Soldiers from across the Borders are getting ready to head back to Afghanistan as part of what their commander has called the best equipped and best prepared force to be deployed from the UK.
Troops from the Royal Scots Borderers, the Scots Guards and other units are part of a 6,500-strong task force that has just completed a major exercise in the final run-up to the deployment which will be completed by early October.
As part of preparations, the various units that make up the 4th Mechanised Brigade, have been honing their skills on the exercise ranges on Salisbury Plain for their task of assisting the Afghan National Security Forces and supporting the country’s police to provide security for the population of Helmand Province.
Brigade commander Brigadier Bob Bruce, who was the first commanding officer of the Royal Scots Borderers when the battalion was formed by the merger of the Royal Scots and the King’s Own Scottish Borderers, is firmly convinced that they have the best equipped and best trained force ever to be sent out from the UK.
“We learn constantly from the lessons of those who have gone before us in terms of training and equipment, and so we have a process of continuous improvement and we have been able to harness those lessons,” he said.
Brigadier Bruce added that the equipment the troops now have available to them, ranging from vehicles all the way through to the personal gear issued to individual soldiers, is the best he has seen in his 26 years’ service, while the training has been more thorough than ever before.
It is just under two years since many of these soldiers from the Royal Scots Borderers returned from a previous tour in Afghanistan and Brigadier Bruce says that intervening period has given the soldiers an opportunity to draw breath and undertake training in their general role.
“The last 12 months have refocused on Afghanistan and the soldiers and marines of this task force are always at their happiest when doing what they’ve been trained to do,” he added.
Lance Corporal Fraser Pairman, 24, of Kelso, agrees: “I reckon we’ve had one of the best training packages in the world,” he told us.
L/Cpl Pairman was on a previous tour of Afghanistan and is looking forward to going back: “There will be a lot of changes since we were there in 2010, so I’m looking forward to seeing the changes.
“There are a few boys who have not been out before, so it’ll be a good experience for them.”
For 19-year-old private, Ewan Webster, it will be a first visit to Afghanistan and he admitted that he will be a little nervous on the journey out.
But he added: “Once I get there it will be OK and I think it will be a good experience.
“My family have backed me up from the beginning and are behind me all the way.”