From Ipswich to Iraq

VIDEO In two months they will be deployed to one of the world's most dangerous battle zones. As that date approaches, a small band of Ipswich Territorial Army (TA) troops are undergoing a transformation from part-time soldiers to highly trained, combat-ready troops.

Grant Sherlock

IN two months they will be deployed to one of the world's most dangerous battle zones.

As that date approaches, a small band of Ipswich Territorial Army (TA) troops are undergoing a transformation from part-time soldiers to highly trained, combat-ready troops.

In part one of a special report, chief reporter GRANT SHERLOCK was given exclusive access to the troops as they get ready to head to Iraq.

IPSWICH'S TA troops were today praised by one of the officers overseeing their combat readiness training for their determination and professionalism as they prepare for deployment to Iraq.

The volunteer soldiers from the Territorial Army are now just two months from their posting to the southern areas of the war-torn country.

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Today Lieutenant Antony Brazier, one of the officers overseeing their training in Germany, said they had impressed all with their commitment to the task ahead of them.

As he watched them undergo live fire training on a British base in Germany, the lieutenant said they had combined with the regular army troops they will serve alongside “seamlessly”.

“They're treated no differently to any other regular soldier and they're just as professional in what they do - some of them more so,” he said.

“Adapting to the job might be slightly more difficult for them but they're adapting well.

“What has impressed us is their flexibility.

“The life experiences they bring also help. They bring their experiences from civilian street. That just adds to a broader view of things.”

Lieutenant Brazier, who will be among the troops to deploy to Iraq in May, said since leaving Ipswich in January the TA troops were now unrecognisable among their regular army colleagues.

He said: “I've got a troop of 30 now and you can't tell the difference between the TA and the regulars.”

The Evening Star was given special access to the troops as they undertook some of the toughest training the army has put them through yet.

In the bitter cold of a German winter, the close-knit group of soldiers, some as young as 18, were put through drills on the firing ranges at Sennelager training camp close to their temporary home in Gutersloh.

The soldiers from Ipswich are part of the Close Support Squadron - known as 45CS - and the Force Protection troop 27HQ Squadron.

They are being prepared for their task of supplying British troops already on the ground in southern Iraq.

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.

Prior to their selection for an Iraq posting, their time in the TA has seen them take part in weekly training drills designed to give them the skills to carry out transport duties for the army.

Originally a group of about 26 volunteered for the Iraq posting - which would have been the largest ever contingent dispatched from Ipswich - but that number has been whittled down to fit the army's requirements.

Eight from Ipswich and surrounding areas and several from Essex and Norfolk who are attached to the Ipswich squadron have been selected for deployment.

Some will drive convoys of heavily laden trucks carrying vital supplies to the troops in Basra.

Others, those in the Force Protection squadron, will be responsible for providing protection for those convoys. Those troops are undergoing separate training to the Close Support troops as, while they will work alongside each other, their roles will be different.

The force protection soldiers will drive state-of-the-art heavily armoured Mastiff vehicles which will protect the convoys of supplies as they drive through southern Iraq.

Lance Corporal Andrew Brown, a 24-year-old from Appleby Close, Ipswich, said the group had retained strong-ties during their training and that had helped them focus on their task.

“It helps all of us being here together,” he said.

“Some of the regs (regulars) we have got to know are absolutely brilliant but it does help having some guys you know from home.

“There's a bit of anxiety at times obviously with the job we're doing but on the whole everyone is pretty enthusiastic. We just want to get out there now and get on with the job.”

Lieutenant Brazier, the Force Protection troop commander, said the TA soldiers had adapted well to their individual tasks.

“The most important thing we did was we explained to every single person, regular or TA, exactly what job they are doing,” he said.

And he said the role of the TA troops in bolstering the ranks of the regular army was a contribution that was not lost on the full-time regulars.

“If the TA soldiers weren't here we'd be doing more work. We need them for the work they are doing.”

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

Prior to that, they will return to Ipswich at Easter for a break before returning to Germany for further training.

See tomorrow's Evening Star for part two of the TA special report when the Ipswich troops tell how they are handling life as a full-time soldier.

The TA team heading for Iraq:

Lance Corporal Andrew Brown, 24, from Ipswich

Lance Corporal Paul Campbell, 28, from Woodbridge

Lance Corporal Dan Coote, 22, from Ipswich

Private Matt Finch, 18, from Grundisburgh

Private Bradley Hambling, 23, from Ipswich

Private Tahnee Hearn, 19, from Ipswich

Private Gabriel Naimhwaka, 32, from Ipswich

Private Nicole Tonner, 18, from Onehouse

Also attached to the Ipswich squadron are:

Lisa Jones, 31, from Bressingham, Norfolk

Chris Gilbert, 22, from Braintree, Essex

Paul Southernwood, 40, from Colchester, Essex

Moses Millard, 38, from Colchester, Essex

TERRITORIAL Army troops from Ipswich face a tough acclimatisation task when they arrive in Iraq.

As the snow fell on Sennelager camp in Germany's west, the volunteer soldiers could not have been further from the reality of the war zone they will soon enter.

Far from the dust storms and endless sand of Iraq, the German camp was covered in a light dusting of snow when the troops arrived to take part in testing training exercises.

Puddles had frozen over and the temperature hovered just above zero as the tight-knit band of soldiers arrived on the Sannelager ranges.

Within two months they will face a shift in temperature of about 30 degrees as they face the oppressive heat of southern Iraq.

And to add to the discomfort brought on by the intense heat, they will wear heavy body armour because of the immense danger of the area.

On the morning of the tests when The Evening Star visited they had been up at 4.30am and presented to the camp's armoury at 5.30am.

Later that morning they had travelled the half-hour journey from Gutersloh to Sennelager and were soon on the range, taking part in a live firing exercise.

Working in pairs, they identified 'enemy' targets in the field before them and opened fire, working together to stop an attack.