Father and son are brothers in arms
PUBLISHED: 11:16 23 March 2011 | UPDATED: 16:41 23 March 2011
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Troops from the Royal Anglian Regiment are currently training in the fierce heat of the African bush. In his fourth special report from the Vikings' training camps in Kenya, CHRIS HILL explores the bond between the soldiers, whether forged through family ties or mutual struggles.
Much is made of the strong bond of brotherhood which develops among frontline soldiers.
But for some members of the Royal Anglian Regiment, the family feeling goes much deeper than simple camaraderie.
Because while many Vikings are missing their partners, parents and family back at home, Colour Sgt Richard “Mole” Stevens is training alongside his son, Pte Daniel Stevens, in the army’s desolate Kenyan outpost.
Both have served in Afghanistan and know what it means to fight the same cause while putting aside family fears to focus on their separate missions.
Colour Sgt Stevens, 39, was the army recruitment officer at Magdalen Street in Norwich between 2006 and 2009, and has fought in Northern Island, Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan.
Those experiences provided the inspiration for Pte Stevens to follow his father into the army. The former Sprowston High School pupil joined the Vikings at 17 – but had to wait for his next birthday before he could join his new comrades in the conflict zone.
Colour Sgt Stevens, who now lives in Elmswell, near Bury St Edmunds, worked in battalion HQ during the last tour, while his son was out on patrol with his company.
“Obviously I’m very proud of him,” he said. “This is a family regiment, so to have your son serving with you makes a lot of sense. Sometimes on operational tours I am a worried father, but I’m also a soldier who knows what’s going on out there. But you have got to put that out of your mind. It is the job he chose and it is what he wanted to do.
“People often say that because I am in the army it must be easier. But it is the complete opposite. It is not easy for any parent to have a son in the army, but for civilians there is an element of ignorance to it. They don’t get to constantly hear the chat on the radio like I do. I heard a contact report come through when one of our blokes was killed. It was not until afterwards that I realised it could have been Daniel. It is always in the back of your mind.”
Pte Stevens, 19, said: “With my Dad having been in the army since I was born, I had seen a lot of army life and I wanted to experience it for myself. I had never been abroad before I went to Afghanistan. It is a lot more exciting than here, but being a young 18-year-old it was quite nerve-wracking. But it opened my eyes.
“I knew my dad was in Battalion HQ where there was not that big a threat, and where I was at the time was one of the worst places to be.
“When I first turned up I was the daddy’s boy and every time I walked past an officer it was: ‘Ah, go and give your dad a big hug’. But it was just banter.”
Color Sgt Stevens said he did not see his son in five months in Afghanistan, until they met at Camp Bastion while preparing to return home.
“I gave him a big man-hug and his mates all went, ‘Ah, daddy’s boy’. But I just said, ‘Are you not going to hug your mum when you get back, then?’”
Colour Sgt Stevens said he hoped his son’s career would progress at least as far as his own. In the meantime, he hopes to settle their major ongoing argument – which one of them is the better shot.
“One day we will get on the range and settle this once and for all,” he said.
The sense of family within the Royal Anglian Regiment is not limited to those related by blood.
Wisbech-born Sgt Major Steve Clark, a member of the permanent range team in Kenya, has been with the Vikings for 25 years and is due to retire in three months.
As I spoke to him, he maintained a merciless mickey-taking assault on regimental medic Cpl Matt Boyle, from Norwich, who had lost some of his equipment overnight to light-footed local thieves.
“If it had been me, they would be ragging me about it straight away,” joked Sgt Major Clark. “Whenever something goes wrong that’s not too serious, that’s when the banter starts. It stops people getting too precious.
“The camaraderie is the main thing I will miss. I am sure I will find something else to do but the military family and all the friends I have made have been fantastic – and I don’t think I would get away with all this banter anywhere else.
“There is always that safety net in the army. There is always someone to talk to and your mates will rally round when you have personal problems. I will miss that more than anything.”
To read previous stories from the trip to Kenya and to watch video reports log on to www.edp24.co.uk.
Day Five will appear in tomorrow’s EDP.