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Engineers - the driving force behind our troops in Afghanistan

Engineers trained in Chatham have been crucial to the running of British forces' operations in northern Helmand province.

Engineers from 35 Engineer Regiment work in Battlegroup Northwest in Afghanistan, which is the area headed by troops from the Folkestone-based Second Battalion of the Royal Gurkha Rifles.

Aside from ensuring the effective running of the FOBS (Forward Operating Bases) and PBs (Patrol Bases) they fulfil many other roles.

The engineers based at FOB Musa Qal’eh built PB Woqab from scratch during their six-month tour, which is due to come to an end in a fortnight.

PB Woqab is a few kilometres north of FOB Musa Qal’eh at the district centre.

Close Support Troop Commander Lieutenant Dave Wyse of 35 Engineer Regiment said: “Generally our three main roles are mobility, counter-mobility and survivability.

“Out here most of our work involves ensuring survivability, so everything from building protective walls, setting up a supply of water and putting in place functioning electricity is down to us. Without us the bases wouldn’t run.

“On top of that we provide combat engineering support where we go forth to tackle the enemy with infantry.

“This can take the form of fighting in the same way regular infantry would or putting mines against walls to blow a hole in them to access an enemy compound.

“We also provide subject matter advice on IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices) to troops out in the field.”

Lt Wyse is a troop commander of one of three troops in Musa Qal’eh. He took half his troop command course at Chatham, which took him nearly three months.

“The national centre in Chatham is where lots of our training takes place. About 90 per cent of our engineers go through Chatham to learn their trade.

“In my command course I learnt how to be in charge of other engineers and how to be in control of tasks. The training is excellent. I would say some parts are more demanding than the training at Sandhurst. All the command courses are very tough.”

The trades learnt by engineers at Chatham is key to making sure FOBS and PBs work in Afghanistan. Their work has made life a lot easier out in the field.

“Without proper water facility set up it’s recommended by the army that water is limited to around 10 litres per man a day.

“However in the heat of summer it’s recommended troops drink around 15 litres of water a day. So our work is necessary for their survival.

“Once we had finished our work in FOB Musa Qal’eh the limit was expanded to around 70 litres per man, which is much more practical and comfortable.

“We are now coming to the end of our tour and there is not a single part of the FOB we have not built, repaired or improved.”

As so many engineers go through Chatham for their training there is unavoidably a large affection fostered between the engineers and the town.

“All the Corps of Royal Engineers like Chatham because of the immense history we have there - what with the Royal Engineers Museum and the Historic Chatham Dockyard. Many guys who do longer courses there bring over their families to stay because they love the place so much.”

“We are trained as soldiers first, then as combat engineers and then we are given our trade. The key for our work out here is the trades. We have an electrician, a plant operator and a carpenter, which are essential. Other trades are a bonus really.

“Also all the Corps of Royal Engineers like Chatham because of the immense history between ourselves and the town. Many guys who do longer courses there bring over their families to stay because they love the place so much.”

Lt Wyse learned how to be an engineer at university before doing his military training at Sandhurst, and then being picked to join the Corps of Royal Engineers. He is troop commander of one of three troops at FOB Musa Qal’eh.

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