Nearly 500 members of 1 YORKS arrived in Helmand at the beginning of October 2011 for a six-month deployment in support of 20th Armoured Brigade.
They have deployed to Afghanistan as a complete battalion for the first time and are based at forward operating bases across Helmand province, carrying out patrols and security operations, and providing mortar and heavy machine gun support to the NATO-led mission.
Many of the soldiers are working with their counterparts in the Afghan National Security Forces.
The battalion has been split up for the deployment, with A Company working with 3rd Battalion The Royal Regiment of Scotland, Support Company with the Queen’s Royal Hussars, B and C Companies with the Danish Army, and the Brigade Headquarters providing staff for Headquarters Task Force Helmand.
1 YORKS soldiers also form the Brigade Reconnaissance Force with members of 1st The Queen’s Dragoon Guards.
Private Zak Wilson, of B Company, 1 YORKS, carries out the critical role of the ‘Vallon man’, searching for roadside bombs at the head of a patrol.
B Company are serving as part of the Danish Battle Group in the Nahr-e Saraj (North) area of operations. The company have aggressively patrolled into contested areas, putting the insurgents onto the back foot through working closely with their counterparts in the Afghan National Security Forces.
As the ‘Vallon man’ for his platoon, 19-year-old Private Wilson, from Sheffield, will lead a patrol, sweeping the route for improvised explosive devices (IEDs). He said:
I joined the Army because I wanted to follow in my grandfather’s footsteps who was in the artillery regiments during the Second World War. I want a challenge, so I joined the infantry and I haven’t been disappointed so far.
The training was very challenging and worthwhile. It was realistic and it tested our drills on things such as dealing with IEDs and casualties so that we were as prepared as we could be before we deployed.
The tour has gone quickly so far, but I am looking forward to getting back to Germany to complete some of the fun things the Army can offer, such as adventure training. I really want to go skiing with the battalion.
Platoon Commander Lieutenant Steve White praised Private Wilson’s skills:
It’s an incredibly important job, as Private Wilson has to choose his route. At times the safety of the entire patrol is on his shoulders,” he said.
It can be immensely stressful, but he’s coped well with the responsibility, especially for a lad of 19. He’s a natural for spotting ‘ground sign’ left by insurgents laying IEDs and I have every confidence in him.
Also from Sheffield, 26-year-old Lance Corporal Matthew Wright, of B Company, 1 YORKS, is currently based at a checkpoint with 13 other soldiers from the battalion in the Nahr-e Saraj area.
He leads a team of five soldiers out on daily patrols with the Afghan police in order to dominate the ground and provide security for the local population. The company closely mentor and partner the Afghan Uniform Police, part of the Afghan National Security Forces that are growing in size and capability.
Lance Corporal Wright, a veteran of tours in Northern Ireland, Bosnia, Kosovo and Iraq, said:
I love the job, and love being an infantryman, because I enjoy meeting all sorts of people from different backgrounds.
As an infantryman I love being in the thick of it all. I strongly agree that working alongside the Afghan police we can repel the insurgents and win over the local Afghans. The Taliban are never far away and we - in partnership with the Afghan security forces - are trying to ensure the locals have peace and security.
My best patrol to date was when we pushed into an insurgent hotbed to engage with the local people there. They were pleasantly surprised to see us and welcomed us into their compounds. The insurgents were particularly annoyed that day as it was a real ‘hearts and minds’ victory for us and the Afghan police.