PHOTO GALLERY: Royal Anglian soldiers prepare for war at Stanta training area near Thetford

Soldiers from across East Anglia are preparing for a return to Afghan battlegrounds with a realistic training regime in the heart of Norfolk.

Troops from the 1st Battalion, The Royal Anglian Regiment are expecting a ministerial announcement soon about a potential deployment which could throw them back into the ongoing conflict within the next few months.

To maintain readiness for any imminent tour of duty, the Vikings are undergoing a punishing set of drills and attack scenarios aimed at testing their abilities in a battleground designed to recreate every challenge facing them in Helmand province.

The exercise at the army's vast Stanford Training Area (Stanta), near Thetford, represented a return to home turf for many of the region's soldiers, whose barracks are based at Bulford in Wiltshire.

About 200 troops from the battalion, supported by artillery units, engineers and RAF forces, have carried out assault manoeuvres, casualty evacuations, and the defence of forward operations bases against mock insurgent attacks.

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But they have also honed skills which reflect the evolving role of British forces in Afghanistan.

The training incorporates linguistic and cultural training essential to winning the trust of the locals and helping the war-torn country's army and police forces to gain the confidence and capability to, eventually, protect their own people.

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It includes patrols through the 'Afghan Village', where compounds, shops and a colourful Middle Eastern bazaar have been built, and Afghan nationals are employed to play the role of villagers, interacting with the soldiers.

The battalion's commanding officer, Lt Col Mick Aston, said: 'This training is as good as it gets, as it is really accurate in terms of what the guys are going to face when they get out to Afghanistan.

'The real strength of this exercise is that it is all fused together here in Thetford in a realistic, demanding and challenging scenario that tests them on all aspects of what they will face in theatre.

'We are going to be doing more security force assistance on our next deployment and that will see us continuing to prepare the Afghan national security forces. It is an absolutely critical path of transition as the Afghans rightly step up and take more responsibility.'

Lt Col Aston said Stanta was a popular training ground among his troops.

'I would describe it as our home ground,' he said. 'It is close to our families and the support we have from the communities here in East Anglia has been outstanding, so it is great to come here and train. Some of the guys can almost see their house from the training area.'

One of those soldiers is Pte Michael Rudd, 26, from nearby Watton, who was training in the operations room, which co-ordinates troop patrols with air support, artillery and intelligence information.

He was injured just 29 days into his previous tour of duty in November 2009.

'I was doing a re-supply and we were walking from vehicle to another when I got hit from behind by a single round,' he said. 'It hit the ground, bounced up and hit my shin. It was a million-to-one shot. You could say it ruined my afternoon.

'Now I'm determined to go back and complete a tour.'

Despite three gruelling courses of treatment in the British military rehabilitation centre at Headley Court in Surrey, Pte Rudd said he was still not completely back to full fitness.

'That is why I work in this role,' he said. 'It's so I can use other muscles like my brain, rather than just running around.'

One of the soldiers awaiting the prospect of a first tour of duty include 18-year-old Pte Holly Rudd, from North Wootton in King's Lynn,

'I think it is hard to say what your feelings are,' she said. 'It is a mixture of emotions. I am excited because it is something I have never done it before, but a little scared because it is a new experience. But it will certainly be an eye-opener.'

Pte Rudd said her training included a female stop-and-search drill.

'It is not culturally accepted in Afghanistan for a man to search a woman,' she said. 'So in that respect, I'm an asset. The other thing is that women feel less intimidated if they see a female soldier.'

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