Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Worcestershire's Mercians on the front line in Afghanistan

Small, austere bases in the heart of Taliban territory have become home to dozens of Worcestershire soldiers as they continue to fight Afghanistan’s enemy.

Mud huts surrounded by make-shift reinforced walls are what our boys call home for six months.

They cook up ration packs on small stoves and try to make the forward operating base as homely as possible.

From these bases soldiers from the 2nd Battalion Mercian Regiment (Worcesters and Foresters) carry out daily foot patrols of the area and defend their perimeter walls from Taliban attack.

They never know where the elusive enemy will be or what traps have been laid overnight.

Twenty-five-year-old Captain James Mackenzie, of Claines, Worcester, described the living conditions at Camp Argyll which is home to a handful of Mercians and Afghan National Army soldiers.

“We are living in an old school, in a classroom,” said the former Bishop Perowne High School and Worcester Sixth Form student.

“Bed space is cramped, you have one hanging shelf if you have brought it with you.

“We eat rations day in day out. Occasionally we get fresh food sent down. That and the welfare packages are the only break from rations we get.

“We have put posters and pictures up and we have made our own barbecue out of an oil drum.”

A generator provides enough electricity to power their radios and equipment and sometimes a television.

Our boys shower out of jerry cans and solar showers and shave in buckets of cold water. Temperatures in Afghanistan’s Helmand province are pushing into the 40s and will continue to rise over the coming months.

In this heat soldiers must wear heavy Osprey body armour and packs weighing up to 20kg.

The desert winds whip up a fine, powdery dust, which covers the Mercians and all their kit.

Mail drops full of letters and parcels from friends and family back home are one of the only things to break the daily ordeal for these men and women on the front line.

Once a month the soldiers will get supplies dropped into them by the logistics corps. This will include everything from bottled water and rations to ammunition, equipment and mail.

Every now and again the Mercians will pass through Camp Tombstone, a small base close to Camp Bastion.

This is the regiment’s nerve centre and a quiet oasis in the middle of the desert. Here they can get a hot shower, eat in the cookhouse and even sunbathe around the camp pool.

Eventually though, they return, either by helicopter or vehicle convoy, to the austere camps where they continue to fight the Taliban day in day out.

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