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Divers(e) deployment

● AB(D) Phil Brierley conducts confi rmation drills during routine training

Picture: Lt Nick Southall RN

FOUR men clad in khaki, a desert and a great big ball of

fire. Army bomb disposal? Could


But there is a clue in the last element. The big explosion. Because Royal Navy divers like nothing more than to blow things up – they have told Navy News as much many times in the past. And although clearance divers are more often found close to

the sea, small groups have also been deploying to a very different environment. Which brings us to the blast (pictured below), in the rugged terrain near Kajaki in Helmand – the handiwork of the latest quartet of RN ordnance explosive experts to deploy to Afghanistan; two of them can be seen taking shelter in the bottom right of the picture. The

team – PO(D) Ward ‘Sharky’ Peers, LD Lee Jackson

and AB(D)s Phil Brierley and Ian ‘Skid’ Rowe – are almost at the end of their six-month tour of duty, during which they have plied their dangerous trade in Lashkar Gah, Shawqat, Khaamar, Pimon and Nad-e-Ali. Navy personnel have been

taking their place alongside Army (and latterly RAF) ordnance disposal experts for around a year, part of the Joint Force Explosive Ordnance Disposal Group. The teams are increasingly called upon to deal with the threat of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) planted by insurgents. Kajaki – scene of bitter fighting earlier in Operation Herrick and still a hotbed of Taleban activities – was, says PO Peers, “the place that everyone wanted to go, where all our training could be consolidated into one.

“I think all the Army teams

were a bit annoyed that it was us that went up there.” LD Jackson added: “Kajaki has definitely been the best part of the tour. “We were able to hone our skills and left the area confident


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that we would be able to deal with anything that was put in of us.”

front Although the way sailors

and Royal Engineers deal with unexploded ordnance is pretty much identical, the divers had to go through almost six months of pre-deployment training to prepare for the alien environment of Afghanistan. They arrived at Lydd at the end of September 2009 and were immediately thrown in at the deep end, being asked to patrol down to the end of the airfield. “We told them that we’d never

patrolled before and were met by a look of confusion, followed by a few choice words of disbelief,” said PO Peers.

“I think they expected us to already have these skills, until we pointed out that there’s not much call for us to patrol when we’re on board. “We were definitely at a

disadvantage and obviously our green skills were lacking, but by

the end of our pre-deployment training we were confident and keen to deploy.” The divers fully embraced new

experiences – “learning to drive the Mastiff was definitely a highlight of pre-deployment training,” said AB Rowe. “It really is a hoofing bit of kit...” Luckily, the divers have had an

understanding mentor in the form of Sgt Scott Docherty RE – with a father and uncle in the RN he was an honorary matelot as far as the divers were concerned. “As far as explosive ordnance disposal goes we were all at the same standard”, said Sgt Docherty. “They might have felt they didn’t

know as much but they weren’t at as much of a disadvantage as they thought.


“These guys picked up really

quickly, from

weapon handling tests on under- slung grenade launchers to close- quarters battle lanes and having your oppos firing live rounds just to your left and right, they were

● From left: AB(D) Phil Brierley, PO(D) Ward Peers, LD Lee Jackson and AB(D) Ian Rowe prime the Dragon Runner remote-controlled robot

Picture: Lt Nick Southall RN

all over it.” The sergeant has joined the

divers on the ground in Helmand, as have fellow sappers from 21 Regiment RE.

“I think the best thing about the counter-IED task force is the joint nature – the banter is always good,” he continued.

“This is the second time I’ve

worked with the RN and once again it’s been a pleasure.” The deployment has not been without its casualties. “We’ve lost some very close

friends throughout this tour,” said PO Peers. “It’s been very sad, losing some good people. That’s definitely been the worst part of the tour.” AB Brierley has very much taken to life in Afghanistan – so much so that, with his ability to speak Pashtu, his tan and his beard, he has been mistaken for a local interpreter more than once. However, the junior rate – who is also the team medic – admits that he does miss the diving.

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