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C and D Companies Join Forces


In late May, it was decided that 2 MERCIAN would be the Operational Mentoring and Liaison Team (OMLT) Battlegroup for Op Herrick 10 providing OMLTs for an entire Afghan Brigade. An OMLT is normally 40 to 50 strong and, generally, has a greater proportion of NCOs than a normal Rifle Company. Paired with an Afghanistan National Army (ANA) Unit, it is there to mentor/advise their Commanders on ways of improving the Unit and also to serve as a link to the neighbouring UK units to ensure de-confliction and partnering. This is achieved by splitting down into groups of 8 to 14 and co-locating with the sub-units in their Forward Operating Bases - a true Afghan experience in every sense of the word.


A period of uncertainty followed as the Brigade went about the difficult task of force generation. It was initially suggested that the three Rifle Companies would each generate an OMLT with Company providing a support weapon capability for each of them - not dissimilar to the Fire Support Groups used on Op Herrick 6. Personalities in command were also changing, with Maj Neil Grant expecting to return to the Battalion to takeover from Maj Gilby as OC C Company. However, by the time the Battalion departed for Summer Leave, two of the Rifle Companies were expecting to be employed outside the Battlegroup which meant that responsibility for mentoring the ANA would fall to C and D Companies and Maj Grant had been told that he would be commanding the Brigade Reconnaissance Force (BRF), made up of soldiers from across the Brigade including elements of 2 MERCIAN. It was at this point that the decision was made to merge the two Companies for the purpose of pre-deployment training.


On return from Summer Leave in August, the OMLT Company formed up. WO2 (CSM) Clark had already moved across from D Company and taken over the reins from WO2 (CSM) Chatterley who was moving to the BRF along with a selection of individuals from D Company, predominately members of the Recce Platoon. A Platoon, commanded by Lt Jack Bellfield and Sgt McNulty, had also been detached to provide force protection to the Combat Logisitic Patrols being run by 19


Lt Bowers (A Company) being supervised by Capt Brown (OMLT Company) on a Company Attack Range.


CSS Bn in Theatre. This left OMLT Company challenging HQ Company as the largest in the Battalion - 9 Officers, 3 Warrant Officers and a total strength around 160.


Pre-Deployment Training Members of Mortar Pl. The Mercian Eagle


No sooner had the Company formed up than we found ourselves spread to the four winds with individuals on pre-deployment courses; the focus was driving, weapons and medical. It is not uncommon for an OMLT to be split across a number of isolated locations which places a strong emphasis on every man in that location, which can be as low as 8, being able to do every job. Over three months, individuals found themselves taught how to drive HGVs (because many of the vehicles in Theatre require the driver to hold a Cat C licence), qualified as Team Medics and trained to use every weapon system in the Infantry’s arsenal. In addition, those with an aptitude for languages were given a 10 week Dari course to enable them to converse with our opposite numbers in the ANA and Commanders received briefings on Afghanistan and the tactics being employed to allow in-house training to take place. In mid November, a select number of individuals deployed to Thetford in support of the 2 RIFLES Confirmatory Field Exercise (CFX) and, with it, the first opportunity to experience a few of the challenges associated with mentoring an Army that does not speak the same language. As part of the OPTAG exercise, a civilian company provided a platoon’s worth of ex-Gurkha soldiers to simulate the ANA and, with the aid of 2 SNCOs from 1 R IRISH who had just finished mentoring on Op HERRICK 8, we were able to consider how we might develop our tactics and practise some of procedures used to counter the ever-present IED threat. Looking back, the sight of SNCOs and Officers chasing over-enthusiastic retired Gurkhas through


a wood was probably quite amusing but, at the time, there wasn’t too much laughing. Two weeks later, the entire Company, as part of the 2 MERCIAN Battlegroup, returned to Thetford for its own CFX. This was the first opportunity for everybody to practice those individuals skills acquired over the preceding months whilst under pressure and as part of a team. For six days, OMLTs were given a variety of missions ranging from routine patrols to local national engagement to compound defence. Even though there had been little or no time for preparation before this exercise, it was clear that there was still a considerable amount of residual experience from the previous tour and that it had been disseminated across the entire Company.


On return from a somewhat shorter than expected Christmas Leave, the Company spent a couple of days in Belfast before moving to Otterburn for three weeks in support of the Brigade Combined Arms Live Firing Exercise (CALFEX). 2 MERCIAN, as the OMLT Battlegroup and therefore with no requirement to practise live firing at Company level, were given the task of running the CALFEX which would test each ground-holding Rifle Company in the Brigade with a 5 to 6 hour live firing attack during the day incorporating close air support, attack helicopter and artillery, immediately followed by 3 hours of night attacks. Otterburn in January is not one of the most hospitable places in UK and, by the end of the three weeks, every member of the Safety Staff had fallen victim to the waterlogged craters scattered across the range. Although this task meant that our own training had to take a back seat, it gave our Officers and NCOs a unique opportunity to observe their opposite numbers from other Battalions and to take away some useful lessons.


As soon as CALFEX was complete, the October 2009 41


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