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Foreword by The Colonel of The Regiment

The Fighting Troops. The British Infantry is as busy now as it has ever been, even with the war in, and subsequent rebuilding of, Iraq now behind us. The current fight in Afghanistan is intense and demanding and all of the four Battalions of The Mercian Regiment have been fully involved in preparing for and conducting combat operations. The 1st Battalion (one of the last Battalions to serve on the ground in Basra) is now well into its training for Afghanistan and will have exercised in Kenya by the time that you read this foreword and will be deploying to Afghanistan in 2010. The 2nd Battalion, as I write, is fighting hard in Afghanistan alongside not only The Light Dragoons and the other members of 19 Light Brigade and Task Force Helmand but also, and significantly, their comrades-in-arms from The Afghan National Army. They have justifiably earned a reputation as hard and professional fighting men and are living up to the exhortations of the Regimental motto. The 3rd Battalion has played a key rôle in the training of almost every unit and subunit that has deployed on operations and has ensured that the public face of The Mercian Regiment has been an exemplary model of the modern Infantry soldier; they have now moved to Fallingbostel to assume their rôle as the Regiment’s Armoured Infantry Battalion. The 4th Battalion has deployed, admirably and unfailingly, a steady stream of troops onto operations both as individual reinforcements supporting the rest of the Regiment directly and as formed units conducting supporting operations in their own right. The Battalions tell their own stories within these pages and I will not steal their thunder here but it is important to make it clear from the outset that we are a fighting Regiment which can be proud of how the Battalions have conducted themselves in the most demanding of operational environments.

Colonel of the Regiment Brigadier A R D Sharpe OBE

Recruiting and Retention. At the start of this year, the Regiment was about two hundred men under-strength: by the start of next year, we are projected to be about fifty men under-strength thus removing three-quarters of the deficit in a single year. This is a huge achievement. First and foremost, retention is going well: soldiers are staying in our Battalions. Recruiting is also going exceptionally well thanks to the efforts of a strong team of Regimental recruiters, of the Regimental Adjutant and of the Battalions – not least of which have been the series of Freedom parades and the Welcome Home marches which have kept Mercian soldiers in the minds of the public in our Counties. The Infantry Training Centre at Catterick is struggling to find room for the number of young men who have signed up to serve with the Mercian Colours and our training staff have been exemplary in their nurturing and retention of recruits as they pass through training. If the trend continues and everyone keeps their shoulders to this vital wheel (because there is no room for complacency), then we can expect to be over-strength across the Regiment by the middle of next year.

On manning issues, I must mention the Gurkhas. It has been a great privilege to receive into the 1st Battalion a Company of Gurkhas to bring the Battalion up to over full strength for next year’s deployment to Afghanistan: they have integrated fully into Mercian life, have added a new edge to the inter-Company competition (they won it!) and are a most welcome addition to the Regimental family over the coming year – Jai Mercian Gurkha!

The Regimental Family. We all know that the performance of the men on the front line is greatly enhanced by the strength of support which they receive from the rest of the Regimental Family. The wider Regiment revolves around RHQ and I thank Colonel Stephen Ashworth, the Assistant Regimental Secretaries and the RHQ staff for their sterling work in getting us all off to such a robust and well organised start. This year, I have attended two events at the National Memorial Arboretum (the first, attended by Prince William, was strongly supported by the 3rd Battalion and the second was for the dedication of The Mercian Volunteers’ grove) both of which were well attended by serving and retired soldiers and their families. The Pilgrimage to Crich in July overflowed down the hill as the wider Mercian family joined the ranks of those from WFR who have attended in the past. I look forward to the Mons Service in Chester Cathedral being similarly supported. Our Regimental Associations (both antecedent and Mercian) are working closely together to make sure that we are standing together as one strong family to support those who have served and those who continue to serve. I thank Lieutenant Colonel Peter Smith for setting up The Mercian Regiment Association and I welcome Peter Gresty as his enthusiastic successor as Chairman. The strength of our Regimental Associations and the support of our families is the very essence of the “Family Regiment” which is what we have all been separately in the past and now continue to be together. It is this family spirit that strengthens us as a Regiment and reinforces our all-important links between the Battalions, the retired soldiers, our families and our Counties.

Finally, on the subject of family, we have lost five of our number on operations this year, LCpl Kieron Hill, Pte Robbie Laws, Pte Jason Williams, Pte Gavin Elliott and Sgt Michael Lockett MC; many more have been wounded – some of them seriously. It is in the face of losses such as these that we really close ranks and show our mettle as a Regimental Family, put a collective arm around the immediate families of those whom we have lost and ensure that the wounded are properly cared for – now, for the remainder of their service, and beyond.

Brigadier A R D Sharpe OBE, Colonel The Mercian Regiment

Brigadier Andrew Sharpe was commissioned into The 22nd (Cheshire) Regiment in December 1979. After Sandhurst, he served as a Rifle Platoon Commander on operations in Belize and in Northern Ireland and, before attending the Army Staff College at Camberley in 1992, he served in 1 CHESHIRE in a variety of command and staff appointments in Hong Kong, in Brunei, again in Belize and in Chester. He instructed at Platoon and Company level at the Prince of Wales Division Depot at Lichfield. After Staff College, he was appointed COS 7 Armd Bde which included a tour in Bosnia in 1994 with UNPROFOR. He then assumed command of C Coy 1 CHESHIRE, which included two tours in Northern Ireland. He was Chief Instructor at RMA Sandhurst in 1997, MA to DSACEUR in 1998/99 and CO 1 CHESHIRE from 1999 to 2001 (which included a fourth tour in Northern Ireland).

Promoted to Colonel in December 2001, he was Chief of Staff JSCSC in 2002, AD Joint Warfare in MoD in 2003, Head of Campaign Planning MNF-I Baghdad in 2004 and a member of RCDS in 2005. In 2006, on promotion to Brigadier, he returned to the Balkans as Comd MNTF (NW) and COMBRITFOR (Bosnia). He became Director HCSC in 2007 and is currently the Deputy Commandant of the Staff College. He has, therefore, conducted operational staff work at the Operational and Strategic levels as a Major, Lieutenant Colonel and Colonel and he has completed nine operational tours, commanding at Platoon, Company, Battalion and one star levels.

He is married to Lisa, an art dealer, and they have two sons, Harry and Milo. He continues to enjoy most sport (particularly rugby and golf) and also enjoys skiing, shooting, fly-fishing (and fly-tying), painting and illustrating, history and writing. He has an MA in International Studies from King’s College, London, and he is currently studying for a PhD with Trinity College Cambridge.

The Mercian Eagle October 2009 5


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