Picture Gallery: Royal Anglians back on the front-line in Afghanistan
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Soldiers who have left their East Anglian homeland behind for the heat of Afghanistan are making progress in their mission to help re-build the battle-scarred nation.
The 1st Battalion, The Royal Anglian Regiment deployed in March and has taken charge of security in the Nad-e Ali district of Helmand Province, where the troops will be holding the line until October.
It is the Vikings’ fourth mission in Afghanistan since 2002, but soldiers said they had seen improvements with each hard-fought campaign.
A key feature of their current mission will be the transfer of security responsibility to the Afghan army and police force, in line with the British government’s strategy of stepping back from combat roles in 2014.
L/Cpl Thomas Swarbrick, 22, is on his second operational tour. The former Framingham Earl High School student, who is from Attleborough, said: “Transition is going well, the last tour the locals seemed more suspicious of the British but now everyone is friendly. Kids come and hold our hands when we are on patrol.”
L/Cpl Swarbrick sent his love to his girlfriend Ellen in Wymondham and his parents, who live in Rockland St Mary. He is stationed in a Patrol Base called Kalang, where the facilities are basic but includes home comforts like running showers, hot food, and a small gym. “As long as we can have a laugh with each other, the time flies by,” he said. “The weather is hot but its all part of the job for a Viking.”
L/Cpl Swarbrick is a member of 3 Platoon, A (Norfolk) Company. He said on arrival at the main base at Camp Bastion, some of his American colleagues said they were jealous of the improved body armour which is issued to British soldiers.
“The training and kit mean we all feel confident when we get out on the ground to do our job; we look after our mates and aim to help the people of Afghanistan,” he said.
Former Dereham Neatherd High School pupil Private Reece Mulley, 20, serves in 6 Platoon of B (Suffolk) Company, which he described as a “close-knit family”.
Every day Pte Mulley goes out on patrol with the Afghan National Police (ANP) and the Afghan National Army (ANA). When asked about the cultural differences between Helmand and his home town of Dereham, he said: “It’s great being able to meet the locals, try some of the food and get to know the area we will be working in for the next six months.”
Pte Mulley’s girlfriend Lisa also lives in Dereham and regularly sends him parcels and letters to keep his morale high. The soldier said he was looking forward to seeing her on his return, then “heading to the George Hotel for a nice cold lager with the boys”.
A series of home-coming parades will also be planned across East Anglia to thank the public for their support of the regiment. “I can’t wait to proudly walk down the streets of England, I am proud of my regiment and what we are doing out here,” said Pte Mulley.
L/Cpl Robert Andrews, from Cromer, is based in a Forward Operating Base (FOB) known as Shazhad, along with many of his comrades from A (Norfolk) Company. Although living conditions are difficult, soldiers are in regular communication with friends and family, and there is a home-made gym, solar showers and an area for them to relax and watch TV when not on duty.
The company has been training hard during the last year for this deployment, including exercises in Kenya and in Norfolk at the Stanta battleground bear Thetford.
“It’s been a long time coming, but now I’m finally here I’m glad we can concentrate on bringing security to this area of Afghanistan,” said L/Cpl Andrews.
L/Cpl Sam Cox from King’s Lynn, a former Springwood High School student, said: “Although I definitely realise the importance of training hard, nothing can beat actually being out here, doing the job we’ve all been practising for. This is my second tour of Afghanistan, and although I’m in a different area, I am certainly seeing positive changes.”
Pte Jordan Dyer, also from King’s Lynn, said: “This is my first tour of Afghanistan, and I’ve been waiting for a while for it to come around. The lead-up to it has been tough, but worth it, since we now feel ready as a company to face the challenges that lie ahead.”
L/Cpl Andrew Olby, from Fakenham, joined the army five years ago after leaving Sheringham High School.
“Like many others in the company, this is my second tour of Afghanistan,” he said. “I’m pleased to be back here making our own small, but significant difference to its security.”
Pte Toby Lawrence, a former student of Old Buckenham High School, said: “The challenges that training for Afghanistan have brought really help you put life in perspective, it’s an important thing we’re doing here, and the support from back home has been amazing.”
Pte Connor Williams, a former student of Wayland High School in Watton, said: “I’ve been waiting for what has seemed ages to go on tour to Afghanistan, the idea of making a small difference to people’s security is something that is too profound to miss out on.”