Limited home comforts for East Anglian soldiers in Afghanistan
Soldiers enjoy varying degrees of home comfort in the army’s bases in Helmand – often depending on how far forward they are stationed.
At the sprawling desert city of Camp Bastion, the first port of call for most British forces, the luxuries extend to supermarkets, themed restaurants and social events.
But even at Forward Operating Bases (FOBs) you can still find TVs, internet terminals, running water, hot showers and, if you are lucky, air-conditioned tents.
Personal mobile phones are strictly forbidden in operational areas, but communications are available through text-phone services, the traditional “bluey” military mail system and the issue of phone cards which allow 30 minutes per week to talk to friends and family at home.
But at the more remote Patrol Bases (PBs) and checkpoints (CPs), life can invariably become less indulgent.
At Kalang, with no running water, the accepted shower method was to leave six litre bottles of water out in the sun, grab a corrugated iron cubicle, and then tip the warm water over your head.
Hot meals were cooked most days by army chefs, although there were also ration days where troops had to rely on pre-packed, high-energy foods from foil packets.
At the 1st Battalion, The Royal Anglian Regiment’s headquarters at FOB Shawqat, members of B Company’s Quick Reaction Force (QRF) said they found plenty of ways to keep busy between call-outs.
The QRF is in a constant state of readiness, with body armour and weapons laid out like a 1940s RAF squadron waiting to be scrambled – or, to use the QRF’s own term, “crashed”. They can be called out for anything from a vehicle breakdown to an emergency troop movement.
In the meantime, they spend their time doing guard shifts at the Ops Room, maintaining their Mastiff vehicles and cleaning their weapons.
Cpl Dave Cadman, 27, from Ipswich, said: “Every couple of days, we have got to have dust-down to keep them clean. It is not like previous tours where we are shooting every day.
“We do lessons as well, to keep everyone current. We get mid-tour and it has been quite quiet, so complacency can set in. We need to keep the boys on their feet – first aid, confirmation drills for IEDs, ground sign awareness, things like that.”
Pte Frazer Locke, 24, a former Sprowston High School student from Norwich said: “Some people just sleep, some have their own hard drive, and read books or listen to music. Some people even sunbathe. We go on the internet or call home. You are supposed to get 30 minutes a week, and you get about one hour on the internet.”