Royal Navy Engineers receive Infantry Training in Afghanistan
The order is given and the world erupts with noise as the crack of 18 rifles fills the air. One by one targets are identified and engaged from within the Forward Operating Base (FOB) as once more an insurgent attack is foiled and the soldiers within are safe.
However, this is not the Green Zone it is Camp Bastion, the ‘insurgents’ are actually barrels and the ‘soldiers’ defending the FOB are the engineers and pilots from 845 and 846 Naval Air Squadrons (NAS).
They have just finished conducting infantry training at Camp Bastion to support the Royal Navy’s commitment to the troop moving role in Helmand Province.
The 845 NAS and 846 NAS contingent from Commando Helicopter Force (CHF) has been based at Bastion for three years working as part of Joint Helicopter Force (Afghanistan). The unit comprises pilots, aircrewmen, door-gunners and dedicated engineers who work around the clock to ensure that their ‘Jungly’ Sea King Mk4 helicopters are serviceable for tasking.
Having arrived, the first job is to acclimatise to the 40 degree heat and to conduct theatre-specific training to supplement that carried out prior to deploying. Whilst most people from CHF spent 2 days training, engineers selected for the ‘Downbird’ team had 4 days being trained in the ways of the soldier.
The Downbird team is a small team of skilled engineers who, should a helicopter breakdown outside the confines of Bastion, will be flown out to fix and recover it to the camp. To prepare for this eventuality of ‘operating outside the wire’ the engineers undertake four days of training to qualify them for such a situation.
The training consists of both theory and practical lessons, all focused on the threats faced everyday by the ISAF soldiers in Helmand but, hopefully, never to be experienced by the engineers or aircrew of CHF.
LAET Garry ‘Bats’ Bateman, an avionics supervisor from 845 NAS, and part of the downbird team, said: “I really enjoyed the training. I was very motivated by the lecture on Afghanistan and really identified with how we could help the local population.”
Following the mandatory training, the personnel organised some extra training at the Forward Operating Base (FOB) Range in Camp Bastion. This is a live range designed to look like a FOB, a small base used as a staging point for troops, where units can practice their defensive techniques.
LAET Bateman concluded that: “As naval engineers, the exposure to basic infantry techniques really hammered home what challenges our soldiers face daily and the conditions in which they live outside the confines of Bastion. The training was hot, sweaty, and tiring but very enjoyable, and I now feel confident that should myself and the rest of CHF’s Downbird team need to go over the wire to recover a downed Sea King, we could all work as a team to extract ourselves from any situation.”