Life with the Lancers

Going to war

Between December 2009 and 2010, BBC News followed the progress of four soldiers from the Queen's Royal Lancers from basic training to deployment in Helmand province, Afghanistan.

Filmed by the soldiers themselves and army camera crews, as well as by the BBC, the footage captured everything from the shock of coming under fire to coping with harsh conditions.

Follow Major Jim Walker, Lance Corporal Cheryl Fray, Trooper Ian Baird and Warrant Officer Class Two Tony Gould [R to L] as they take us through their year.

Going to war

Basic training

Before being sent to Afghanistan troops are put through a rigorous training schedule lasting more than 18 months.

Soldiers learn to deal with everything from weapons handling to interacting with the local people.

From basic training at their base in Catterick in North Yorkshire, the soldiers move to Wales for live-firing drills and even experience a simulated 'Afghan village' to prepare them for their deployment.

The soldiers flew out from RAF Brize Norton in April 2010.

Life in camp

At home in Helmand

'Home' for UK soldiers in Helmand is one of several different types of camp. Many spend most of their six-month deployment time operating from checkpoints. These are the smallest kind of camp housing up to 20 people.

Life in camp

Close quarters

Facilities vary depending on the size of camp, although all have power and some have TVs.

At small checkpoints the soldiers usually share two toilets, which consist of a box with a hole in it, and one solar shower.

Air conditioning? That consists of opening the side of a tent
Tony Gould

Life in camp

Keeping in touch

For both the soldiers and their families at home, keeping in touch is vital for morale. They are each allowed 30 minutes of call time per week on a satellite phone. A text messaging facility and occasional access to mobile internet for email is also available. This email was sent from Major Jim Walker to his wife.

From: Major Jim Walker
To: Jackie Walker, 14 April 2010

Got back into Bastion at lunchtime today.

Its a great area, full of opportunity and promise. To the west of the Capital Lashkah Gar (Lash Vegas they call the camp for its dullness!). The area closest to Lash is the fertile 'green zone' around the Helmand River - can be a bit like Kent - fruit trees and wheat, cucumbers, courgette, tomatoes etc. The west of my area is Dasht - desert. The people who live there are gypsies and dispossessed who have no land rights or ID cards and benefit from no government recognition. They are subsistence farmers who work an arid and salt ridden land which taps off the irrigation systems of its neighbours to the north, east and west.

These dispossessed are a ripe breeding ground for insurgency - the challenge is to deliver progress for them and get them on the government side - land rights, id cards, water and electricity are the basic needs.

The Patrol Bases are basic and in desperate need of 'summerisation' - shade, power and fridges! They can and will be improved, so there is plenty to get ur teeth into, troop by troop, to make our lives better. When out on the patrol bases, we have satellite phones and the textlink service - this allows me to send short messages to either your phone or e-mail. Jonny said he got the Ginger cake and sent a 'Troop letter' back as a thank you!

On patrol

Ground patrol

Each soldier spends about four hours a day out on patrol. This is called "ground domination" by the army and is intended to prevent the Taliban from operating. The threat of ambush, Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) and sniper fire is constant, so light armoured vehicles such as the Scimitar are used to cover the terrain.

The cost of war

64
UK soldiers killed in Afghanistan during the Lancers' tour of duty
(1 Apr - 31 Oct 10)
£11.1bn
Spent on the war in Afghanistan by the UK since 2001
(up to June 2010)

On patrol

Vital protection

The soldiers are equipped with body armour, radios and personal medical kit.

Attacks can come with little warning and soldiers must be prepared for everything.

IEDs are one of the most dangerous threats faced. When discovered, specialist disposal teams are often called in to make the devices safe.

On patrol

Casualties

In September 2010 soldiers from the Lancers were on a vehicle patrol in the Bolan district of Lashkar Gar when an IED exploded.

Trooper Andrew Howarth and Sergeant Andrew Jones were killed.

Cheryl Fray was one of the medics who attended the scene.

Getting the emergency call Medic Cheryl Fray was on call when an IED exploded, killing two soldiers
I still feel very angry... after it happened I kept myself to myself
Cheryl Fray, medic
Trooper Andrew Howarth Known to friends as Steptoe, Andrew Howarth was 20 and from Dorset. He was the third generation in his family to join the Lancers.
Sergeant Andrew Jones From Newport, south Wales, Andrew Jones was 35 years old. He was a Royal Engineer serving as part of Lancers' Fondouk Squadron.

Leave

Welcome break

Somewhere in the middle of their six-month deployment, the soldiers are allowed to return home for two weeks of rest and recuperation.

This is staggered, so not everyone is away at the same time.

It is a welcome break from the realities of conflict and an important time to spend with family and loved ones.

However, at the end of the fortnight soldiers face another emotional moment - having to say goodbye again.

Afghan mission

Changing role

UK troops first went to Afghanistan in 2001 as part of the US-led operation to oust the Taliban from power.

Since 2006 their role has expanded and the core aim of the mission now is stabilisation of the country, training and mentoring the Afghan army, and providing security to allow reconstruction work.

That's the reason we're here - so people can carry on making money and sending their kids to school
Tony Gould

Afghan mission

Hearts and minds

The Lancers work to support the multinational Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT), which is made up of civilians, military staff and local police.

The insurgency and drugs trade combine in Helmand to present a particular challenge.

Part of the soldiers' mission is to win the 'hearts and minds' of local people to support the PRT's work.

Despite reconstruction efforts, war continues to exact a grim toll on the civilian population. The UN recorded 684 deaths in the southern provinces, which include Helmand, in the first six months of 2010.

Critical numbers

4,000
Loans totalling nearly £2m given to small businesses in Helmand since 2007
115
Schools open in Helmand, up from 47 in 2007
684
Civilian deaths recorded in southern Afghanistan in the first 6 months of 2010
31%
Increase in civilian deaths nationwide compared to the same period in 2009

Sources: UN/PRT/FCO

Coming home

Reunited

After six months in Afghanistan, the Lancers began coming home in the autumn of 2010.

After a long journey, the soldiers arrived at Catterick by coach where they had an emotional reunion with family and friends.

However, coming home brings its own difficulties as the soldiers reflect on the realities of conflict and the losses experienced.

The road home

4,302 miles…

Convoy
Convoy drive 7hrs Bolan desert - Camp Bastion
Military flight
Flight 1.5hrs Camp Bastion - Kandahar
Civilian flight
Flight 3hrs Kandahar - Cyprus
Civilian flight
Flight 5hrs Cyprus - RAF Brize Norton
Coach
Coach 5hrs RAF Brize Norton - Catterick

Coming home

Highs and lows

A few weeks after their return, the soldiers are honoured in a medal parade at Catterick army base in North Yorkshire.

The freezing December day is a world away from the desert heat of Afghanistan.

It is also a chance for Jim Walker, Tony Gould, Cheryl Fray and Ian Baird to reflect on what they have been through and how they feel about returning to normal life.

Coming home

Where are they now

Jim Walker is now working at the Permanent Joint Headquarters in Northwood, looking at the reconnaissance aspects of the operation in Afghanistan.

Tony Gould is moving to a new position as a regimental Sergeant Major at the Armoured Trials and Development Unit in Bovington, Dorset.

Cheryl Fray is continuing as a medic in the Lancers. She's due to undertake more medical training in the coming months as well as exercises in Canada.

Ian Baird is considering his next career move. In the meantime, he's preparing for further training in Canada in the coming months. He recently became engaged.

Thanks to:

ARMY: Major Jim Walker
Warrant Officer Class Two Tony Gould
Lance Corporal Cheryl Fray
Trooper Ian Baird

All of the Queen's Royal Lancers Fondouk Squadron and their families
Combat camera team
Captain Chris Findlay
Lieutenant Rob Campbell

BBC Production: Annette Bartholomew, John Galliver, Tom Housden, Emily Jones, Martyn Rees
Design: Mark Bryson

SPECIAL REPORTS:
Taliban conflict
UK troops in Afghanistan

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