Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Afghan Rehearsal Extends to Front Line

A wealth of refinements to the Operational Training and Advisory Group (OPTAG) package has been paying dividends as troops limber up for demanding deployments in Afghanistan, the new Commander of the organisation has said.

In an exclusive interview with MoDOracle.com, Col Rob Thomson revealed that soldiers heading to theatre are being continually prepared – and are honing their skills in Camp Bastion just days before they head out for duty.

And before they arrive, they are receiving up-to-the-minute briefs on developments in Afghanistan, including evolving threats and changes to the mission dynamic, as well as taking part in manoeuvres in ultra-realistic environments.

“Over the last couple of years we have taken a quantum step forward in what we do,” said Thomson. “We have excellent support from the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police in training so soldiers have never been better prepared.

“Our exercise serials also now take place in some very life-like areas, where we have recreated the look of compounds and forward operating bases the soldiers are going to encounter while they are in theatre,” he added. “In particular, the STANTA training area in Norfolk is very well equipped.”

A veteran infantryman Thomson, who recently replaced Col Richard Westley as Commander OPTAG, certainly has the credentials to lead the organisation. A former CO of the 2nd Battalion, The Rifles, he commanded the NATO Operational Reserve Force in Kosovo in 2008 and last year led troops on one of most ferocious Op Herrick tours yet seen.

For Thomson, however, the learning curve in theatre over the last few years has ultimately led to an OPTAG process that has been instrumental in saving lives. And continuing the training process as troops acclimatise to active theatre conditions is now firmly embedded as part of the initiative.

“When you arrive in Afghanistan, you go through the Camp Bastion Training Centre which really gives you the full fat package before you head out,” he said. “You are given the opportunity to go through your skills and drills one more time and you’re assisted by people who have operational experience.

“This is a key part of the training we have introduced and, in a very short space of time, the centre has grown in terms of the numbers of people working there as well as facilities. Whereas it started out as a package that only lasted between two and five days, we are now running it out to nine where required.”

With the IED a proven killer of British troops, there is significant focus on awareness and detection drills, as well as lanes where troops can rehearse the disciplines. The package builds on drills already honed in training in the UK.

In addition to the growth of the training facilities at Bastion, Thomson pointed out that OPTAG was also continuing to expand in operational acumen and manpower. Those selected for service with the group need a mix of experience in theatre and the ability to impart their knowledge to others.

“We also need to be finely tuned to any changes in theatre because, if there are, we need to be able to replicate them accurately in the training world,” said Thomson. “Out in Afghanistan we are adjusting our tactics, technology and equipment all the time and it is important we maintain our agility.”

Keeping one step ahead of the enemy is certainly vital to success. With the Taliban continuing to deploy reckless tactics that target soldiers and civilians, soldiers must be equipped to fight the insurgents on their own territory.

The OPTAG package provides the means to remain flexible. By keeping incoming brigades aware of what is going on in theatre before they deploy, and finishing off training in a live environment, lives are undoubtedly being saved.

Pictures: Cpl Barry Lloyd RLC

1 comment:

  1. No amount of training will be sufficient - it will help - unfortunately alot of these kids join up not knowing the reality of life and most certainly not what they will have to endure in this country - how many of our troops came from 'passing out' to go there? Even the most experience of soldier is finding this country hard going - my comments are not ment to disrespect any of our troops in actual fact just the opposite (too good to be there) Proud Of You All - come home safe, well NOW! An angry mum of an Experience Soldier