Lance Corporal David Murphy and Trooper Richard Halpin are serving with the 2nd Royal Tank Regiment in Lashkar Gah and have just returned from the Aru Dalam School in the north of the city where their task was to escort members of the MSST to the school to assess what improvements could be made.
MSST officer Major Chris Willett briefed the Tank Regiment escort before they moved out into the city:
We’ve had reports that the roof of the school has caved in,” he told them.
Winter is coming and the students are very cold at night. The school leaders have asked us for direct help - so we’re taking up blankets and a Royal Engineer who will assess the damage to the roof.
The Aru Dalam School is one of the top religious schools in the Lashkar Gah area and produces many students who go on to become Imams, Muslim holy men.
Trooper Halpin is well aware of why he was sent to Aru Dalam:
The kids are important really because we don’t want them to grow up thinking they’re going to join the Taliban,” he said. “We want them to grow up knowing that’s bad - and we’re here to help.
The school is one of the Afghan Government’s approved religious schools. It and its staff are authorised to teach Islam and train students in accordance with government guidelines.
Major Willett explained:
We’re not here to set up schools at random - everything is part of the Afghan Government’s development plan.
The ‘Tankies’, as Tank Regiment soldiers are known, left their Mastiff armoured vehicles in camp for this task and patrolled out to the school on foot. Again, maintaining the support of the local community is at the forefront of everyone’s minds.
The school is built in a compound which contains one large building with classrooms and five smaller ones which contain more classrooms and dormitories. The structures are solidly built; however, two have not been finished and a third has lost much of its roof due to poor construction and high winds.
While the MSST members and the engineer discussed the school’s needs with the teachers, the Tankies spread out to provide security.
Those not looking outwards for any sign of trouble made time to chat to the curious children who quickly surrounded the soldiers about their work and what had brought them to the school.
Lance Corporal Murphy described the reaction:
The kids all come up to you - they just want to know who we are and get to know us. The language is a difficulty but it’s nice to shake their hands and try to ask how they’re doing.
The local Afghans’ reaction to the Tank Regiment soldiers as they patrol is generally positive. Trooper Halpin said:
You get a lot of people coming up to you shaking your hand, it’s quite a good laugh really.
Having completed his survey of the school Major Willett is now working to help the Government of Afghanistan make good the damage. He explained:
I’m confident that together, we, ISAF and the Afghan Government, can fund and conduct the repair of the roof.
I’m also interested in looking at how we can work together on other projects to improve this centre.