Hampshire troops go back to Basra


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Hampshire troops go back to Basra

7:10am Sunday 9th November 2008
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By Peter Law »

WITH autumnal trees dropping their leaves, Arabic pop music blaring out of a kebab kiosk, villagers milling around the local barbershop and the sound of gunfire in the distance, it could be a typical scene from the Middle East.
But this isn’t Iraq or Afghanistan – it’s southern Germany, where for the past three weeks hundreds of Hampshire soldiers have been pushed to the limit to prepare them for war.
Exactly two years since they were last on the frontline, more than 350 members of The Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment (1PWRR) are going back to Basra.
The forthcoming tour of Iraq will be the third for many of the men in 1PWRR – nicknamed the Armoured Tigers – who have previously served in 2004 and 2006.
The troops will be based in Basra for the next tour of duty, known as Operation Telic 13, and will deploy as part of their parent group, 20th Armoured Brigade.
To prepare them for the challenges ahead they have completed a massive Mission Rehearsal Exercise (MRX) at the Hohenfels training area in Bavaria.
In their final exercise before deployment, they have faced every kind of weather and been put through their paces on every kind of skill they possess.
Training on the rolling Bavarian landscape, which served to simulate southern Iraq, included live firing packages and scenarios involving soldiers acting as Iraqi civilians.
The US Army-owned barracks became the Contingency Operating Base in Basra, while the edge of the training area represented the international border with Iran and Kuwait. One thousand actors brought the training alive, as villages built in the 1990s to prepare troops for operations in the Balkans were given more Arabic features such as a barbershop, a kebab kiosk and town hall complete with mayor. Shirley soldier Private Chris Raine, 33, added: “The live firing is quite realistic – it’s a good buzz. We’ve been doing different scenarios and training for strike operations, bursting into rooms.”
The Armoured Tigers will head out to Iraq as part of the 20th Armoured Brigade (The Iron Fist). A further detachment of 170 soldiers from B Company 1PWRR have already arrived in Afghanistan for their six-month tour in Helmand Province with the Royal Marines.
When the Germany-based troops are sent to Basra later this month their role will largely involve mentoring and training the 14th Division of the Iraqi Army as Military Transition Teams (MiTT).
One of the key elements of the training has been to prepare the soldiers for the cultural and language issues surrounding living and working alongside the Iraqi Army.
Lieutenant Colonel Charlie Sykes, commanding officer of 1PWRR, said: “We’ve had some advice from the Battle Groups currently conducting the MiTT tasks out in Iraq. It’s been interesting just to have a slight tweak of our own basic skills and drills in order to adapt them slightly so that we know how we are going to work when we’re embedded with the Iraqi Army.”
Meanwhile A Company 1PWRR will become part of the Strike Battle Group and provide force protection for the Contingency Operating Base.Major Andy Flay, officer commanding A Company, explained: “Many of my privates haven’t been on tour before and for some of my new junior commanders it will be their first op tour in that role.
“We’re part of the Strike Battle Group, one of four Warrior companies, and going out as 20th Armoured Brigade.We’ve a number of tasks including force protection and wider Quick Reaction Force tasks in theatre.We also provide a company to conduct operational tasks in support of the Iraqi forces. The live firing package has been an awesome experience – progressive as well as fundamentally relevant for our role. It has given me confidence that all the training that we’d been doing has been drawn together.”