Colour Sergeant Michael Saunders, aged 35, deployed to Afghanistan with 2nd Battalion The Mercian Regiment (2 MERCIAN) in March 2009. He has been sending letters to his local pub in Worcester, where his sister Tracy works. These have been posted on the pubs walls and have gained much interest from local customers. His first two letters can be read here. This is his third letter home. Note that future letters will also be published at this blog.
Greetings friends and readers.
If you are reading this, hopefully you will have read the first two installments of my regular blog. In the first two episodes I introduced myself and briefly covered the events that lead to the British Army's involvement in Afghanistan.
I must point out at this stage that any views expressed in these articles are my own opinions and ideas and therefore do not in any way represent Army policy.
In the next few installments I will attempt to relay a little information about the country and peoples of this land. To do this it is probably easier to take you back to my first experiences of Afghanistan in March 2007.
Mid March was the date set for me to fly to Afghanistan as a very small cog in the machine that was 12th Mechanised Brigade, who at that time was to be the new Brigade of troops deployed to Helmand province, Afghanistan. The previous Brigade including the Royal Marines Commando units had experienced a bitter winter of fighting with a tough well motivated enemy. The predicted winter of low conflict failed to materialise and the Brigade did well to consolidate its dominant position over the Taliban forces.
At the time my Battalion was still known as the 1st Battalion The Worcestershire & Sherwood Foresters Regiment and as a Battalion we were eager to get into Operations despite being drafted a little later than the rest of the Brigade's troops. The imminence of deployment served well to sharpen minds and focus the attention on those things critical to the forthcoming tour.
Eventually fully equipped and trained, I reported to RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire with several hundred other troops who were all pink faced and with more than a few pre-operation nerves evident. After several hours, searches of equipment and briefs, we all boarded the RAF aircraft ready to depart all that we held dear, for six months in the most notorious area that British soldiers currently serve.
The flight itself could be described as a little strange, most were content to sit and dwell on their thoughts whilst others whiled away the time playing computer games or laughing a little nervously at jokes.
Prior to the landing at Kandahar airbase we were informed that we would have to put on our ballistic body armour and combat helmets as attacks and emergency landings were a real and very present threat. In addition, due to it being a night landing all lights were extinguished and so we sat quiet to a man, waiting in anticipation to land.
I remember thinking back how much like being reborn this was, all of us had left something of comfort and familiarity behind as to those who had not traveled this way before we were all to be changed by it.
As we touched down and were eventually allowed to depart the aircraft I was struck by the heat, the noise and the air of urgency that people went around their work with. As the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, I took my first on this very alien soil, from which I prayed as everyone did that myself and my colleagues would return safely.
Journeys are all about arrivals and ours was given to a session of short sharp briefs and orders. We were instructed what to do if attacked, what to do if separated and more importantly to us at this time, where we were to get a few hours of much needed sleep prior to being flown "Up Country".
An hour and a shower later we were all crowded into a very large tent filled with bunk beds and were informed of our next appointed timings dependent on where we were destined to go. For most of us this was an early morning flight to Camp Bastion at the heart of the Helmand province.
Few will have slept very well that night as tiredness and anticipation fought for control over our minds, as the next day we were destined for a fast ride to the heart of darkness and the culmination of our training to date.
Please feel free to join me in my next blog where I will continue to relate my experiences of this country so far.
Until then as always, take care and be safe.