UK — 16 Air Assault Brigade are ready for Helmand

Per­son­nel from 16 Air Assault Brigade will be the next to deploy to the heart of Hel­mand province and every effort has been made to ensure one of the UK’s prime rapid reac­tion forces is ready for the chal­lenge ahead. Report by Richard Long.

Troops from 1st Battalion The Royal Irish Regiment board a Chinook support helicopter during 16 Air Assault Brigade's final pre-deployment training exercise on Salisbury Plain
Troops from 1st Bat­tal­ion The Roy­al Irish Reg­i­ment board a Chi­nook sup­port heli­copter dur­ing 16 Air Assault Brigade’s final pre-deploy­ment train­ing exer­cise on Sal­is­bury Plain
Source: Sgt Adri­an Harlen RLC, Min­istry of Defence, UK
Click to enlarge

As the British Army main­tains its com­mit­ment to cre­at­ing sta­bil­i­ty across Afghanistan, oper­a­tional com­mit­ments for sol­diers on the ground come thick and fast. 

But head­ing to the area is far from a trip into the unknown for this brigade as Octo­ber 2010 marks the start of their fourth deploy­ment since 2002. 

With such vast expe­ri­ence behind them, these sol­diers have a fair idea of what to expect. But noth­ing has been left to chance with regard to their prepa­ra­tions and train­ing for Oper­a­tion HERRICK 13. 

The cycle began with four sep­a­rate exer­cis­es in Kenya and the mis­sion spe­cif­ic train­ing that fol­lowed has had an obvi­ous focus on the chal­lenge posed by Afghanistan. 

Sol­diers have been drilled in dri­ving and patrol skills and have engaged in exer­cis­es that saw them inter­act­ing with Afghan nation­als in a sim­i­lar way to how they will when they deploy. 

A strong empha­sis has also been placed on learn­ing lan­guages, with 540 troops being taught Pash­to and oth­ers tak­ing up Dari: 

“I would say it is com­ing togeth­er very well,” Brigade Com­man­der, Brigadier James Chiswell, said dur­ing the final train­ing exer­cise on Sal­is­bury Plain. 

“My sense is that we have a force which is respect­ful for the chal­lenges that lie ahead, has a pro­fes­sion­al resolve, and, at the end of the train­ing, is feel­ing con­fi­dent about what it has to do. 

“As we expect­ed, the train­ing gets bet­ter and bet­ter, the facil­i­ties are bet­ter and the under­stand­ing about how to train is improving.” 

The brigade returned from Afghanistan in Octo­ber 2008 and the time between tours has been spent wrap­ping up the final details of the pre­vi­ous deploy­ment as well as offer­ing sport, adven­tur­ous train­ing and career courses. 

With the oper­a­tional focus now return­ing, the Brigade Com­man­der has clear aims and objec­tives for the six-month tour: 

“Con­ti­nu­ity is the key thing,” he said. “We are tak­ing on the man­tle from 4th Mech­a­nized Brigade and we want to car­ry on the fan­tas­tic progress they are making. 

“We are engaged in a con­test of wills in terms of the extreme ide­ol­o­gy being pushed by the insur­gents and the more sta­ble oppor­tu­ni­ty being pushed by the Gov­ern­ment of Afghanistan. 

“The key bat­tle is in the minds of the peo­ple in the mid­dle ground, whichev­er way they go deter­mines who will prevail. 

“Pro­tect­ing the peo­ple is not an end in itself, it is about giv­ing them the con­fi­dence to sup­port the Afghan Government.” 

Brigadier Chiswell stressed the impor­tance of oper­at­ing with a col­lab­o­ra­tive mind­set in which troops will work in part­ner­ship with the Afghan Nation­al Army and Police, provin­cial recon­struc­tion teams and non-gov­ern­men­tal organ­i­sa­tions based in the country: 

“There is a pro­fes­sion­al resolve,” he said. “The secu­ri­ty sit­u­a­tion is dif­fi­cult but we do dif­fi­cult, that is why we are there. 

“There is a healthy respect for the chal­lenges that lie ahead. The guys have got a sense of con­fi­dence from the train­ing pro­vid­ed and I think there is an under­stand­ing of the impor­tance of this enterprise.” 

Great care has been tak­en to ensure that all ele­ments of the brigade receive the rel­e­vant train­ing need­ed and Sergeant Mark Blayney, from Queen Alexandra’s Roy­al Army Nurs­ing Corps, said noth­ing has been ignored ahead of the lat­est deployment: 

“We have gone through every aspect of med­ical care from advanced trau­ma to envi­ron­men­tal health issues and trop­i­cal med­i­cine cours­es,” he explained. 

Hav­ing com­plet­ed two pre­vi­ous HERRICK tours, the non-com­mis­sioned offi­cer is well aware of what to expect and, although he will be per­form­ing a new role this time around, the core aim remains the same: 

“It will be a dif­fer­ent tour but the fun­da­men­tal prin­ci­ple is the same — to give the very best med­ical care to any­one who requires it,” he said. 

“One of the main moti­vat­ing fac­tors for any young sol­dier leav­ing a for­ward oper­at­ing base and going out on the ground is the knowl­edge that that sup­port is there. 

“It is noth­ing short of an absolute priv­i­lege to be a small part of the med­ical chain. We give 100 per cent to the guys who need it and that can only be a good thing.” 

Anoth­er aspect of train­ing has seen sol­diers from Op HERRICK 11 brief­ing col­leagues about their expe­ri­ences and impart­ing words of wis­dom that could ulti­mate­ly prove vital. 

Lance Cor­po­ral ‘Wee G’ Par­sons, from the Roy­al Corps of Sig­nals, part of the Counter-IED Task Force, was on hand to offer expert advice on one of the most impor­tant jobs in Hel­mand and believes return­ing per­son­nel play a key role for those about to deploy: 

“A lot of the guys are appre­hen­sive ahead of their first tour but every­one wants to go as it is an oppor­tu­ni­ty to put the train­ing into prac­tice,” he said. 

“Before I deployed it was quite unnerv­ing but a lot of the guys who came back put my mind at ease, like I am doing now. It gave me the con­fi­dence to go and do my job in some quite ardu­ous circumstances. 

“This is one of the most valu­able parts of the train­ing process. 

“I am here to pass on my expe­ri­ence of the tour. I am try­ing to keep them all aware of the lat­est threats in the­atre and give them the heads up of what to expect when they are out there.” 

As the oper­a­tional cycle keeps turn­ing, it is clear that troops have nev­er been bet­ter pre­pared for life in Afghanistan. 

That cer­tain­ly applies to the per­son­nel of 16 Air Assault Brigade. They know what to expect and the inten­sive train­ing they have received means they are ready to meet the upcom­ing chal­lenges head on. 

This arti­cle is tak­en from the Sep­tem­ber 2010 edi­tion of SOLDIER — Mag­a­zine of the British Army. 

Press release
Min­istry of Defence, UK 

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