Archive for the ‘Afghanistan’ Category

Major Benjamin Imgham writes:

Before sitting down to write this article, I took a minute to reflect on the last six months. There is no doubt that it has gone exceptionally quickly, but having only completed half of my tour there is the pervasive sense of disappointment in missing out on so much back in the UK. Despite the wonders of technology and the ability to receive emails in seconds, Skype and satellite telephone, there are times when the contact only heightens the feeling of being disconnected from the real world. Whilst being away, two new additions to the Ingham household have appeared in the form of the twin girls Alice and Charlotte, but equally we have lost two family members: the dogs Tyro and William. Being away, I have been unable to share the delight of watching the nephews and nieces grow up, but I have also avoided the pain of loss. The key question is: ‘do the benefits of deploying for a year outweigh the significant sacrifices?’

At this time it is impossible to answer the question. But as we reach a significant tipping point in the conflict against the insurgency within Afghanistan, it is evident that the coalition forces play a role in the prevention of the spread of global terrorism through the disruption of the terrorist network and safe havens. I am pleased that I am contributing to the campaign.

The last month has also been marked with a few highlights in terms of getting ‘out and about’. The first occasion was to a location within the far eastern side of the country, to conduct an assessment of some of the Pakistan and Afghanistan border observation posts. The journey, by helicopter, took us across some spectacular landscapes that would not look out of place on Mars. Red and grey treeless mountains weathered by centuries of wind and rain and baked for years of seemingly endless scorching summers rose out from the barren, dust-ridden deserts. The occasional river, a shocking turquoise blue with cultivated banks, formed a small ribbon of vivid colour set against an otherwise lunar landscape. Small hamlets nestled within the inhospitable terrain, interconnected by thin tracks that looked like a lattice of spider webs when viewed from above. The absence of roads, telephone or electricity pylons and no obvious signs of economic development indicate that those individuals living within these rural areas lead a medieval, subsistence, existence. It was during this trip that we landed in a small outpost where the remnants of an old British fort still doggedly stood, a sharp reminder of our inauspicious colonial past in the region, which was marred by defeat. An American Infantry Battalion ran the outpost and the irony of western soldiers back in the same location 200 years later was not lost on us. (more…)

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Major Benjamin Ingham writes:

I have been deployed for just over five months now and have been keen to try to explain what a typical day might entail. A single day feels like a week back in the UK, however very soon the hours blur into days and days into weeks. Regardless, I dare not count for fear of ‘wishing my life away’. Instead, I set small goals each week such as 30,000 meters on the rowing machine or 15 laps of camp. To put time into perspective, two weeks of R&R goes by quicker than a single 24 hour block of time in Afghanistan.

Living. 

I share a tiny room with three other guys from my headquarters in a utilitarian ‘hardened accommodation’, so called because they are designed to protect against rocket and mortar attack. Bunk beds are used to save space and we share two wardrobes and a desk between us.

Our beds are shrouded using old sheets; if you are night shift, it keeps the light out when trying to sleep during the day and although small, it is the only truly private place available. With space at a premium, kit is stored in any available nook and cranny: under beds, on beds, behind the door, stuck on the wall, taped to the site of wardrobes… you name it, there is a piece of kit sitting, lying, stuck or draped on under or over it.

I avoid the morning shower rush and in order to save time, shower and shave in the evening. Water is also at a premium so we ‘ship shower’: water on – water off – soap on – water on – soap off – water off. All water is pumped from the natural Kabul sub-surface water supply and is therefore not drinkable and incredibly salty. It strips the skin of any moisture in just one short wash.

Feeding. 

There are two DFACs (Dining Facilities) on camp run by a large civilian contractor. The cheapest contract wins and thus we lose out on food quality. For breakfast: sausage ‘things’, semi-cooked bacon and a choice of cereal is accompanied by 1 x serving of fruit, all served from an industrial sized food counter.
(more…)

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Major Benjamin Ingham has sent us this latest post having recently returned to Afghanistan following 2 weeks rest and recuperation. Ben says it was great to return to Parwich and was delighted to receive positive comments on his posts to us.

Summer is finally upon us and over the space of a few weeks the heat has risen considerably.  Summer also marks the arrival of ‘fighting season’ when the insurgent fighters return to Afghanistan from their winter bed-down locations, usually within the security of the mountains and valleys hills of the Pakistan border region.  Eager to demonstrate their intent to continue the insurgency campaign the rise in attacks increases considerably and, therefore, no coalition camp is exempt from increased security measures.  The only time you are not within arms distance of your issue rifle is when you are in the gym or running within the relative security of the camp perimeter.  Unfortunately, a rifle does little to deter the insurgents from mounting IDF (indirect fire) attacks against us.  Additionally, in a separate attack the tragic death of 7 US members of camp came as a great loss.

Although it took a while to track him down, I finally managed to meet up with another Parwich villager, Nettle (Jonathon or Larry) Foden, for a brew and a chat.  Tucked away in a small compound in the bowels of one of the largest, dustiest military camps in Afghanistan, over 2500 thousand miles from Parwich, we swapped tales of village life and our respective military experiences to date.  We had originally made contact through Parwich.org but had we walked past one another in uniform I am sure we would never had recognized one another.  Although he has spent a majority of life within the military, on numerous operational deployments, Nettle is still passionate about Parwich and village life in general.  Despite us both being ‘outsiders’ we agreed that him having spent 40 years and me 30 years living in Parwich that we could almost categorise ourselves as Parwich ‘locals’. We marked the occasion with a photo for Parwich.org and a promise to meet again when the opportunity arose.

Over the last few weeks I have been making a concerted effort to try and put on some weight.  The change of location, monotony of the same meals, irregular working hours and heat and general stress had all taken their toll on my eating habits and I have been steadily losing weight for the last 3 months.  For the first time in many years I have been able to see my ribs and the arrival of a homemade fruitcake was gladly received which, between the members of the office, was quickly devoured – thanks Mum!

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Today’s ‘This is Derbyshire’ & the ‘Derby Telegraph’  feature an article on Major Ben Ingham.  Senior reporter, Martin Naylor saw the orginal articles on PARWICH.ORG and followed up a report for the newspaper.

Taliban-fighting major who misses the clean air of home
A SOLDIER from Derbyshire has told of his “challenging, stressful but rewarding” role fighting the Taliban.

Major Ben Ingham has been keeping his family and friends up to date with his exploits in war-torn Afghanistan by sending regular emails and photos to his village’s website.

In his online dispatches to http://www.parwich.org, he tells how he is working at NATO headquarters in the capital Kabul.

The exact nature of the 37-year-old’s role is secret but his reports offer a fascinating insight into a soldier’s life in Afghanistan.

Click here to read the full report.

If you missed reading the orginal posts on the blog click on the links below.
A message to Parwich from Afganistan.
Another message from Afganistan – No2
Message from Afganistan – No3

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I apologise for that lack of personal content in the latest article but hope that the article gives an insight into some of the difference between the people and culture of Afghanistan in comparison to our own. The longer I spend here the more evident it becomes that the differences in our respective ideologies are chasms apart and that what we, in the west, perceive as abnormal or dysfunctional is viewed totally differently though the eyes of an Afghan local. 

  Major Benjamin Ingham of the Royal Artillery.

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The spare time to sit and write is being rapidly eroded as the workload continues to mount. It is hard to define if we are making a significant improvement in the overall security of the country and my perspective, from within the headquarters, will differ greatly from the perspective of the typical infantry soldier out on patrol and moreover to the message being delivered by a western politician. Nevertheless, a rough timescale in which the Afghan Government will transition to control of its own Provinces has been set for 2015. By this stage it is hoped that we will have created an Afghan National Army and National Police Force, which will counter the insurgent threat that proliferates across the country. Additionally, the aspiration is to provide the Afghan Government with the skill set to correctly govern what appears to be an ungovernable, fragmented society. (more…)

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Parwich.org has received this message and the latest post from Major Benjamin Ingham of the Royal Artillery.

It was great to receive so many positive comments from my last post and I have been in touch with another Parwich member who has recently arrived in Afghanistan, we are hoping to meet up in the near future. The offer to send through parcels is exceptionally kind but we are well catered for and the main support that we, in the Armed Forces, value more is the continued support from family, friends and acquaintances.

The cold winter nights have been quickly replaced by the dry heat of the Afghan summer, there is no transition as one would expect in the UK, and in the course of a week the snow has melted leading to a dusty smog filled atmosphere that sits within the Kabul basin.  Due to a lack of consistent electricity, the local population has scourged the landscape of all trees for firewood and thus the slightest breeze creates billowing clouds of dust.  With Kabul being located 6000ft above mean sea level within a bowl at the base of the Hindu Kush Mountain range, effectively the start of the Himalayas, the air is trapped and develops into a polluted smog. 

The last opportunity to make use of the clear winter mornings came a few weeks ago and 140 personnel stationed at the Kabul Airbase turned out to take part in the Kabul ½ Marathon.  The course was set to follow the camp and airfield perimeter and, although considerably flatter than the Parwich Annual Hill Race, the distance more than made up for the lack of topography.  

A three week persistent cough, brought on by the afore-mentioned appalling air quality, was still lingering but I managed to motivate myself to complete the route at the end of a 12 hour working night shift.  All that kept me going was the thought of getting a good day’s rest and I finished in a modest time of 1 hour and 40 minutes.  Post race and a small earth tremor followed by a faulty fire alarm brought a hasty end to any sleep I was hoping to get and therefore the only option was to head back to the office for another night shift.  (more…)

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We have received the following email from Major Benjamin Ingham from the Royal Artillery. He is currently serving in Afghanistan:

Firstly I trust this is the correct process for sending in a ‘post’. The site is excellent, and now I am deployed, use it regularly to keep abreast of village life. For example, it is great to see my niece dressed as a witch on the front page!

I have attached a short article which I hope could be posted, if you think it suitable, and a few pictures which I hope set the scene visually. I hope to post a few articles whilst I am deployed, time permitting, and if it is the sort of piece that the readers would find interesting.  I would also like to pass on my congratulations to my sister-in-law and brother on the birth of their twins, Alice and Charlotte and look forward to seeing the burgeoning family in the near future.

A Day in the Life – Afghanistan 2011

Although not a regular contributor to the Parwich.org website I have used it regularly to keep abreast of village life whilst deployed in Afghanistan, and felt compelled to contribute.  I would love to write and tell you that being deployed is all action but the reality is far less glamorous. The further up the rank structure one progresses the further removed one becomes from the actual ‘action’.

A majority of the UK forces are located in the southern region of Afghanistan, an area that roughly resembles the area of Derbyshire, and with less than 9000 troops that equates to a sparse distribution of force elements to conduct the counter insurgency operation.  I once again find myself located in the northeastern region within the country in the capital city, Kabul.  My previous deployment was in early 2002 when, as a young operations officer, we left the UK in a hurry post 9/11 to bring about security to Afghanistan.  As is well documented, the search for Osama Bin Laden was on, however, in the intervening 10 years the military was distracted by Iraq and in the last 5 years we have returned to Afghanistan to conclude what we started ten years ago.  This time our mandate is broader and we are responsible for bringing about the stability to the country.  This is achieved through a gradual development in the capacity of the Afghanistan military, police, governance and general infrastructure.  This mandate is achieved through the combined contribution of over 38 nation states providing roughly 140,000 thousand soldiers.

I now find myself working in a NATO headquarters, which is ultimately responsible for all operations across Afghanistan.  It is a fascinating insight into the intricacies of planning and conducting activity, which should ultimately lead to Afghanistan being able to function without the assistance of the international community.  The headquarters within which I work is vast, imagine most of the inhabitants of Parwich trying to work for 24 hours a day within a building that equates to a site roughly 4 times the size of the new Village Hall.  It is cramped, stuffy, hot and exceptionally dusty.  Then add sleep deprived, stressed individuals, many who have been away from their families for up to a year without a single weekend rest and you might then gauge the general atmosphere.  Despite a diet of low quality food and long days the esprit-de-corps is good and as long as you are kept busy the calendar weeks are quickly ticked off.

Life in Afghanistan is a world away from life back home and it is the simple pleasures that you miss such as breathing clear air or taking a walk with my Mum and the dogs to Tissington, I would even enjoy a pint of Old Tom right now if it were offered.

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