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Lancers, Scots, Gurkhas, and Afghans face off in Volleyball challenge

May 18, 2011

The sound of bagpipes reverberated across the helicopter landing site at Patrol Base Nahidullah in the heart of the Central Helmand River Valley.

Like the organ sounding a time-out in a game of ice hockey, the sound of the ‘Highland Cathedral’ died down as the Afghan National Army prepared to take on the Gurkhas of the Police Advisory Team in the first Babaji Volleyball tournament.

An ANA soldier faces up to the net against a soldier from 2RGR during the first Babaji Volleyball tournament.

The tournament, organised by Captain Neil Foot-Tapping, the Afghan National Army (ANA) advisor from the 9th/12th Lancers and Captain Kul of 2nd Battalion The Royal Gurkha Rifles from the Police Mentoring and Advisory Group (PMAG), was intended to get to ISAF soldiers from 9th/12th, 2RGR and the 4th Battalion The Royal Regiment of Scotland enjoying time away from the rigours of patrolling in Helmand with their Afghan counterparts.

Captain Neil Foot-Tapping said:

“We have a tough job here in the heat and harsh conditions for six months but we often forget that the Afghan Warriors are here for the long term. The Tolay I live and work with have been here for over a year and most have only had 2 weeks off. R&R, Playstations and internet are not part of their welfare package and it’s all too easy to overlook just how lucky British soldiers are. The Afghans love four things outside of soldiering – volleyball, cricket, learning English and sleeping and in that order! So we thought what better than a little competitive sport to help people get to know each other better and enjoy some valued time off.”

Friday is a day of religious celebration for Afghans and time to devote to understanding more about the writings of the Quran. Regular patrolling does not happen on Fridays and outside of prayer time is allocated to relaxing, washing clothes in the well and recuperating before another hard week of operations.

Soldiers from 4 SCOTS teach their Afghan National Army colleagues how to do the Highland Fling.

As such, Friday was agreed as a good day for the big competition.

Centre court was a re-engineered helicopter landing site (HLS) that near perfectly marked out the dimensions of an international standard volleyball court, with a net made from pickets and para-cord. The first challengers were a team of Jocks from B Company, 4 SCOTS.

With strong support for both teams at the side lines the ANA proved a force to be reckoned with and marked their authority on the tournament with a dominating 25-18 win. The majority of rules were observed but the Tolay Commander, Lieutenant Aziz Bakhshee decided that he should lead from the front and serve for the whole game!

As the next challengers stepped on to the metal boards that form the HLS the atmosphere was tense with anticipation. The Gurkhas are well known amongst the ANA, both for their contribution to mentoring and security in previous tours of Afghanistan, but also for their professionalism on the volleyball court. There was stiff competition from the outset and rising tempers with every point being fiercely contested. The ANA made a strong comeback that saw the game hung at 24-24 with the serve held by the ANA.

As Lieutenant Aziz, still serving, smashed the ball deep in to the rear of the court, the Gurkhas were forced to return the ball on the back foot. A resounding ‘spike’ from the Afghan Tolay marked the end to a well fought tournament and crowned the ANA from 2nd Tolay, 6th Kandak as winners.

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