Welsh Cavalry in live fire training for Afghanistan

In a picturesque corner of Pembrokeshire, 200 soldiers are taking part in a major live firing exercise in readiness for deployment in Afghanistan.

Officers at the Castlemartin Range say the week-long programme is the most realistic and demanding training they have ever staged.

Members of the 1st The Queen's Dragoon Guards, known as The Welsh Cavalry, are being put through their paces as it is likely they will be on the front line before the end of the year.

For some it will be their first tour but many in the regiment, which is based in Germany, have already served in Afghanistan.

With the noise of gunfire and explosions in the distance and a military helicopter circling overhead, Rob Shoutman, 27, of Cwmbran, Torfaen, said such exercises were invaluable.

"It's so important, partly because of the amount of new recruits and packages like this really built up their confidence," he said.

"This is the most realistic and best practice we've had before any tour yet."

With two tours of Iraq and one of Afghanistan already completed, he said each day was different and the key was to learn and adapt to situations as they evolve.

"It does take a special type of person. You need to go out there with the right mindset and just be prepared mentally and physically.

Image caption The training operation was monitored from a helicopter

"It is a big look forward to, just because of the experiences you gain. The people were really grateful for our support on the last tour.

"They realise we are there to help and to bring their country back together again.

"Now I'm at the stage of being used to going on tour the only real bad point is leaving the family."

The soldiers are using their time at Castlemartin to master the weapons they will have at their disposal - heavy and grenade machine guns and cannons - as well as familiarising themselves with the vehicles they will use.

It involves a mix of cross-country driving and gravel tracks while engaging targets at varying ranges.

When in Afghanistan their mission is two-fold. Some will patrol the border areas where insurgents operate, gather intelligence and mix with the local population.

Others with then act on that intelligence and engage the insurgents.

Kieran Welfoot, 22, from Wrexham, said training had become more and more intense the closer they came to deployment.

"We did four months out in Canada and we are down here now. It's very realistic. We are starting to crunch down now to do what we will be doing in Afghanistan."

It will be his first tour and he has been studying Pashto so he can converse with the locals.

"I'm actually really looking forward to it, getting out there and doing my job.

"I know what we are going out there to do and want we want to achieve.

"Everyone will have their fears but with the training we've had I feel pretty confident going in there."

Adam Stiens, 22, of Swansea, was on the tour the regiment completed in 2009.

"I sort of know what to expect but we are doing a completely different job this time. We will be more on foot, more patrols and more interaction with the locals.

"It's physically and mentally tough but I do enjoy what I do and I just can't wait to get out there again to do it."

After they returned last time the soldiers marched through the streets of Swansea where the regiment was granted the freedom of the city.

He said: "I felt on top of the world marching through my home town with all my family and friends watching. It was one of the proudest days of my life."

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