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Selling Pot Noodles on Afghanistan's front line

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

As British troops move into the more remote areas of Helmand province, so does the Navy, Army and Air Force Institutes' (NAAFI's) supply of cigarettes and Pot Noodles!

The instant meals are among the most popular items on the shops’ shelves.

Sergeant Michael Corker, who works for the Expeditionary Force Institute (EFI), the Army unit of reservists that takes the NAAFI into dangerous war zones, such as Afghanistan, said:

When we first got into Afghanistan in 2001, we just had a Land Rover with a trailer and went into Kabul where the armoured vehicles and troops were, and sold stuff out of the back of the wagon.

The NAAFI has shops in notorious areas of Helmand province, such as Sangin. And, despite the relative austerity of the front line, the shop in Forward Operating Base (FOB) Jackson stocks 300-400 different products:

It’s hard work when you’ve got rockets flying around, but you’ve got your body armour and protection. You get used to the rockets, but you never get used to the weight of the armour and the heat,” said Sergeant Corker.

He has served all over the world with the EFI, in countries as far-removed as Bosnia and Belize. In his 13 years with the NAAFI there have been changes. He said:

We’ve got proper buildings now instead of tents. And you can get proper lattes and cappuccinos.

Troops in the middle of Helmand’s Green Zone can also buy household toiletries, soft drinks, chocolate bars and crisps found in the UK. Top-sellers are Pot Noodles and cigarettes:

The guys out there take them out on the ground with them,” said Sergeant Corker.

When the NAAFI arrived in Sangin, it got a warm welcome from the troops, who, despite being less than 100km away, were far removed from the comforts of Camp Bastion, which has two NAAFI shops, as well as a Pizza Hut and a curry house:

The troops appreciate it,” explained Sergeant Corker. “You get the odd person that complains about prices, but they’re higher due to the logistics of getting supplies to the middle of the desert. It’s not like you can just walk to Tesco’s and load up the trolley.

Two hundred UK troops is the guideline figure to qualify for a NAAFI presence, so as more bases grow they are likely to get shops:

Jackson was so successful that a week after it opened there was discussion of where the next one would be,” said Lieutenant Colonel Kevin Pembroke, the officer in charge of the EFI.

There will be a NAAFI in FOB Shawqat by August, so we need to make sure we have enough EFI staff trained to the standard required to deploy to FOBs.

What we can’t do is put a civilian member of NAAFI into somewhere like FOB Jackson.

There’s no option; they’ve got to be a full-on part of the military and fully trained as per any other member of the military. They’ve got to be able to play that part in defending the base if it’s attacked and deal with the pressure of that operational environment.

This article is taken from the August 2010 edition of Defence Focus - the magazine for everyone in Defence.