A Year With 2 PARA
‘INCOMING!’ Already, I can hear that chilling warble of the IDF alarm cutting through the hot, milky air in Kandahar. I’ve just come off a 24 hour shift as the station Battle Captain, in the symbolic Taliban Last Stand building and the Joint Defence Operations Centre. We had spent the day rehearsing against ground attack with the entire staff, after Bagram had been hit. My day in the chair had been relatively uneventful, but for the find of a large poisonous snake in an FP tower.
I’m straight out of my room and see my friend Sgt Taff Wright on the ground, wrestling into his Osprey body armour. Taff is also a RAF Regiment Reservist from 2620 Sqn RAuxAF Regt at RAF Marham and is the best ICP commander we had. He’s a heavily tattooed, no-nonsense, former 10 PARA man, and a more capable SNCO I couldn’t have wished for. Frequently we found RAF Reservists in almost every major command position in the JDOC; from my own position as the Battle Captain, down to Watch-keepers and ICP Commanders.
I still hear the alarm. Another two loud bangs. I can already smell the explosive. Ambulances and ICPs are whizzing around now. But this still feels different. ‘This is outside their MO – three in quick time’ Taff says to me. I’m already out the door: ‘Lets get moving, I have a bad feeling about this’.
That night we were involved in the first ground attack against Kandahar. International colleagues and 3 RAF FP Wg all meshed perfectly and the feeling of teamwork and achievement was intoxicating. The only thing taking the veneer off the moment was a severely sprained ankle, incurred while helping casualties, and the fact I had now not slept for three days.
I’m the first ever RAF officer to serve on the top corridor of 2 PARA, and surely the first RAuxAF member. Getting here wasn’t easy, but it was worth the fight. Despite the 0430 starts, hard P Coy training, massive workload and endless drive, I’lI get up every day feeling proud and motivated.
I’m made to feel welcome and part of the team. I feel at ease when the former RSM, now RCMO, comes into my office and chats to me like an old mate. The Rear Ops team form the vital regimental spinal cord of admin, logistic, training and operational expertise. Driving into the Airborne Brigade as a 2 PARA officer never gets old. The people here are big, confident characters and it feels good to be amongst them. From being wet through on a long tab, to taking the Coy out for phys, It feels right – even if they do ask me if I work for Securicor when they see me in No.1 dress uniform.
It’s now late January. Kandahar is a distant memory, as I stand on a windswept RAF Odiham in front of a host of Chinooks. 80 very junior looking soldiers stand before me as I brief them. FS Dan Baxter, my colleague from 27 Sqn RAF, is getting ready to brief stage one. 16 Air Assault Brigade is represented, as are the Irish Guards, RTR and 5 SCOTS. As part of my remit, and, as a RAF Officer in a Land environment, I have brought the entire 16X BCR cohort to the home of the Chinook. Little do the lads know that their coaches have already left Odiham and the stage one briefing they are receiving is genuine preparation for an Airborne ops rehearsal.
The support we had from RAF Odiham was outstanding. Most importantly the men have heard the ground truth from the aircrew. Dan Baxter, a Flight Sergeant Loadmaster, with 13 years of experience, said: ‘A lot of these guys have never done this before so it is important they know what to expect. It is beneficial for them to know how we do it here before they go to Afghanistan, although we certainly do things differently there.’
The younger lads listen intently and look confident when they are given the impressive armament, DAS and capability brief. If nothing else they will know when they hear ‘wokka, wokka, wokka’, it’s cause for morale. I ask a few of them what they think: Gnr Scott Maroti, 22, is with 7 (Para) RHA. He said: ‘Learning skills here is pretty important so you know what to expect when out on ops.’ Pte Paul McKenzie, 22, is with 2 PARA. His trip in the Chinook on the training day was his first experience of being a helicopter passenger. He’ll remember the feeling when it happens for real and will operate better for it. He said: ‘Training is hard and it was difficult to adapt for a couple of months, but now I’m enjoying it. I’m looking forward to the ride’.
Whoever said this job was simply going to be a Rear J1 ‘swan’ was so very wrong. The truth is that Rear Ops at 16 Air Assault Brigade and 2 PARA is so much more.
Written By: Flt Lt RM Pitt 2IC Rear Ops Coy 2 PARA