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Soldiers from 12 Mechanized Brigade perform a simulated casualty evacuation at Copehill Down, a Ministry of Defence training area in Wiltshire. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Friday March 9, 2012. Defence Secretary Philip Hammond met soldiers from 12 Mechanized Brigade who are shortly to deploy to Afghanistan for Operation Herrick 16. See PA story DEFENCE Afghnistan Salisbury. Photo credit should read: Chris Ison/PA Wire
By CHRIS HILL, Rural affairs correspondent
Friday, March 9, 2012
Soldiers from three regiments with links to East Anglia joined forces on the army’s Salisbury Plain battle area today ahead of their forthcoming combined mission in Afghanistan.
The vast Wiltshire training ground was used to showcase the members of 12 Mechanised Brigade who are due to travel to deploy in the coming weeks.
They included representatives from the 1st Battalion, The Royal Anglian Regiment, which recruits from Norfolk, Suffolk, Cambridgeshire and Essex, and will be sending about 600 troops to Helmand province by early April.
They will be joined by about 320 from the Light Dragoons, based in Swanton Morley near Dereham, and more than 200 from The 1st Royal Tank Regiment (1RTR), based at RAF Honington, near Thetford.
All three units used today’s event to display the techniques and technologies which will help safeguard them in their mission to aid the transition of the war-torn nation back to the control of the Afghan security forces.
But it was also a final chance to talk about their anticipation of reprising their regiments’ crucial roles in the evolving conflict.
Capt Tom Clark, the Royal Anglians’ regimental signals officer, said: “Today is all about showing the roles of the different regiments. For us, the main one will be ‘framework patrolling’.
“We are moving towards transition, where the Afghan police can take the lead in securing the ground. We will be supporting the teams that specifically advise the Afghan uniformed police and the local police.
“I am quite excited about it. It is an opportunity for us to wrap up our story in Afghanistan. We were one of the first battalions out there in 2002, then in 2007 we were basically war-fighting and in 2009/10 we were partnering the Afghans. Now it is coming full circle.”
Capt Clark said he had taken the opportunity to propose to his girlfriend last week before his deployment.
“I ambushed Kate the night before February 29, to stop her having the ability to do so herself,” he said. “It was just the right time. It is more about giving her something to look forward to in addition to my return, and something to plan and keep her busy while I’m away.”
Infantry soldiers from the Vikings displayed a mocked-up sniper nest, using a new “sharpshooter” rifle.
Cpl Ben Brewer, 29, of the Light Dragoons, said his regiment’s focus would be on intelligence and reconnaissance.
He said: “It is our job to find the enemy and be prepared to strike. We will find our own intelligence and if we find the enemy we are prepared to go in and act on it, whether that means going in on foot or on a helicopter if we find an IED factory or something like that.
“I have done two tours previously in Afghanistan, and it is definitely getting better. I was out there on Herrick 10 (in 2009) when we had a lot of casualties. With the kit we have got now and the support of the people at home things have improved a lot.”
Capt Ben Simmons, 27, from Cambridge, is with 1RTR, whose two squadrons will handle roles including infantry movements in Mastiff armoured vehicles, and Reception Staging and Onward Integration training, giving up-to-the-minute knowledge for all troops arriving at Camp Bastion.
He said: “We are trying to put across the message that we are no longer fighting a war – we are enabling the Afghans to help themselves so we can step back.
“I was there a year ago, and it has improved a huge amount. Second time around, I’m a lot more calm about it, now I know what is expected and what I will be doing.”
During the event, defence secretary Philip Hammond also met troops from the 3rd Battalion, the Yorkshire Regiment – the same regiment as five of the six men who died in a roadside bomb blast in Afghanistan earlier this week.