Getting ready for a hostile reception

VIDEO Flights in Lynx helicopters, firing machine guns and mixing it with the regulars of the British Army - it's been an eventful few months for Ipswich's Iraq-bound Territorial Army troops.

Grant Sherlock

Flights in Lynx helicopters, firing machine guns and mixing it with the regulars of the British Army - it's been an eventful few months for Ipswich's Iraq-bound Territorial Army troops. In his final report before the group heads for their tough assignment as part of 2 Logistic Support Regiment running convoys to Basra, chief reporter GRANT SHERLOCK explains what awaits them.

ONE minute everything is normal; the next the entire base is in lock-down.

Soldiers are confined to their barracks as exits are secured and everyone is told to stay put.

It may be just a drill but this kidnap scenario has one purpose - to prepare the troops for every eventuality when they take to the streets of Iraq.

Drills like this are commonplace at the United States Army Garrison Hohenfels in Germany. Nearly 3,000 British troops have already been put through the final stages of their training at the Bavarian base in readiness for life in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Most Read

Among the latest group are 13 volunteer soldiers from Ipswich's 202 Transport Squadron - once part-timers, now indistinguishable from their regular army counterparts - who will be in Iraq before the month is out.

A few months ago they were everyday civilians with normal day jobs.

Soon everywhere they go they will carry a gun, wear body armour and always have their helmet within reach.

These are the Ipswich soldiers who have put their hands up to bolster the army's ranks in Iraq.

The Evening Star first covered their story when it was revealed in May last year that a group of Territorial Army soldiers from the 202 Transport Squadron in Yarmouth Road, Ipswich, had volunteered for a six-month tour of Iraq.

Over a period of several months their numbers were whittled down as the army selected which roles it needed to fill in its difficult operation in the south of Iraq.

In January this year a group of 15 left the 202 base and joined others from the region's 158 (Royal Anglian) Transport Regiment in the first stage of the long road to Iraq.

That group soon became 13 when two were unable to continue with the plans to take part in the tour and now, three months on, the 13 have been fully integrated into the army's 2 Logistic Support Regiment (2LSR).

As reported in the Star yesterday, the Ipswich troops have joined their 2LSR colleagues at the Hohenfels base to finalise their training before returning to Ipswich for a short leave period prior to their deployment to Iraq.

That training has seen them put through their paces in exercise drills which would leave all but the fittest of athletes feeling the strain. Time trial runs and eight-mile marches while carrying their kit is just for starters.

Soldiers tackling the eight-mile march, which has to be completed in two hours, wear their combat trousers,

T-shirt and a rucksack with 12kg of kit, including their body armour and helmet. They carry their rifle in their hands.

202 Squadron's Private Chris Gilbert, 22, said: “The only way I can really describe how to tackle it is you have to block everything out and walk. You keep up with the man in front,” he said.

“Luckily the only thing I came out with was two little blisters on the balls of my feet.”

They have also been put through live firing exercises which mean they are now fully equipped to handle light machine guns and the larger general purpose machine guns.

They have undergone drills on how to rescue hostages, how to care for badly injured soldiers and civilians and how to deal with an angry mob and diffuse a potentially explosive situation.

All this has been learned in an atmosphere designed to be as similar as possible to the situation they will face in Iraq.

Lance Corporal Andrew Brown, who will celebrate his 25th birthday on May 9 just days before he heads to Iraq, said: “On our last convoy two of the team had been kidnapped.

“That kind of thing makes you realise what vulnerabilities we've got. We learn what frailties are there and what we need to tighten up on.”

Moses Millard, 38, a McDonald's employee who is one of the few TA

soldiers from Ipswich to have been on previous tours of Iraq, said: “They're preparing us for life over there so when we get there it's not going to be too much of a shock.

“They say every tour is different. You could have a great tour one time and the next tour everything is happening. I've had two tours to Iraq which I'd say were medium in terms of what we faced.”

Lance Corporal Paul Campbell, from Newbourne, is preparing for his first tour in “operational theatre”. When the Star spoke to him at Hohenfels he was helping less experienced soldiers hone their weapon-handling skills.

Each day before the tour is spent

making sure the soldiers are as prepared as they can be for life in Iraq, he said.

“I like my shooting so I don't mind doing a bit of coaching.”

Like most of the Ipswich TA group, Lnc Cpl Campbell has been trained for force protection duty which will see him help protect convoys of army and civilian trucks delivering essential supplies to the troops in Basra.

The convoys will travel a 12-hour route from Kuwait through southern Iraq to the airfield near Basra where British troops are stationed. Lnc Cpl Campbell, 28, said the Hohenfels training had shown the soldiers that it will be a test of their concentration to remain alert throughout the entire journey.

“A lot of it is stamina - you've got to be switched on and be ready to go when you need to. It definitely takes it out of you.”

Later this week most of the group will return to their homes in Ipswich and the surrounding areas for a well-earned break but before long they will be back in Germany ready to fly to Iraq for what promises to be a gruelling six-month tour.

The next time most will see their

families will be when they are given two weeks leave in September before they return to Iraq to complete their tour.

“This leave will be the last time I will be home until the 29th of September. It's going to be about four months before I see anyone in Ipswich again,” Lnc Cpl Brown said.