Royal Welsh soldiers see progress in Basra

First published 12th Nov 2007 on Ministry of Defence website.

As Armed Forces personnel around the world were preparing to remember their fallen comrades on Remembrance Sunday, soldiers from the 2nd Battalion Royal Welsh were out on patrol in Basra Province looking for ways to help local people prepare for the winter.

C Company deployed to the Al Qurna district in the north of Basra Province, visiting projects set up by the British Army in neighbouring villages. The convoy carried a JCB digger, which was used to dig irrigation ditches for date palm plantations in one village and excavate land for a new school in a neighbouring settlement.

Major Richard Crow, who oversees the projects on behalf of the Multi-National Division (South East), explained the importance of such visits:

“We’ve come to the village and, following advice from the last time, we’ve brought a light-wheeled tractor. We’ve been digging some irrigation ditches so they can grow some cash crops and crops for feeding themselves.

“The reaction has been very positive, we’ve been welcomed in and seen lots of smiling faces. We’ve been able to discuss with the leaders what we can do to help them.”

The 2 Royal Welsh soldiers endured a difficult first few months of their tour in Iraq. Having the opportunity to meet ordinary Iraqis and see the difference they have made to their living conditions and prospects gave the soldiers a considerable boost in morale as they near the end of their operational tour.

Private Read, from C Company, who was mobilised from the Territorial Army to join the Royal Welsh on tour, said:

“This operation has been really good. I’ve been here before on other tours and it’s very different now; we can actually talk to the locals, where we couldn’t before. We actually feel as if we’re achieving something so it feels brilliant. We’ve really moved on.”

2 Royal Welsh returned to their base in time for their Remembrance Sunday memorial service. They were planning to remember, in particular, the three friends and colleagues they have lost during this operational tour. Having now seen the positive result their efforts have had on the ground, many of the men from 2 Royal Welsh will go home feeling the last six months’ sacrifices may not have been in vain.

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Iraqi soldiers beat Brits in New Year’s football match

First published on 3rd Jan 2008 on Ministry of Defence website.

Iraqi Soldiers have beaten their British military trainers and mentors from 1st Battalion the Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment in a friendly five-a-side football competition held to celebrate New Year’s Eve.

The British soldiers from 1st Battalion the Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment are attached to the 1 SCOTS Battle Group and members of 14 Division of the Iraqi Army. They have been training and monitoring their Iraqi counterparts in military fieldcraft, weapon handling and patrolling skills.

But during the football match, held on 31 December 2007 at the Contingency Operating Base in Basra, the Iraqi soldiers taught the Brits a few lessons of their own despite the British lads being determined to make up for their last meeting when they were trounced by 22 goals to 3.

The soldiers from 1 Lancs put together five teams against three from the Iraqi soldiers and after several good natured but hard fought games, the tournament was finally won, after a penalty shoot out, by the Iraqis who promptly celebrated with their flag.

Major Hamish Cormack from 1 Lancs said:

“Today we’re playing football against one of the Iraqi Army units that we’re responsible for mentoring, monitoring and training. We’ve played them in the past when we’ve been out down at their barracks and that was part of the fun side of our job down there.

“So we decided that we would invite them back here to celebrate New Year’s Eve and have a rematch, and give ourselves a chance to recover some glory after they stuffed us. I think it was 22 – 3 in the last game.”

The fun of the football match also gave the Iraqi and British commanders the chance in a relaxed environment to reinforce links and discuss future plans:

Major Cormack added:

“Anything that gets us to build a closer relationship with the Iraqis that we work with is a good thing. Football is one of those great levellers and it really managed to break down a lot of the barriers.

“For example, today we’ve got the Brigade Commander who’s come down from the City, we’ve got the commanding officer with the battalion here, so it gives us an opportunity in a very relaxed environment to talk about where we’re going next with supporting them and how we can be of more assistance.”

Lieutenant Colonel Saeed from the Iraqi Army said:

“The British forces have trained my Battalion. We have learned so much from the training in military skills. My relationship with the British Officers has been very good, and the instructors have been great with the soldiers.”

“Today we came here to play football with the British Army but we also wanted to say Happy New Year.”

An Afghan country garden: life on a Helmand base

First published on Sky News on 30th May 2010.

Bright pink magnolias, deep red roses, lush green grass, pergolas that Charlie Dimmock would be proud of and even the odd water feature.

No, this is not a lovingly manicured English country garden, this is thousands of miles away in one of the most dangerous places in the world – Sangin, Helmand Province in Afghanistan.

In 50C heat, British troops are doing their laundry in basins by the river during a few precious moments of “personal admin” time on the Forward Operating Base.

Others are catching up on reading, preparing for their next patrol or having a blissfully refreshing dip in the Sangin river.

But for their Afghan National Army counterparts, it seems nothing beats a spot of gardening.

Just a few metres away from rows of armoured vehicles and pockmarked buildings stuffed with sandbags, the Afghan soldiers have created an incongruous oasis that stands out from its hard, dry, dusty, beige surroundings.

They are meticulous about watering their flower beds and lawns and coaxing creepers over gateways and walls.

And it seems civilian Afghans are no less green-fingered.

Roads and tracks through Sangin are bordered by large allotments of intricately irrigated land.

One soldier told me as we patrolled past an embryonic orchard that they are also streets ahead of us at genetically combining different fruit trees.

So it seems the English may have competition in the gardening stakes… and an unexpected hobby in common with the Afghan people.