During my tour of Afghanistan, I spent a lot of time working closely with C Company of the 1st Battalion, The Royal Anglian Regiment, also known by their nickname ‘The Vikings’. The Company consisted of three platoons (9 Platoon, 10 Platoon and 11 Platoon). Each Platoon comprised thirty or so men and was led by a Platoon Commander (typically a Lieutenant) with a Platoon Sergeant as a second-in-command. Additional fire support was provided by the Fire Support Group (FSG); a penny-packet collection of mortars, heavy machine guns and anti-tank troops, drawn from the specialist platoons of the Battalion’s Fire Support Company. The company was commanded by a Major, who was supported by the Company Sergeant Major (the Company’s senior soldier – equivalent to the US Army’s First Sergeant). The Company Commander is accompanied on the battlefield by his Tactical Headquarters (also known as a Tac Group), consisting of his radio operator and the Fire Support Team (who are specialists from the Royal Artillery, trained to call in artillery, mortars, fast jets and attack helicopters to help defeat the enemy).
A Platoon from the Afghan National Army is also embedded in the Company Group, these tough men are mentored by a small team of soldiers from the Grenadier Guards who form the Operational Mentoring and Liaison Team (OMLT); usually pronounced ‘omelette’.
C Company is commanded by Phil, a tough but magnanimous officer. Lean and shaven-headed, Phil is sometimes referred to as ‘Angry Phil’ due to his impassioned approach to leadership.
Dave is the Company’s second in command. Dave has a boyish enthusiasm for his work, which mainly keeps him tied up in the Operations Room, coordinating the movement of the Company and keeping Battlegroup Headquarters informed of the Company’s operations. He is unflappable in an emergency; one of life’s ‘good guys’, he has a ready smile and always has a kind word.
Pete, the Company Sergeant Major proves to be an excellent foil to Phil. A lean man with a weather beaten face, Pete is not the archetypal ‘drill monster’; he is laid back without being laissez-faire. Pete’s job is to coordinate the logistic support to the company’s operations; mainly concerned with getting ammunition and water up to the forward troops and coordinating the rearward evacuation of casualties in conjunction with the medical team. On patrols, Pete rides a quad bike to allow him to scoot to where he is needed. Because of this, I always think that Pete would not look out of place in a ’60’s road movie.
Steve is 10 Platoon’s sergeant who combines calm courage with devotion to his men. Whether he is risking his life to extract a wounded man, encouraging the young soldiers under his command or engaging the enemy with a sniper rifle, Steve epitomises all that a combat leader should be.
JTAC Alex is the company’s Joint Terminal Attack Controller (JTAC). Alex has the dubious pleasure of getting to carry a heavy radio with him wherever he goes. The hardship of doing so is compensated for by the fact that his magic box of tricks enables Alex to talk to fast jet pilots and call down air support onto our enemies’ heads. He is a good man to have around in a firefight.
Geordie is a medic; a tough city boy from Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Pete and I begin our tour as a two-man team, but we are soon joined by more medics to provide a better level of care to the Company. Geordie and I build a bond of mutual trust that transcends the difference in rank between us.
Medic Matt is an infantry medic and a ‘Viking’ through and through. Matt’s strength is his ability to act like a medic and think like an infantryman. Matt is passionate about military history, proud to be a ‘Viking’ and shares a similar taste in music to me; mainly 80s heavy rock.
Besides Medic Matt, there are quite a few other soldiers who bear the same name, including Doctor Matt, and Sergeant Matt; 11 Platoon’s Sergeant.
Alice does not feature heavily in the story, so I want to mention her here. A Royal Engineers officer, Alice leads the team of combat engineers who provide intimate support to the Platoons; usually in the form of setting demolition charges to gain access to or escape from buildings without our soldiers exposing themselves to enemy fire. Alice patrols with the company carrying the same back-breaking loads as her team of sappers.
C (Essex) Company is the direct descendant of the disbanded Essex Regiment. As such, I sometimes think of its men as being the inheritors of Earl Byrhtnoth’s Anglo Saxon warriors who stood and faced Viking marauders at the Battle of Maldon, which is celebrated in the ancient poem of which fragments remain:
‘Then did Brithnoth begin his men to bestow –
He rode up and counselled them – his soldiers he taught
How they should stand, and their standing to keep,
And bade them their round shields rightly to hold
Fast to their forearms, that they flinch not at all.
And when he had his folk fairly bestowed
He lighted there with his people, where he would liefest be
Where he knew his own troops were most to be trusted’
‘On Afghanistan’s Plains’ is an autobiographical memoir written by Barry Alexander and is scheduled for release on Amazon and Kindle on May 5 2016