Part-time soldiers sign up to play part

Reports of casualties and deaths on the frontline dominate the public's perception of the war in Afghanistan. With the demand for troops escalating, the Territorial Army is playing an increasing role in the fighting.

Reports of casualties and deaths on the frontline dominate the public's perception of the war in Afghanistan. With the demand for troops escalating, the Territorial Army is playing an increasing role in the fighting. But, as BEN KENDALL found out when he travelled to Texas with Norfolk soldiers, this is proving to be no obstacle to recruitment.

By 2012 more than 650 men from the 3rd Battalion Royal Anglian Regiment will have fought on the frontline in Iraq or Aghanistan. Given that these are territorial soldiers, who must balance day jobs with military life, the commitment is incredible.

The intensity of fighting in recent years, both in Operation Herrick and its counterpart in Iraq, Operation Telic, has meant that minds within the battalion are well and truly focused on operational pressures.

Anyone signing up to the TA now knows they will be seeing action in the near future. As Lt Col Dennis Vincent said, territorials are no longer a reserve force, but a key part of the UK's fighting capability.

But war is not acting as any deterrent to recruits with the battalion currently operating at 105pc of its capacity.

Most Read

Gavin Rushmere, second commander of A-company which recruits from Norwich and Lowestoft, said the economic climate had played a part in this.

He added: 'We have ex-regular soldiers who find themselves unemployed or needing extra income who are joining the TA.

'There have always been ex-regulars in the TA, but that is definitely increasing and there is no doubt that the situation with the economy is playing a part in that.

'But we also have a lot of younger lads signing up. Some of them see it as a way into the regulars or to test the water and discover if it is the right career for them.

'They don't seem put off by the prospect of being deployed to Afghanistan. They join up because they want to do their bit and fight. Our job is to make sure they are well prepared for that.'

One of the battalion's main aims is to optimise recruitment; another is to retain soldiers and keep them well trained.

Lt Col Vincent said: 'Our recruitment levels are excellent. Anyone joining up has to know they are likely to be deployed on operations, but that does not seem to be putting people off.

'We have to make sure we are constantly prepared for operations - if people come back from operations we have to provide them with a high standard of training and new challenges to keep them interested.'

That is one of the reasons that more than 130 men were sent to train in Texas with the American National Guard. The exercise, which ended yesterday was a way of keeping the men fit and ready for the tests that lie ahead.

While there, they were given the opportunity to develop better soldier skills, train in conditions similar to the Middle East and work alongside the British army's closest allies, the Americans.

Lt Col Vincent added: 'We know our operational commitments up to 2012. As well as our commitment to Afghanistan, we are also set to deploy 170 to Cyprus.

'So far we have had no problems finding people willing to go to the frontline. Normally we have more people volunteering for operations than we actually need.

'We are able to plan it properly so that people can sort out their jobs and prepare their families. We are finding that most don't hesitate to put themselves forwards.'

L/Cpl Matthew Smith, 21, from Lowestoft, joined the battalion four years ago and is yet to see action. But the former Kirkley High School pupil, who now works in oil and gas, said he felt ready to be deployed.

He added: 'I feel positive and well prepared. Exercises like this help with that.

'My original aim was to join the regular army but at the moment I am enjoying combining the TA with my day job.

'I have a girlfriend and I suppose she would be worried. But I joined the TA do play my part and if I'm sent to Afghanistan, I will be pleased to be doing my bit.'

Trooper Nigel Whale, 20, joined the battalion on the exercise in Texas. He currently lives in Swanton Morley and serves with the Light Dragoons. Mr Whale is due to be deployed to Afghanistan later this month.

His deployment comes after a number of deaths in the Helmand province - since May four Light Dragoons have been killed.

But Mr Whale said that, despite such tragedies, he was still determined to serve his country in Afghanistan.

He added: 'I can't help but be aware of what's going on. When you're stuck back home it's all over the news and you can't avoid it.

'We can't allow ourselves to be distracted by the deaths and casualties. Obviously it's terrible when people are dying but we still have a job to do.

'I fly out there on the 17th August and it will be my first deployment. I know it's not going to be easy but I can't wait to get out there and feel like I am doing something useful.'