Troops from the West Midlands and Staffordshire were on the front line in Afghanistan on their battalion’s final tour of duty today.
The first of two companies from the 3rd Battalion Mercian Regiment (3Mercian) – formerly the Staffords – flew out to the country’s trouble-torn Helmand Province earlier this week.
Many of the soldiers will be going back to Afghan villages they fought to secure less than three years ago.
The 140 troops of A Company will have Warrior fighting vehicles and be based at Lashkar Durrai in Helmand where 15 3Mercian soldiers were quartered when the battalion was last on the front line in 2011. It is now a busy base on a key junction of Highway 1, the main road round Afghanistan.
They will be joined later this year by comrades from the battalion’s C company, who will operate out of a base near the logistically important town of Gereshkh where 3Mercian troops also served three years ago. This time the soldiers will have Huskies and Mastiffs to get around in.
Major Neil Kelly, officer commanding A Company, said: “The main difference between this and our last deployment to Afghanistan is that the Afghan Security Forces now have the lead and our job is very much one of support rather than active participation in operations. Initially we will be supporting them in providing security of an area within Central Helmand, thereafter we will continue to support them whilst protecting the British staged draw down.”
3Mercian will be among the first British army units to spend eight months on the frontline rather than the previous six month tour of duty, and father of one Major Kelly confessed: “The hardest part will be the continued separation from our loved ones over Christmas but I expect the good camaraderie will keep spirits high.”
Corporal Richard ‘Bear’ Doyle, a 29-year-old section commander with A Company, from Sutton Coldfield, who is also a father of one, added: “It will be more difficult for my wife as I have been away before but this is the first time I have left her alone with my daughter.”
3Mercian Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Colonel Chris Davies, said: “It is at the peak of the training cycle and the boys were hungry to get out there. They are looking forward to witnessing the changes from the last tour at first hand. It is a chance for them to see what their hard work and sacrifices have meant long term.”
Some of the troops could return home next year before the end of the proposed tour if things go well since the involvement of British forces in Afghanistan is being rapidly wound down.