Royal Marines of 40 Commando are approaching the climax of 12 months of training to prepare them for a six-month stint in Afghanistan.
The Norton Manor men have joined soldiers from more than a dozen regiments and battalions on Salisbury Plain for Exercise Pashtun Dawn.
A convoy of 40 Commando quad bikes heads out into the dried-out terrain of Salisbury Plain. Pictures: LA(Phot) Rhys O’Leary, 40 Cdo
ROYAL Marines are reaching the climax of a year’s training for their imminent mission to Afghanistan.
This week sees the green berets of 40 Commando complete a massive final rehearsal on Salisbury Plain alongside the Army to prepare them for six months in Helmand.
Exercise Pashtun Dawn is aimed at building on all the training carried out by the individual units earmarked for Operation Herrick 17 – there are 14 regiments or battalions committed to the six-month mission – and mesh them seamlessly together under 4 Mechanised Brigade, which will be the headquarters throughout the deployment.
The first week of this final work-out for the Norton Manor marines was ‘blessed’ by persistent rain which turned the undulating terrain of Salisbury Plain into a quagmire.
“The weather is no problem – if it ain’t raining, it ain’t training,” said Mne Rob Kelly of Command Company stoically as he and his comrades hastily prepared rain channels to stop their tents from being inundated.
Ominous skies gather over 40 Cdo's parked-up armoured vehicles
Pashtun Dawn was the last chapter of a long and rigorous training ‘book’ which began a year ago in the sands of California.
Herrick 17 begins next month as the complex ‘roulement in place’ gets under way, swapping units in theatre with new arrivals from Britain.
It will be the beginning of October before all 650 men and women of 40 Commando are in theatre... by which time conditions around Nar-e Saraj in central Helmand will be not entirely unlike those on Salisbury Plain in early August (although it has dried out as the mission rehearsal exercise – known as an ‘MRX’ in military parlance – progressed).
“Pashtun Dawn’s been an excellent opportunity for all of the force elements forming the 40 Commando Battlegroup to train together in a realistic environment,” explained Maj Karl Gray, 40’s second in command.
“The exercise has been well resourced and has served to fine tune our skills and processes at all levels.”
And a brooding dusk over 'Tent City UK'
As well as training alongside the US Marine Corps at Twentynine Palms – which allowed for some heavy firepower on the live ranges in a dusty environment – 40 Commando have been training on ranges in the UK, notably Lydd and Hythe in Kent and Stanford in Norfolk – the latter features mock Forward Operating Bases akin to Afghanistan.
The Nar-e Saraj district 40 are heading to is, like a lot of Helmand, a district which is enjoying gradually-improving security and an economy reviving after years of civil war and corruption.
40 Commando will be working with the Afghan National Security Forces to ensure they are a capable and professional force when the UK completes its combat operations in 2014.