Unit.

The MSSG trains and deploys teams of 40 personnel on every Op HERRICK rotation to accompany front line battle groups where they co-ordinate between military and civilian organisations, gather and analyse civil information, provide assistance to planning operations, and identify and aid in the delivery of consent-winning activities and reconstruction and development projects.

All these activities are influential in building positive and enduring community relations and facilitating the delivery of tangible benefits to the daily lives of Afghan nationals.

Flight Lieutenant Andrew John was one of those who represented the MSSG at the award ceremony. He led the Military Stabilisation Support Team (MSST) in the Musa Qal’ah district, where his team was actively involved in the repair of the electricity distribution network.

Flt Lt John explained some of the things he and the MSSG did in Afghanistan:

From meetings with locals at the start of HERRICK 10 it was clear that a reliable electricity supply would enhance their lives and provide them with a tangible benefit from the security being provided by the International Security Assistance Force, in conjunction with the Afghan National Security Forces.

The supply from the Kajaki Dam was already there but the local electrical infrastructure was, literally, shot to pieces. In collaboration with village elders and local tradesmen the network was repaired, giving the Afghans a reliable power supply. Numerous other projects fell out from the electrical works, all contributing to the quality of life the Afghans had.

Initially deployed to Garmsir, British Army Warrant Officer Class 2 Chris Davis was part of an MSST embedded with the Operational Mentoring and Liaison Team. He explained that, first and foremost, getting out amongst the people is the first responsibility of the MSST:

You have to be talking to the people to be doing your job, there’s no point staying inside,” he said. “So I got out with them, did a lot of talking. I just got stuck in, started talking to the people and started finding out what the villagers wanted.

I then fed that back in so that the StabAd [Stabilisation Advisor], team leader and battle group commander could start working out what they wanted to do and how they wanted to influence them to change the area.

Flight Lieutenant Shona Bragg was the officer commanding an MSST in Garmsir, southern Helmand. She was deployed first in support of the Light Dragoons Battle Group where she assisted with the handover to the US Marine Corps before moving to Gereshk to rejoin the battle group as they worked to stabilise the Babaji area of Helmand.

During this time Flt Lt Bragg and her team established a number of schemes, including one to provide warm winter clothes to deprived Afghan children in the area:

Whilst going out on patrols in the Babaji area of Helmand, the question asked to the mullahs was what did they need for the community? The mullahs always replied ‘clothes for the children’,” she said.

Knowing that the celebration of Eid was fast approaching I emailed some friends back home to see if they could gather as much charity children’s clothing together and post it out to me. The vast amount of babies’ clothes that came out to the deployed operating base at Gereshk was phenomenal.

I then divided it all into boxes between the areas that we had visited and the patrols delivered them to the mullahs for handing out to the families during their religious festival in preparation for the harsh winter. It was good to see how such a small sector of the UK community had given their hand in helping those children in the far reaches of Helmand.

Other MSSG achievements in Afghanistan during 2009 ranged from activities that contributed towards the Helmand female engagement plan, community regeneration work in Nad ‘Ali and Sangin, and to the growth of community projects in the areas of Spin Majid and Chah-e Anjir. The assistance and support provided by the MSSTs aided the progression of community relations with the Afghan people and increased the pace of community regeneration within the regions where they were based.

Providing support to the citation, Major Giles Harris, Officer Commanding The Prince of Wales Company, 1st Battalion Welsh Guards, said:

I am confident to say that any success our company had in securing Chah-e Anjir and extending the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan influence was in the most part down to our ability to establish key links with the locals, sustain these links and prove our desire to work for the populace, not against them.

This positive perception, and the actual progress that came after it, was delivered by the MSST personnel alone. It was clear to me that they were the battle-winners.

Published 30 November 2010