RN divers swap wetsuits for body armour in Afghanistan
10 Sep 10
It's a long way from the murky waters of the Defence Diving School at Horsea Island, but four Royal Navy mine clearance divers have, for the past six months, swapped the sea for the hot, dusty surrounds of Helmand.
Petty Officer (Diver) Ward 'Sharky' Peers, Leading Seaman (Diver) Lee Jackson, Able Seaman (Diver) Phil Brierley and Able Seaman (Diver) Ian Rowe flew to Afghanistan on 8 March, but their training started well before then.
When they first arrived for pre-deployment training the divers swapped their wetsuits for body armour in Afghanistan as they were asked to patrol down to the end of the airfield: "We told them that we'd never patrolled before," said PO Peers. "We were met by a look of confusion, followed by a few choice words of disbelief.
"I think they expected us to already have these skills, until we pointed out that there's not much call for us to patrol when we're onboard! We were definitely at a disadvantage and obviously our green skills were lacking, but by the end of our pre-deployment training [PDT] we were confident and keen to deploy," he explained.
Sergeant Scott Docherty of the Royal Engineers oversaw much of the divers' PDT and has been working with them in Afghanistan: "As far as EOD [explosive ordnance disposal] goes we were all at the same standard," he said. "They might have felt they didn't know as much but they weren't at as much of a disadvantage as they thought.
"You have to remember that not everyone in the Army does basic soldiering either. PDT is designed to take people of all levels and for them to leave at the same standard at the end. These guys picked up everything really quickly, from weapon handling tests on underslung grenade launchers to CQB [Close Quarters Battle] lanes and having your oppos [opponents] firing live rounds just to your left and right; they were all over it!"
"Learning to drive the Mastiff was definitely a highlight of PDT," said AB Rowe. "It really is a hoofing bit of kit!"
Once in theatre and their mandatory training was complete, the team was almost immediately sent up to Kajaki to work with the combat-hardened 3rd Battalion The Rifles Battle Group:
Left to right: Able Seaman (Diver) Ian Rowe, Petty Officer (Diver) Ward Peers, Leading Seaman (Diver) Lee Jackson and Able Seaman (Diver) Phil Brierley [Picture: Lieutenant Nick Southall RN, Crown Copyright/MOD 2010]
"It was the place that everyone wanted to go, where all our training could be consolidated into one. I think all the Army teams were a bit annoyed that it was us that went up there," said PO Peers.
It was in Kajaki, during their first patrol, that the team experienced their first contact: "It was actually a bit of a buzz," admitted AB Rowe. "It was something completely different. Kajaki was definitely the best part of the tour," agreed LS Jackson. "We were able to hone our skills and left the area confident that we would be able to deal with anything that was put in front of us."
Since Kajaki the team have worked all over Helmand, including Lashkar Gah and Nad 'Ali: "All the places we've been we've bumped into the same people and it's been good to see them," said AB Brierley. "It's been a pleasure working with 21 Regiment Royal Engineers. We've made some good friends."
An unexploded object is destroyed by the Royal Navy explosive ordnance disposal team in Kajaki [Picture: Crown Copyright/MOD 2010]
On the subject of friends, the whole team are in agreement as to the worst part of their time in Afghanistan. PO Peers said: "We've lost some very close friends throughout this tour. It's been very sad ... that's definitely been the worst part of the tour."
Now nearing the end of their six months, the four divers are looking forward to going home and returning to the Fleet Diving Group: "We're all looking forward to going on holiday and seeing our families I think," says AB Rowe.
Sgt Docherty added: "I think the best thing about the Counter-IED Task Force is the joint nature; the banter is always good. This is the second time I've worked with the RN and, once again, it's been a pleasure!"