16 Air Assault Brigade Training for Afghanistan
While the prospect of serving in 16 Air Assault Brigade did not exactly drive me to drink, it certainly had me in the car with the engine running.
Firstly, I am a member of the Army Air Corps, or, as I was to quickly learn, a ‘soft-palmed fly-boy.’ Secondly, I was to serve as a staff officer in the HQ, variously described as a demanding environment requiring planning skills of the highest order, or a PONTI (person of no tactical importance) shuffling paper in an ivory tower.
I arrived a year before the Brigade’s deployment on Op HERRICK 13, as training shifted from Hybrid Foundation Training (general warfare) to Mission Specific Training (Afghanistan). HQ’s involvement in HFT at this time largely consisted of running the Battalions through Ex GRAND PRIX in Kenya. I was particularly keen to lend my weight to this noble effort, remembering the cold beer and warm welcome from Big Grace in the Riverside Club. To my horror the Riverside was now out of bounds. The only opportunity for fraternising with the locals was when I shook a camel spider out of my boot.
Back home, MST swung into gear. My range work was particularly impressive. After gliding through the new annual weapons test at the fifth attempt I had a go at grenade practice. I have thrown medicine balls further. Left handed. Before long I was deemed safe to resume my post as a staff officer – not quite the ringing endorsement I hoped for.
Meanwhile the units conducted Combined Arms Live Firing Exercises, busily destroying large chunks of Otterburn Training Area and selected parts of Wales; neither of which I ever get too upset about.
Units spent a week on Salisbury Plain with the new vehicles and specialist kit they will see in theatre. New skills had to be learned. Vallon training, for example, is the critical capability of using a hand-held detector to find the buried metal making up explosive devices in the ground and compound walls of Helmand. It took a while for the techniques to be mastered, but once QM 5 SCOTS had dropped his wallet the Jocks refused to knock off until they had perfected the drills.
The HQ was also gearing up for deployment. The arrival of the new Multi-Terrain Pattern uniform sparked widespread interest. By the time we had all been issued our new kit, it looked as though we had been smeared in superglue and rolled through the QMs. We were ready.