King’s Lynn soldier will spend Christmas in Afghanistan, searching for deadly Taliban booby traps

A soldier from Kings Lynn will spend Christmas searching for deadly improvised explosive devices after returning to Afghanistan for his second operational tour.

Despite the risks involved with his job Sergeant Ben Bushell, 31, who lives in Norfolk with his wife Holly, says not only does he enjoy his job but that he also seen a reduction in the number of devices being lain.

'We've got over 20 teams working in theatre which does relieve some of the pressure,' said Sgt Bushell who first served in Afghanistan in 2009, and also served two operational tour of Iraq.

'But this tour has definitely been quieter. By this point in my tour in 2009 I had been called out on 30 jobs, whereas on this tour it's been 15 tasks. So it's half the work rate, but you always remain on your toes and a little apprehensive.'

Sgt Bushell is the search advisor for the IED searching team, meaning he analyses the site where a device has been spotted.

He then plans a safe route to it whilst anticipating where further secondary devices could be placed by insurgents that are aimed at maiming either those who run to the aid of a soldier who activated the first device, or even the searchers themselves.

Sgt Bushell who was a search commander on his last tour of Afghanistan is more than aware of the risks the searchers he advises are facing. By being able to identify where those secondary devices could be, he is able to direct the searchers as to where to look as they make their lonely route forward to find the IEDs.

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'It is hard watching them go forward, you almost want to grab the equipment from them and do it but obviously I'm not allowed to do so,' said Sgt Bushell.

'Before every job I do a risk assessment, plan the route and tell them what the risk is and what they are looking for. But if that changes suddenly, and we are not aware of it, and then something happens to one of the guys then yes that is pretty hard because it is all based on my planning really.

'The searcher's job is hard, and their kit is heavy, plus all their protective body armour. So I tend to try and do anything I can to make it that bit easier for them, either by giving them complete silence while they work or laughing and joking with them so it doesn't seem as real and as dangerous as it is.'

Sgt Bushell said the hardest thing was missing home.

'You are out here to do a job so you just crack on with the job,' he said. 'The quicker it's done the quicker you can get home to your family.

'Although I suspect it is actually harder for my wife Holly back home. I know what I am doing here, but your loved ones don't know where you are or what you are doing all of the time.'

Despite this, he said he could not see himself stopping.

'I've always had an interest in explosives. As a kid I used to collect cartridges and when I was 13 I found an unexploded Navy shell. It grew from there. And if I wasn't doing it, then somebody else would have to.

'I volunteered to do this job – it's about making Afghanistan a safer place for our guys to work out here. They are here to do a job, so if we can make the route clearer so that the vehicles and guys aren't getting blown up and injured, then it's important to keep doing it, and that in-turn makes Afghanistan a safer place for when we leave.'

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