Teesside University student Captain Rachael Davies is serving in the Territorial Army (TA) with 3 Commando Brigade, based in Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand Province, in southern Afghanistan.
The 23-year-old, who is working towards a degree in disaster management, is helping to rebuild and stabilise the country during a year out between her second and third years at university.
Capt Davies, who has been in the TA for six years, is working for the Civil-Military Co-operation group, which is led by the multi-national, civilian and military Helmand Provincial Reconstruction Team.
Capt Davies, who plays rugby for Darlington Mowden Park Sharks, has career ambitions to work for the UN or an international non-government organisation doing postconflict reconstruction.
During her time in Afghanistan, she was based for three weeks at Nad-e-Ali, an area just regained from Taliban control, following heavy fighting during Operation Sond Chara.
“Operation Sond Chara was all about extending the security into new areas – therefore, the local people were not used to the presence of British Force,” she said.
“Understanding and appreciating their culture was very important to them.”
The brigade also helped with governance by supporting the work of a local elder in showing them how to organise the community in building two wells. During that period of service in the former Taliban stronghold, Capt Davies came under fire.
“It sounds strange to say, but it really has been part of the experience. At the time, it is just the training that takes over, you don’t feel scared, you just grab your body armour, helmet, take cover and react how we are supposed to. When you look back, it is terrifying, but hugely exciting,” she said.
“I would have been gutted not to have had this experience.”
Now her assistance to Operation Sond Chara is complete, she is now based in the 3 Commando Brigade HQ, in Lashkar Gah, where she will be out on patrols in outlying areas, gathering information on the progress of reconstruction and development.
She said she had enjoyed her experience on the front line.“It felt as if we were really doing something useful,”
she said. “We dealt with the local people on a daily basis, dealing with their problems and explaining who we were and what we are trying to do.
I saw it as being an ambassador for British Forces, helping to solve their problems and give them answers.”
*Pictured with her is Warrant Officer 2 Colin Butler and Afghan villagersSee the article on the Northern Echo Website