Greetings friends and readers at the Marwood, Worcester!
When last we spoke I was just preparing for the final move of my initial deployment to Afghanistan. I remember vividly thinking as I awaited in the helicopter departure area exactly why it was that I was there, not the Army nor the Battalion, but what had brought me to this point where myself and other clear thinking individuals would soon by choice of career be in harm's way.
Having studied the history of the many traumas of Afghanistan, and the many times that as a country it had resisted outside influence in its complex tribal existence, I was caused to reflect that perhaps we were destined to be another force who even through noble intentions, would ultimately fail to secure a lasting peace either by military or political means.
In light of this I recalled reading the words of AC Swinburne who quiet rightly stated that "Not with dreams but with blood and Iron shall a Nation be moulded at last" and I was under no illusions that this was nothing short of what the International forces intended to do here, and that it would take the blood of those whom I knew to move towards achieving this mission.
Like most people there are moments and incidents that define our lives and we carry them with us like vivid photographs that last as long as our memory. I can recall at will the smell and the heat mixed with the anticipation of the unknown as I forced myself with my heavy equipment on to the Chinook helicopter for my flight to Gereshk.
Amongst our number were those from units at the end of their tour of six months and at that time they seemed to me as different as night is to day from those of us who had just arrived and were being ferried forward. You could detect from their movements and assured facial expressions that they had been through the tests of Operations and somehow they were changed by it. To some of these soldiers fighting a determined and fanatical enemy had been a daily reality, and they would forever have a shadow of those experiences with them.
On board the Chinook we sit in lines facing each other with our rifles facing downward to prevent any chance of a stray round striking the aircraft engines. Some pretended to sleep in an attempt to appear nonchalant while others exchanged jokes or check and rechecked equipment, despite knowing it was as good as it was ever going to be.
As if to re-enforce the gravity of the security situation we are escorted by Apache gunships that buss around us not unlike birds of prey looking for a suitable quarry to swoop upon. A journey of minutes allowed for little reflection as we are rocked by the aggressive movements of the helicopter, necessary to avoid giving any insurgents an easy target.
Eventually we turn tight spirals as we rapidly lose altitude and commence our landing in to Gereshk. There is no deplaning brief or time to exit the aircraft with finesse, we are all aware that the helicopter is at its most vulnerable when on the ground, so we are forcefully ejected with our equipment and must find cover immediately as the Chinook begins to lift as the last foot disembarks.
Now on the ground we are greeted by the outgoing unit who quite rightly are extremely glad to see us. However they are sensitive enough to subdue their elation at our arrival. Finally we have arrived at the place from which we will mount operations for the next six months.
Gereshk is a fairly large town situated on the main arterial route in the Helmand province dubbed the A1 by the ISAF forces. Situated fairly close to the Provincial capital of Afghanistan Gereshk has long been a focus of Taliban control and influence and its critical bridge crossings of the Helmand rivers considered key ground to any force friend or foe.
The forward operating base is situated a few miles from the centre of Gereshk town but with rapid access to the A1.Set on level ground with panoramic views of the surrounding desert, FOB Price is a direct extension of ISAF's military's reach into terrain key to the success of the wider mission of bringing peace to the Afghan people.
This base would be my home certainly for the first few months of the tour, before I am deployed further forward into the unknown to finally face my own challenge of living in enemy held territory.
Join me next week when I will attempt to give some indication of routine life in the Helmand province and my first impressions of the people of this country.
Until then as always be safe and try to spare a thought for your soldiers working on your behalf in Afghanistan.