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A Soldier’s Tale CSgt Michael Saunders

A Mercian SNCO, deployed to Afghanistan, has become the talk of his local town after he started sending regular e-letters back to his local pub describing his daily life on the front line. CSgt Michael Saunders, aged 35, deployed to Afghanistan with the 2nd Battalion in March 2009. Immediately on arrival, in the heat and dust of the desert, he began writing letters describing his daily life to The Marwood pub in Worcester where his sister, Tracy, works. His musings, which have been pinned up on the wall of the pub, have proved hugely popular with locals who have started to follow the local lad’s progress. 2 MERCIAN are based at Camp Tombstone, next to Camp Shorabak, the home of 3 Brigade of 205 ‘Hero Corps’ of the Afghan National Army and have assumed the rôle of Operational Mentoring and Liaison Team (OMLT). This means that the soldiers of 2 MERCIAN will be passing on their skills to the Afghans while conducting joint patrols around the province. CSgt Saunders is CQMS for the Combat Infantry Signals Platoon responsible for the distribution of communication assets to all twenty one locations in Afghanistan. He hopes that his “letters from the desert” will help people to understand what the Army is doing in the country and what daily life is really like.

(Editor’s Comment: This diary is the sole opinion of this soldier and his views of Afghanistan, any factual omissions or mistakes are purely accidental. CSgt Saunders’ third and subsequent letters home can be read on MOD’s Afghanistan Blog)

Week 1. Afghanistan, My Journey to Helmand Province

I am a Colour Sergeant in 2nd Battalion The Mercian Regiment, your local Infantry Regiment, formerly known as The Worcestershire and Sherwood Foresters Regiment. The reason that I am writing this to you is that I am currently deployed in Helmand province and I thought you might like to be aware of the realities of life in what is a hazardous area of the World. Over the next 6 months I will attempt to write fairly frequently (work permitting) to keep you all up to date on what YOUR Worcester and Foresters soldiers are doing. I will attempt to give a perspective of life at the coalface and will include news from soldiers who are out doing the job they have trained for very hard over the last few months and indeed their whole careers. This is the third tour the Battalion has undertaken in Afghanistan and the second in the infamous Helmand province often seen on the news. I have now been in the Afghanistan theatre of operations for three weeks and even now I can tell many things have changed since my last tour of duty. However many things have not changed including the impact the heat has on you, particularly when five weeks ago we were seeing Snow in Belfast and on Salisbury plain! Already we have had 35 degree temperatures and it is still very much Spring here, I anticipate a long hot summer in the desert.

My current location is a fairly large forward operating base or “FOB”, known as Camp Tombstone, colourfully named by the US Forces. We the Brits share a camp with a smaller Danish contingent. The conditions in the FOB are very good compared to those experienced by those troops deployed forward to more dangerous areas, however as with all locations here attack is always a possibility that places constraints on

The Mercian Eagle

everyone’s daily lives. I will provide more detail in my next letter on this and other matters. For now though I believe that the introductions are made and I look forward to speaking to you all through my humble letters from the desert. The soldiers of your local Regiment are immensely proud to serve here and always appreciate the support of the Counties that has always been strong - regardless of where we serve.

Until we speak again, take care and be safe.

Week 2 If you managed to take the time to read my first instalment you will realise that I am now three weeks into a six month tour of Afghanistan. Many of you will quite reasonably not understand quite why some of the Counties youngest and finest men are thousands of miles away from home, living and fighting on the Nation’s behalf. Afghanistan as a place has not known peace for many generations, partially because the proud people of this country maintain a fiercely loyal tribal society and also because the country is geographically very strategically important. The results of these factors and many others have been decades of violence and repeated attempts to dominate this harsh land. The Soviets, the French, the US, the British and many other powerful nations have all in recent history (and over the centuries) sought to bring peace and the rule of law to Afghanistan. The devastating results of the numerous conflicts can still be seen to this day. One of the most recent and bloodier attempts to control Afghanistan was the invasion by the Soviet Union who found to their cost that the people of Afghanistan are no strangers to hardship and conflict.

Many will have heard of the brave fighters of the Mujahadeen (and members of the Afghanistan National Army) who through

guerrilla tactics and the support of the local tribes managed to thwart the power of the “Great Bear”. After the Soviet Union left, the power over the country was again the subject of much dispute. Many of the former Tribal leaders were killed or displaced and yet again in the short period of peace conflict reared its head. The lack of real leadership gave rise to the infamous Taliban, who initially were greeted as the saviours of the people and were very quickly gifted almost absolute power. History has shown that “absolute power corrupts absolutely” and so it was not long before the Taliban began to be more oppressive in their treatment of the very people they claim to have liberated. In a society that is led by those who will violently repress free speech and impose strict laws it was not long before International Terrorist organisations placed Afghanistan high on the list of places to set up, run and grow training camps for its missions against its perceived enemies.

The awful events of September 11 2001 placed Afghanistan firmly in the sights of America and its Allies who from that point increased their collective efforts to seek out and destroy these potential threats. Thus Britain in line with its current policy deployed forces firstly to secure and secondly to begin the reconstruction of this war-weary land and this is a very simple summary of why we are here to this day. As soldiers you must understand we have no choice as to where and when we deploy, this is down to the voters as the will of the people. However, few soldiers who have served here will disagree that the people of this country deserve a chance for peace and many sadly to this point have lost life and limb in the pursuance of that goal. In my next letter I will try and give you a taste of the country of Afghanistan and its people but until then, be safe and take care.

October 2009 55

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