A PSS TOO FAR (OPERATION MARKET GARDEN II)
BY MWO AS Batty
Picture the scene if you will, pitch black and cool in the early morning. The peace and quiet is shattered as the deep rumble of the Leopard 2 A6 engine roars into life, T2 Combat Team is about to head out on one of the most ambitious operations the current Battle group has attempted since its arrival in Afghanistan.
The Combat Team comprising of 79 individual call signs (vehicles) is about to move along the Arghandab River to effect re-supply and recovery to three Police Sub-Stations and an Afghan National Army Strongpoint.
At 0430 hours the 7 km long convoy begins its move led by two roller tanks and a myriad of Engineer vehicles to act as the RCP (Route Clearance Package). The column is long enough that as the first call signs have left the infamous ‘Route Fosters’ and began their move onto the dry riverbed, the rear security elements were just leaving the marshalling area in Forward Operating Base Ma’sum Ghar (FMG). The temperature was now a balmy +33 outside in the sun which we all were, inside the vehicles the temperature was + 50. Thanks to the latest in Afghanistan fashion we are all close to the +50 degree mark ourselves. The Combat Team moved along the river valley at a snails pace, the heat oppressive and the monotony broken only by the Afghan National Army’s capability to jump off the trucks and throw themselves at every opportunity into the greenish murk of the river to cool themselves off.
At last the first PSS is in view and the package designated for that PSS breaks out of the column, the route in front of it cleared by another roller tank. The rest of us silently bake in the heat waiting for a breeze. Soon though we are on the move again like a giant slinky onto the next PSS in line. Once again the package for that PSS moves out and up the bank towards the PSS the radio chatter non-stop as vehicles are placed like chess pieces into the exact location they need to be. The morning tranquility is ruined by the sound of an IED (Improvised Explosive Device) strike, the ugly plume of yellow black smoke stretches over the river as the Cbt Tm holds it s breath. T29A Capt Dave Macintyre attempts to contact the Engr call sign that has struck the IED, it was only a short time but it seemed to take forever, then the reply over the radio one man injured otherwise all OK, vehicle is a mobility kill. A nine liner is sent and a MEDEVAC helicopter is on the way to assist the injured soldier, the vehicle is recovered and we are off again to the next PSS in line. The lead tanks have a 107mm rocket fired towards them without incident, so we continue further down the riverbed. The next PSS looms into view in the heat haze and the chess game begins anew. Time has passed quickly and last light is fast approaching, this brings new hazards into play, as we cannot see the ground, as well we are now more vulnerable to the ever-present IED threat.
The Cbt Tm commander T29 Maj Chris Adams now has a decision to make, do we push on and complete the resupply of the PSS and hold for the night in the riverbed, or continue the move down the river and simultaneously resupply and breech into the Strongpoint and leaguer area for the night. The decision is made and we go for broke, the resupply continues as the rest of the Cbt Tm moves towards the Strongpoint. The lead vehicles breech into the leaguer area and begin to form the track plan for the Cbt Tm, at this time as only happens in Afghanistan ‘Friction’ arrives. The tanks have no issues crossing the fields into the area for the starburst; it is however too muddy for the wheeled vehicles and so the ubiquitous Badger comes into play. A fascine is required to be dropped into a wadi (ditch) that is also filled with fast flowing water to create a crossing point to allow the rest of the Cbt Tm to occupy the leaguer. The waterlogged fields are not aiding movement either and the Badger and LEO II ARV (Armoured Recovery Vehicle) have their work cut out to keep the routes passable by all.
The last vehicle enters the leaguer at close to 03:30 another ‘normal’ day in Afghanistan where unfortunately you learn early on there is no Observer Controller to ‘sum up’ the event and set you on the path to success. One or two hours of sleep and we are on the go again, now the focus is to repair the tank in situ and also resupply the Strongpoint. Both tasks are commenced shortly after stand to, the tank has approximately 8 hours of work so the rest of the Cbt Tm tries to relax and catch up on their rest in +38 degree heat, there seems to be no escaping the hot sun at all.
Another issue has been pushed to the forefront of our attention, the leaguer is in a wheat field and the local farmer is unimpressed, thanks to foresight we have CIMIC (Civil Military Cooperation) deployed with the Cbt Tm. A quick assessment is done and the farmer is compensated for the damage to the field.
The repairs to the tank are completed at 22:00 hrs so all is back on schedule for re deployment to FMG. Dawn comes quick in Afghanistan and before we know it 04:30 arrives again, a quick O group and we begin our move back to the FOB.
On this move we have some welcome top cover provided by the OH 58 Delta that at all times provides all in the Cbt Tm a sense of security. The move back is relatively uneventful except for the constant recovery of the ANA vehicles. The radio crackles with the updated threat warnings as the insurgents attempt to place IED’s in our possible route. The 83 (yes! eighty three) vehicle Cbt Tm slowly makes its way up the riverbed towards the FOB, the heat has not given up and pushes to new heights allowing yet more weight loss among the Cbt Tm.
The only real friction on the way ‘home’ was a tank that had a starter issue and the ARV was required to recover the call sign back to the FOB. The Cbt tm arrived back at the FOB at 16:30 hours after three long, hot and dusty days of work.
A highly commendable effort for all concerned with few vehicle casualties and the good news received on our return to the FOB is that, the soldier injured in the IED strike had only soft tissue injuries and will be able to resume work after a few days rest.
This is just one of the many operations that B Sqn Cbt Tm has been involved in ,we are coping well with the heat (no really) and are proving that PERSEVERANCE will get you through every time.