Friday, May 22, 2009

Afghanistan Countdown - Training for duty

SCARBOROUGH soldiers are preparing for a six-month deployment in Afghanistan's Helmand province, just 18 months after they were last there training members of the Afghan National Army (ANA).
The 2nd Battalion The Yorkshire Regiment (Green Howards) have just completed a two-week training exercise – Wessex Warrior – on Salisbury Plain to prepare for the task.

Evening News reporter IAN DUNCAN travelled to Wiltshire to observe the
preparations and talk to the troops about how they felt about returning to the warzone.

IT MAY sound like a plot from a science fiction movie, but Scarborough soldiers have been using laser weapons as part of their training in the lead up to a six-month tour of duty in Afghanistan.

The Tactical Effects Simulation (TES) equipment, attached to the improved standard issue SA80 rifles – as well as machine guns used by the troops – is designed to give the soldiers a realistic idea of the extent of casualties in a battlefield situation.

Troops from 2nd Battalion The Yorkshire Regiment (Green Howards) spent two weeks training on Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire – and Exercise Wessex Warrior concluded with a gruelling six-hour battle to capture the town of Copehill Down.

Lt Col David Colthup, the battalion's new commanding officer who took over in December, said the exercise had gone well and followed lower level training in Otterburn, Northumberland, in March.

"Of course there's not so much you can replicate on Salisbury Plain," he said. "It's not based around Afghanistan exactly – we aren't using Afghan names."

In the exercise the setting was the imaginary country Kakun and the enemy was the APK, not the Taliban, but the situations were very similar to those expected after 2 Yorks are deployed to Helmand Province in September as part of Operation Herrick 11.

The weapons still fired blank rounds to deafening effect during the exercise, with soldiers wearing jackets covered with laser sensors to detect the invisible beams.

Lce Cpl Darryl "Lammy" Lamb, 24, from the town centre area of Scarborough, says the training has been good and using the laser equipment had been useful. He said: "Up until we came here it wasn't really benefiting us but since we've been here it's more Herrick orientated.

"The laser equipment just starts beeping and tells you of all sorts of injuries. I've been hit a few times. It just beeps and it does your head in."

During the exercise soldiers from the Polish Army took the role of the Afghan National Army (ANA), with the language barrier proving difficult, according to 20-year-old Private Tom Pashby who is also from Scarborough.

He said: "They are keen. With the ANA I'll know certain phrases but with the Poles it's a lot harder. You know what things to say and what signals to use. It's body language as well. This is just brushing up on your skills."

Private Pashby said using the equipment was similar to the game of Laserquest or paintball. "You have to act like it's real and you have to go through the procedures," he said.

Capt Andy Bell, who is originally from Reading and the commander of B company, said the TES system added realism because officers had to take into consideration the evacuation of casualties.

Cpl Andrew Jackson, 33, from Windsor Crescent in Bridlington, said the laser kit was a lot better than the older equipment they used to use. He said: "The older stuff used to just go off."

He added that it also warned of near misses. He said: "We've had close calls from indirect fire, rockets and mortars. It depends how close you are to the impact point and it also gives you an idea of casualties."

Lce Cpl Onur Caglar, 24, from the South Cliff area of Scarborough, said it had been a tough exercise. He said: "It's pushing us to our limits seeing how we can work under pressure.

"They need to know how well we can work under pressure."

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