The Tank Park, The Contingency Operating Base (COB), Southern Iraq, 2009, Telic 13
2 Pl, A Coy, 1 PWRR, 5 Rifles Battlegroup
Welcome to the tank park.
That sounds impressive until you’ve trudged up there for the hundredth time to do a radio check, or to check off serialised kit like here in the photo.
All the issued kit like night vision gear, ammunition, grenades etc. had to be accounted for on, I think, a weekly basis.
Magazines would be checked for any lost rounds, with the threat from battlegroup hierarchy that any missing ammunition would see the careless (unlucky?) soldier fined twenty eight days pay for each lost round.
One of section LMG gunners nearly shit himself when he realised that five rounds of link had gone astray, until five rounds were “found” and clipped back onto his guns belt of 5.56.
We’d lay everything out, Mike would go round the thirty or so blokes of 2 Pl to ensure that he wouldn’t be having to fill in yet more paperwork than he already did.
Platoon Sergeant, from my very limited viewpoint, seems to be not only a massively fulfilling role, but also a massively frustrating one.
At his level, he’s advising the new Pl Commander, a recent (but very competent) graduate of the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, looking after the welfare of all the enlisted men and Non Commissioned Officers in the platoon, taking care of all the issued kit for thirty men when handed down from the Company’s Colour Sergeant and supplies det, dealing with day to day administrative tasks with the blokes including punishments and the handing out of responsibilities.
It’s a hard role and it should wonder that Pl Sgt’s are often grumpy, pushed off and generally like a beat with a sore arse.
Until they get to know you, see that you’re competent and can be trusted, been through thousands of hours of training and Ops with you under their command, and then they leave you alone.
I think I got to that point fairly quickly with A Coy, at least I hope I did. Memory tends to be a sliding scale of actual events and shadows that the mind is dreaming.
I do know that as soon as we deployed, I was being given responsibilities and carrying them out as they were meant to be done. I’d volunteered to be there and I wanted to be just another soldier amongst other soldiers, doing what they’d joined to do.
When we were in the COB, which varied depending on the rotation that we were engaged in, my assigned responsibilities were my Bowman HF radio set and various serialised kit items, and then whatever the boss, Mike or the section commanders wanted doing.
I think 2 Pl stood out slightly from the other two platoons. We were a mostly older Pl, and the average age was greater than the normal 18 - 25 as not only was the Pl augmented by seven of us 3 Bn reserve soldiers, but there were also some rejoining lance jacks and the boss was the same age as Mike and I at twenty eight.
He’d been a surveyor on the Isle of Wight, where I’m from also. He’d gotten fed up with civilian life and realised that time was running out for a career as an officer in the infantry, so he joined up and I first met him in Paderborn when he joined the platoon at the same time as we did.
I got on well with all the NCO’s in 2 Pl, I was the same age as them, had the same or worse money troubles, and I was switched on and keen to learn lessons on how not to die, from very experienced soldiers who’d already learned that lesson.
It didn’t take long for me to be pinged as the boss’s signaller, carrying the bowman, and so I spent a lot of time with Larry,Mike and the corporals, doing my job as the radio op but also just chatting shit with them. Always respectful but as men doing the same hard role and not just as commander and skivvies.
They all taught me a huge amount about the whole process of how leadership and respect are gained, managed and lost again sometimes. I think that’s partly why I get so angry and frustrated with the companies I’ve worked for since Iraq, because I’ve seen how you’re meant to treat your people.
Yeah, I know, rose tinted and all that, but yes, I do remember the Beas tings and Mike swearing at us continuously for far longer than was comfortable even for us, but he gave a shit.he genuinely cared about our welfare and how we were doing.
My strongest memory of Mike, is his method of summoning a reserves Lance Jack, who’d been instantly labelled “pink pig” as soon as we hit Paderborn and integrated into A Coy.
“PINK PIIIIGGGGGGGG” would go the cry, and poor Stu would run as fast as he could to see what Mike wanted him for.
It’s completely normal for men to be doing the job of a senior rank and get nothing for it other than respect and often, more work when you’re seen to be good at what you do.
The Coy was under strength even with us, and in the back of the wagons, which could hold seven dismounts normally, there were generally four of us, sometimes three if blokes were on leave.
Lee (lorry driver, late twenties, ex regular, now reserves), AW (forty, reserves, all round top dude and my oppo for all of our mobilisation), George (19, inexperienced regular) and me, twenty eight, six foot two, failed Signals recruit and now infantry reservist, machine gunner (SF) and now buckshee patrol signaller.
My first task in the mornings, was to go up to the park with the other platoon signaller who actually knew what he was doing. I picked it up fast enough, like I do with most things, but I still remember the terror of boarding the Merlin that first time, a whole twenty minutes of instruction by Matty, and responsible for my multiples communications with the COB and our warrior patrol group.
I picked it up quickly and was complimented on my skills (?) by the company O/C and CSM, when from my point of view, I was being paid to be flown around in wocka wockas, land in an EOD cleared minefield (what I remember being told anyway) and then after a few hours kip, head out across an moonscape of a desert, where every patch of mud seemed to have piezoelectric anti personnel mines or jumping jacks, a particularly nasty mine that pops up to waist level before detonating.
I enjoyed that, I enjoyed every minute of it and I’d go back in an instant.
I really don’t miss serialised kit checks though.