Scots Stand Ready

As 4 Mechanised Brigade completed their last exercise before deploying to Afghanistan, Brigadier Bob Bruce summed up their mission, and their mood: Continuity, and confidence. Nowhere is this more apparent than among 1 Scots, who fill the crucial role of Advisory Group of Task Force Helmand.

The Royal Scots Borderers, 1st Battalion of the Royal Regiment of Scotland, based at Dreghorn Barracks, Edinburgh, is the result of the 2006 amalgamation of the Royal Scots and the King’s Own Scottish Borderers. Uniquely among British regiments, the Royal Scots retains the distinct identities and cap badges of the historic units it comprises. 1 Scots wears the distinctive black hackle. It recruits its soldiers from Edinburgh and the Lothians, the Borders, and part of Lanarkshire. As Advisory Group, 1 Scots will take the lead in mentoring the Afghan National Security Forces, working, as the Afghans say, shalabashana – shoulder to shoulder.
“Around half of the six and a half thousand troops of the Task Force have deployed before, some several times,” said Brigadier Bruce, former Commanding Officer of 1 Scots. “Many are returning in different roles, in higher rank, to face new challenges.”
4MB will be the first task force to begin the drawdown of British troops in Afghanistan. The Brigadier, paying tribute to the work of their predecessors, plans to build upon it, helping build a country which is further down the line towards controlling its own destiny. He defines three core tasks: to continue enabling Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) to take control of their areas; the lowering of the International Security Assistance Force’s (ISAF’s) profile incountry; and setting the conditions for the next roulement, or brigade rotation.

How does he define success ?
“No stop-start.”

With withdrawal set for 2014, the goal is smooth transition and staged handover to the Afghans. The Brigadier plans to send home 500 of his people by the end of the year, mostly combat troops. For the younger soldiers facing their first tour, the sense of confidence which the Brigadier emphasises comes with an intensive eighteen month preparation. The
training includes language and cultural awareness, working with Afghans in the UK beforehand. There is confidence in the kit, perhaps the best any British army in the field has ever had. Most of all, confidence comes with absolute faith in your comrades.
 Lt Ollie Wilson“I wanted to join a regiment with an outstanding reputation,” says Lieutenant Ollie Wilson, deploying for the first time in September a year after joining 1 Scots. His grandfather was with the King’s Own Borderers, so there is a strong link to the present day battalion. “I really got on with the soldiers. A big draw for me was the camaraderie.”

What’s first on his list of personal preparations, to make his tour more tolerable ? IPad, real coffee, family photos ?

Lt. Wilson doesn’t hesitate. “A proper pillow”.
Private Samuel James, originally from the Caribbean, was inspired by old British war movies to sign up. After three years eight months’ service, driver of the armoured vehicle Husky, he leaves behind his wife and his two sons, Treshon, 4, and Taevon,1, to embark on his second tour. “We’ve done a six week acclimatisation in Kenya. These vehicles are pretty comfortable now. They have air conditioning and heating.”

Private James looks unfazed by questions of physical comfort. His experience will be an 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 of his patrol with his vallon, or metal detector, searching out buried IEDs, and marking the way as clear as he goes. It’s a temporary clearance, written, literally, in sand. In a few hours the bomb makers may have done their work. Nothing can be taken for granted. Private Webster’s father was in the Borderers; he’s been planning his career since early childhood, and reckons on staying in the battalion for 12 years.
Private Martin Kidd, also deploying for the first time, has served two years and is a sharpshooter and shotgun expert. He emphasises the versatility bestowed by predeployment
training; jobs will alter and different specialisms adapt, according to what needs to done. He will take with him photos of his family and his girlfriend, Marion.
Finishing their final exercises on August 23, 1 Scots are back home to Edinburgh, busy with final preparations till deployment in late September.

Chaps: Be careful out there.

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