Armed and ready for action

VIDEO They have endured tough physical tests and had their combat readiness placed under close scrutiny but Ipswich's Iraq-bound TA troops remain committed to contributing to Britain's role in the war-torn country.

Grant Sherlock

They have endured tough physical tests and had their combat readiness placed under close scrutiny but Ipswich's Iraq-bound TA troops remain committed to contributing to Britain's role in the war-torn country. In part two of a special report, chief reporter GRANT SHERLOCK discovered they were free from having second thoughts just weeks before their deployment.

WE'RE ready to do the job we signed up for.

That's the rallying cry from the troops from Ipswich's Territorial Army squadron as they prepare for deployment to the south of Iraq.

The dozen soldiers who are being deployed as part of the TA's contribution of troops to the Iraq effort, say they see the deployment as a challenge they are keen to face.

The troops are part of 202 Transport Squadron based at the TA centre in Yarmouth Road, Ipswich which is part of 158 (Royal Anglian) Transport Regiment.

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Far from being fearful of the danger the will face when they get there, the TA volunteer soldiers are eager to get on with the job.

Lance Corporal Paul Campbell, 28, from Woodbridge, said: “I'm getting fairly keen now. We're starting to gel and forge our operational strategies.

“The guys are getting together, we're looking forward to getting out there really.”

Since they left Ipswich in January, the dozen soldiers have been put through rigorous physical and strategic training to ensure they are ready for everything Iraq can throw at them.

More used to once-a-week training sessions at the TA's Yarmouth Road centre in Ipswich, the group have faced early mornings and long days as the army prepares them for the deployment.

Private Matt Finch, 18, from Grundisburgh, said: “It's been tiring, especially getting up early but it's getting easier. I've started getting a basic understanding of what it's all about. I don't want to go out there under-trained.”

Ipswich's TA volunteers have been calling the Army's Gutersloh camp in Germany home for the last several weeks but last week they took the half-hour journey to the Sennelager camp for training exercises.

Soon they will return home for an Easter break but soon after they will head to Bavaria for a round of training which will give them the best idea yet of just how tough life in Iraq will be.

But while little can prepare them for the intense heat that will greet them there, the troops don't appear to be phased.

Lance Corporal Campbell, a boat builder, said: “We've just got to take it as it comes, that's what it's all about.

“I'm quite used to being cold, wet, hot, dusty and dry.”

Ipswich's TA soldiers will be among a deployment heading to Iraq in June for a six-month tour. They will be part of the 2 Logistic Support Regiment.

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How the troops are faring: (with pix)

Private Nicole Tonner said life with the regular army “feels normal now”.

The 18-year-old, from Onehouse, said: “I thought I'd get homesick but I don't.

“It's not been bad actually, it's been quite easy.”

Ipswich 19-year-old Tahnee Hearn, a former Westbourne High pupil, added: “We get on with all the regulars. We spend most of our time in their block.

“In a short space of time we've made good mates.”

Lance Corporal Dan Coote, 22, from Ipswich, is one of several in the group to be chosen for force protection duty, which will see him responsible for helping to provide security for the truck convoys.

“It's the hardest job,” he said.

“Anything that happens on the convoys, we're the ones who deal with it straight away. It's pretty intense.

“There's a lot more to remember and a lot more responsibility.”

Private Gabriel Naimhwaka, 33, from Ipswich, “definitely” wants to join the ranks of the regular army following his experiences in Germany.

“I've enjoyed it,” he said.

“I'm quite happy because I'm trying to learn more things.

“When we first arrived the fitness was a bit hard but now we are more used to it. We are all happy together.”

Private Bradley Hambling, 23, from Ipswich, said the added responsibility of being part of the force protection troop meant there was “a lot to take in”.

“I was quite happy with being chosen to do it. I feel with this job the tour is going to go a lot quicker,” he said.

AS the Territorial Army troops drive the 24-hour round-trip from the Iraq/Kuwait border to the British troops near Basra, there will be one key piece of machinery keeping them safe.

The state-of-the-art Mastiffs represent the latest technology the army has in armoured vehicles.

Far bigger and with significantly more blast protection, the Mastiffs are used in place of the 'Snatch' vehicles - a Land Rover variant which was previously used.

The Ipswich troops chosen for Force Protection duty - the squadron which will drive the Mastiffs to protect convoys of lorries - got their first look at the impressive vehicles last week.

“It's the best protection you can get at the moment,” Lieutenant Antony Brazier, Force Protection Troop Commander, said.

The Mastiffs each weigh in at 27 tonnes - far heavier than the 2.5 tonne Snatch vehicles. Fitted on top is a 50-calibre gun and a grenade launcher.

The vehicles have only been in “operational theatre”, as the operations in places like Iraq and Afghanistan are referred to, for eight months.

“If you are route-proving, which is the main threat out there, it gives you greater protection,” Lieutenant Brazier said.

“You only have to look on the internet to see ones which have sustained damage in IED attacks and kept going.”

The Mastiffs are designed to withstand blasts from IEDs (improvised explosive devices), which are one of the greatest causes of military casualties in Iraq.

The IEDs are often hidden on routes used by Allied forces and detonated either remotely or by sensors triggered when the army conveys drive past.

The force protection troops now face the task of learning to drive and man a vehicle far heavier and with less manoeuvrability but which the army insists has already saved lives of British personnel.

After seeing a Mastiff for the first time during training exercises in Germany, Gabriel Naimhwaka, a 32-year-old TA private from Ipswich, said: “I'm really impressed by it.

“This is a heavy vehicle - I feel more comfortable in this vehicle than the Snatch.”

AS well as reaching expected standards in military strategy and shooting and driving capabilities, the TA troops have to fulfil rigorous fitness requirements before they can head to Iraq.

During training they are expected to reach the fitness levels of the full-time regulars and complete a series of drills which pit them against the clock and require them to carry 15kg of kit, plus their SA18 rifles.

Among them are the combat fitness test (CFT) which requires them to complete an eight-mile course carrying the kit and rifle.

There's also the advanced combat fitness test which sees them cover 1.5 miles in under 15 minutes - all with the 15kg kit and rifle in tow.

“That's the hardest test they will do,” Lieutenant Antony Brazier of the 2 Logistic Support Regiment said.