Trauma fears for Anglian soldiers

MARK NICHOLLS Families of Royal Anglians coming home from the Afghan frontline have been warned to show “special understanding” to their loved ones amid fears that some of the returning troops may be suffering from severe battle trauma.

MARK NICHOLLS

Families of Royal Anglians coming home from the Afghan frontline have been warned to show “special understanding” to their loved ones amid fears that some of the returning troops may be suffering from severe battle trauma.

The appeal comes as troops of the 1st Battalion the Royal Anglian Regiment enter their last few days of a gruelling and bloody six-month tour in Helmand province and prepare for the journey home.

It has been issued by the battalion's senior soldier, Regimental Sergeant Major Ian Robinson who said: “Adjusting from the trauma of war to the normality of the UK can be a big step for some soldiers.

“Some will have difficulty with that and we will support them. For some people it will take longer than others.

“My message to families is just to give those returning soldiers time, love and support and to be there for them.”

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Virtually all of the soldiers from the battalion - nicknamed the Vikings - have seen comrades killed or wounded, have been involved in intense fire-fights with Taliban forces on a regular basis during the tour and been forced to kill to defend themselves.

As one soldier said: “Often it's a case of either kill or be killed.”

The battalion - which recruits from Norfolk, Suffolk, Cambridgeshire and Essex - has taken part in several key operations as part of British forces in the province and scored major successes in pushing the Taliban back, particularly close to Sangin, claiming 800 enemy lives and firing half a million rounds of ammunition.

But operating in the harsh terrain, constantly under attack and in searing conditions has taken its toll physically, mentally and emotionally.

Senior officers fear some of that may not show in the men until they return to the UK.

The battalion has suffered 116 casualties and nine deaths - including three in a friendly fire incident - and has seen an attrition rate amounting to 20pc of the battalion's strength.

As the senior soldier, RSM Robinson from Bury St Edmunds is responsible for discipline, morale and also dealing with casualties during fighting. He said: “We do have a few guys with battle shock and we are trying to manage that.”

But he added: “Morale throughout this tour has been very, very high, though when we took casualties and particularly deaths, morale did take a dip. The incident of friendly fire was the lowest point of the tour for us. I felt the loss of those three guys more than any other because of the nature of the incident and probably for me it was the toughest 36 hours emotionally of my whole career.

“But the guys have been magnificent. They are resolute and they need to be because the enemy do not care if we are having a bad day. The Taliban are extraordinarily resilient and they not appear to feel the casualties in the same way that we do.”

He explained that a great deal of thought and preparation has been put into trauma management for the troops who served in Afghanistan and their return home.

The Ministry of Defence creates a “buffer” zone when the troops leave theatre with a 36-hour stopover in Cyprus to allow the guys to have a drink, attend a few lectures but unwind in the way soldiers have done for centuries.

But then they come home to the UK, often mixing with people who have no idea what they have endured.

RSM Robinson added: “For 90pc they will get back home and slip into life as previously. But there are those who will have difficulty and we have to try to spend time limiting those difficulties and help them recover from them.

“I am sure families already have every reason to be immensely proud of their son, brother or husband because they have done a fantastic job in extremely difficult circumstances.”

He said many troops will return with more confidence and a broader outlook on life.

“But some of them may be slightly quieter than they were before, they might need more time to adjust and will need support to adjust to normal life,” he said

“For those who do need support, not only is there the support of their families but also of the regiment. We pride ourselves on being a family regiment and we will do everything we can to help those who find it difficult.

“Some signs may be small, some may be six months down the line and for some it will be fairly obvious.”

Lt Col Stuart Carver, commanding officer of the 1st Battalion Royal Anglian Regiment, shares the worries about the impact on his personnel after theatre - the sights and incidents they have had to contend with, the risk of post traumatic shock disorder and how they will deal with life once they get home to their families no longer having the focus of daily operations.

He said: “I have been amazed at how people have taken the news of the casualties. We expected some sadness and there was a dip but the overwhelming aspect has been about the need to crack on with the job and get on with things.

“My concern is what the effect will be when they have not got the focus and are trying to get on with their lives.”

The 1st battalion has established a memorial fund that will honour those killed and injured during the conflict. It will also help fund a permanent memorial, raise money for the affected families and support those who have been injured in a way that will help them resume their military careers. Anyone wanting to donate to the 1 R Anglian Afghanistan Memorial Fund can make cheques payable to CB 1 R Anglian and send them to Major R.C. Barrett, Treasurer, 1 R Anglian Afghanistan Memorial Fund, Elizabeth Barracks, Pirbright, Surrey, GU24 0DT.

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