After Afghanistan: getting back to “normal”….

Royal Navy Frigate HMS Sutherland Conducts Night Firings with 4.5" Gun

I was down with my old military unit today – at Poole in Dorset.  With their last Afghanistan deployment behind them, they’ve been training very hard to get everybody back to the unit’s proper role – the use of naval gunfire.

They’d just finished a very arduous training course to get their naval communicators and soldiers, back from the way they’d used artillery and forward air control (bombing)  on numerous Afghan tours, where (obviously) ships were not involved…

Generally, across the whole Army, this sort of re-training is vital. The Afghan legacy is a clearly identified  “FOB mentality” in which people continue to work as if there’s always a forward operating base nearby. They might for example not carry extra radio batteries, relying on being back into the FOB soon enough for this not to be necessary.

It’s surprising how quickly people graduate from the being rookies to “old and bold”, who suck their teeth and say “this is not how we did it in Afghan”…  There’s going to be a lot of ‘re-education’ as well as training,  as the Army gets back it’s ‘normal’ war-fighting roles.

For my old unit’s proper role, an SOP load is hideously heavy  – it always was, as each forward observation team is required to stay self-sufficient  operating covertly for ten days. That means food, water, ammunition – and most important of all, radio batteries (plus hand-cranked chargers called –  as you’d expect “hand wankers”).

In the Falklands War, as now, it was impossible to carry a full ten days’ ‘compo’ rations, so we starved, using brews with diabetic-inducing amounts of sugar, and Biscuits  – both ‘AB,’ and the ones containing raisins known as ‘Fly Cemetery’  to stave off the hunger.  Ammunition was carried in preference to tins of “Babies Heads” (miniature steak and kidney puddings).

There was now nobody left in my old unit who’d done the job for real  – thanks  over twenty years of limited operations in Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan.  Gulf War One, the Iraq invasion and Libya had given them some experience, but  Afghanistan has  totally, completely dominated everything the Army does.

So a couple of us old boys were summoned to help put into perspective all the harsh realities their recently completed course had hammered home to them.

An interesting day – with a small number of very good men. A small number is all there is – and indeed all you actually need.  Very reassuring to see that nothing has changed.

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2 Responses

  1. Andy Tattersall says:

    Great article Hugh. Brought memories of those “hideous loads” flooding back! My back was creaking in protest at the thought!
    Interesting to think how such long-honed modes of operating can be eroded so easily.
    You do realise next year marks the 40th anniversary of our joyous time at Lympstone with those esteemed and hospitable gentlemen of CTCRM?! I’m planning to participate in the 30 miler charity walk that the guys of ReGroup organise each year if you fancy joining me? I’m also hoping to visit Spean Bridge for Remembrance Sunday if you fancy that.

  2. Hugh McManners says:

    That’s a great idea Andy! Could we get Stevie Bourke and some of the others from our AA Commando Course involved?

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