From shelf stacker to bomb survivor

ON day two of a series of special reports on Suffolk's troops in Basra, the Evening Star's chief reporter Grant Sherlock spoke to two soldiers whose tour has taken them from Basra Palace to the Iran/Iraq border.

Grant Sherlock

ON day two of a series of special reports on Suffolk's troops in Basra, the Evening Star's chief reporter Grant Sherlock spoke to two soldiers whose tour has taken them from Basra Palace to the Iran/Iraq border.

TWO Ipswich-based soldiers today told of a near-miss in Iraq after a roadside bomb was detonated just yards from British troops.

Privates Tahnee Hearn, 19, and Lisa Jones, 31, were on a convoy of army vehicles travelling back from an area near the Iranian border when the troops were targeted.

Speaking about the incident for the first time, Pte Hearn said: “We were driving along and I was talking to the lads in the cab and all of a sudden I heard a massive bang and a big cloud of black smoke and earth came across the road. It was about 50 metres in front of us.

“Luckily the convoy didn't actually get hit, they'd set it off too early.

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“We just had to sit and wait. We couldn't move forward in case there was a second device.”

The incident happened earlier in the tour which has taken about a dozen Territorial Army troops from Ipswich's 202 Transport Squadron to Basra and Kuwait.

Pte Jones said: “At this particular place there were trees so you could see where these people had been hiding.

“We said 'is that what I think it was?'. It was quite surreal - the first thing you think is 'I hope no one was hurt'.”

Pte Hearn and Pte Jones are stationed at the British base at Basra airport in southern Iraq. They are about four months into a six-month tour.

They are attached to 2 Logistic Support Regiment, part of UK Logistic Battalion, which is charged with keeping the base supplied with food, water, ammunition and almost everything else it needs to keep operating.

It is a massive effort, with 4,500 British troops in Iraq needing to be catered for and the potential of an attack around every corner.

“It's definitely more work than sleep and you can never really imagine the heat, it makes the smallest of jobs seem so hard,” Pte Jones aid.

“When it's humid you might as well be sitting in a steam room with your body armour on.”

Pte Hearn, a former Westbourne High School pupil, added: “With the heat out here when you know you've got a job to do you just crack on with it. You'll get your job done and all you think about is in a few hours I'll be in bed.”

And being away from home has taken its toll.

“The majority of the time all I want to do is hear my mum and dad's voice. I'm not a homesick person but you do want the comforts of home,” Pte Hearn said.

But while the conditions have been tough the women say they have witnessed and experienced things they will never forget.

“One of the details I was sent on was at Basra Palace for ten days,” Pte Jones said.

“I was living with the Iraqis there. We'd play football with them and chat - they're really friendly.

“It was excellent at the palace. We were staying in a building just outside it. You can walk around it and you can see the holes where it has been fired at. It was really interesting.”

And their time in Iraq has also changed their plans for the rest of their lives. Before being deployed Pte Hearn was a shelf stacker at Morrison's in Ipswich.

Now she says the prospect of going back to a job like that is unthinkable.

“I used to do two five-hour shifts a week at Morrisons,” she said. “Now I do ten hours a day and I couldn't do that in a supermarket, it would bore me. I'd just keep thinking 'a few months ago I was driving to the Iranian border and now I'm sitting at a checkout'.”

And Pte Jones, who lives in Bressingham, Norfolk, but travels to Ipswich each week to train with 202 squadron, likes life in the forces so much she's keen to be deployed on a tour of Afghanistan's Kandahar province - possibly as a full-time regular soldier - while also contemplating a career in the RAF.

“I can't imagine going back to work in an office now,” she said.

“I love this life. As much as we moan it's just so much more interesting than being stuck in an office seeing the same thing every day. We do different things every day here.”

- In tomorrow's Evening Star see chief reporter Grant Sherlock's report from Basra on the 23-year-old who has swapped his life in Ipswich to drive armoured vehicles through the Iraqi desert.

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