As 4 Mechanised Brigade completed their last exercise before deploying toÂ Afghanistan, Brigadier Bob Bruce summed up their mission, and their mood:Â Continuity, and confidence.Â Nowhere is this more apparent than among 1 Scots,Â who fill the crucial role of Advisory Group of Task Force Helmand.
The Royal Scots Borderers, 1st Battalion of the Royal Regiment of Scotland, basedÂ at Dreghorn Barracks, Edinburgh, is the result of the 2006 amalgamation of theÂ Royal Scots and the Kingâ€™s Own Scottish Borderers. Uniquely among BritishÂ regiments, the Royal Scots retains the distinct identities and cap badges of theÂ historic units it comprises. 1 Scots wears the distinctive black hackle. It recruits itsÂ soldiers from Edinburgh and the Lothians, the Borders, and part of Lanarkshire.Â AsÂ Advisory Group, 1 Scots will take the lead in mentoring the Afghan NationalÂ Security Forces, working, as the Afghans say, shalabashana – shoulder to shoulder.
â€œAround half of the six and a half thousand troops of the Task Force have deployedÂ before, some several times,â€ said Brigadier Bruce, former Commanding Officer of 1Â Scots. â€œMany are returning in different roles, in higher rank, to face newÂ challenges.â€
4MB will be the first task force to begin the drawdown of British troops inÂ Afghanistan. The Brigadier, paying tribute to the work of their predecessors, plansÂ to build upon it, helping build a country which is further down the line towardsÂ controlling its own destiny. He defines three core tasks: to continue enabling AfghanÂ National Security Forces (ANSF) to take control of their areas; the lowering of theÂ International Security Assistance Forceâ€™s (ISAFâ€™s) profile incountry; and setting theÂ conditions for the next roulement, or brigade rotation.
How does he define success ?
With withdrawal set for 2014, the goal is smooth transition andÂ staged handover to the Afghans. The Brigadier plans to send home 500 of his peopleÂ by the end of the year, mostly combat troops.Â For the younger soldiers facing their first tour, the sense of confidence which theÂ Brigadier emphasises comes with an intensive eighteen month preparation. The
training includes language and cultural awareness, working with Afghans in the UKÂ beforehand. There is confidence in the kit, perhaps the best any British army in theÂ field has ever had. Most of all, confidence comes with absolute faith in yourÂ comrades.
â€œI wanted to join a regiment with an outstanding reputation,â€ says Lieutenant OllieÂ Wilson, deploying for the first time in September a year after joining 1 Scots. HisÂ grandfather was with the Kingâ€™s Own Borderers, so there is a strong link to theÂ present day battalion. â€œI really got on with the soldiers. A big draw for me was theÂ camaraderie.â€
Whatâ€™s first on his list of personal preparations, to make his tour moreÂ tolerable ? IPad, real coffee, family photos ?
Lt. Wilson doesnâ€™t hesitate. â€œA properÂ pillowâ€.
Private Samuel James, originally from the Caribbean, was inspired by old BritishÂ war movies to sign up. After three years eight monthsâ€™ service, driver of theÂ armoured vehicle Husky, he leaves behind his wife and his two sons, Treshon, 4,Â and Taevon,1, to embark on his second tour. â€œWeâ€™ve done a six week acclimatisationÂ in Kenya. These vehicles are pretty comfortable now. They have air conditioning and heating.â€
PrivateÂ James looks unfazed by questions of physical comfort. His experience will be anÂ anchor to his comrades, photographed at Bulford Camp, Wiltshire, in August 2012.
Facing his first deployment is Private Euan Webster, point man, walks in front ofÂ his patrol with his vallon, or metal detector, searching out buried IEDs, andÂ marking the way as clear as he goes. Itâ€™s a temporary clearance, written, literally, inÂ sand. In a few hours the bomb makers may have done their work. Nothing can beÂ taken for granted. Private Websterâ€™s father was in the Borderers; heâ€™s been planningÂ his career since early childhood, and reckons on staying in the battalion for 12Â years.
Private Martin Kidd, also deploying for the first time, has served two years and is aÂ sharpshooter and shotgun expert. He emphasises the versatility bestowed by predeployment
training; jobs will alter and different specialisms adapt, according toÂ what needs to done. He will take with him photos of his family and his girlfriend,Â Marion.
Finishing their final exercises on August 23, 1 Scots are back home to Edinburgh,Â busy with final preparations till deployment in late September.
Chaps: Be carefulÂ out there.