Tuesday, May 26, 2009

TA officer helps train 1,000 Afghan soldiers

A Territorial Army officer who has been involved with training 1,000 Afghan soldiers is enjoying his work so much that he has twice volunteered to stay on in Afghanistan.

Major Nick Clarke, aged 48, has been in Helmand province since November 2008.

He took on the job after first working with 1st Battalion The Royal Irish Regiment based at Tern Hill, Shropshire, last summer, looking after the administration back home while the regiment was in Afghanistan training the Afghans.

He enjoyed his time so much he volunteered to be mobilised to Afghanistan working alongside 1st Battalion The Rifles in November who were taking over the training role of the Afghans.

Then, despite being due to finish in March 2009, he volunteered to stay on for another two months to work alongside his local regiment 2nd Battalion The Mercian Regiment (Worcesters and Foresters) [2 MERCIAN] to provide continuity for the Afghan soldiers.

And on Friday, 22 May 2009, he was told his application to stay out until the end of August had been agreed.

Major Clarke said:

"It was important for the continuity of the training of the ANA [Afghan National Army]. It's just that little bit detached if I leave now.

"I've been involved with training soldiers in the UK and this is a real change because not only have you got a different language but illiterate people as well. But the job satisfaction you gain, where you've taught one of them to write and realised that the penny has dropped with them, that's basically why I'm staying."

Major Clarke, who used to be area manager for Lada cars until the mid-1990s, is married to Teresa, and they have a daughter, Becky. He said:

"My wife was expecting it and it was the plan in March that if I could stay out then I would, just to see the job through."

In Helmand Major Clarke is working as part of the Operational Mentoring and Liaison Team which has been established to train the Afghan National Army at Camp Shorabak, next to the main UK base in Helmand, Camp Bastion.

So far more than 78,000 Afghan National Army soldiers have been trained across Afghanistan and in the months Major Clarke has been in Afghanistan he has helped train 1,000 of those soldiers.

When he arrived in Helmand he was given the task of planning, and putting into force, a new training initiative; a task he took to with relish:

"It is difficult enough to form a training centre from scratch," said Lieutenant Colonel Simon Banton, Commanding Officer of 2 MERCIAN, "but try doing this in a foreign country with low literacy rate soldiers who speak in one of three languages within a different culture and you can imagine the enormity of the task."

Major Clarke instigated a number of new aspects to the training programme. He said:

"The new initiative involves training the Afghans on counter-improvised explosive device measures, M16 firing, battlefield first aid and radio operation together with a plan to begin Officer and Non-Commissioned Officer training in the near future.

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