A Det with a Difference

In 2007 I bumped into a colleague who was thinking of applying for a language course and this got me thinking, as I wanted a change from my job.

After some enquiries, I was told I needed to do a Military Language Assessment Test (MLAT), to see if I was eligible to apply for a language course. I completed the MLAT in 2007 and scored high enough to apply for a language course. However, I did not pursue this, as I had previously applied for a detachment out of trade, for which I had been accepted and was to start soon. I worked as a linguist with the languages I already had (Pothwari/Punjabi/Urdu, for CT and UK Ops, at the time they were desperately short of Pothwari linguists, and Pothwari is my strongest of the three.

I spent just short of a year working as a linguist but had to return to trade because of manning issues. As I had enjoyed working as a linguist I decided to apply for the language course, so after returning to trade, I applied for the language course which was approved by my line managers but not by the trade desk, and was rejected on trade manning grounds. I continued to apply and eventually a few months later, it was accepted.  The interview was relaxed and went well, I had mine at Upavon. A few weeks later, I was told that I had been accepted and would be loaded on a Pashto course in a few months time.

The language course at the Defence Language School (DSL) Beaconsfield was for 15 months, this also included Pre-Deployment Training (PDT) towards the end. I was in a class of 12, containing a mixture of ranks and different backgrounds, from Marine officers to infantry. Everyone got on well and helped each other out. If I struggled in lessons, I would put my name down for extra lessons in the evenings. You do get a lot of help and support if you need it. I made sure I stayed on top of my studies as I did not want to struggle with the weekly progress tests. On top of the language training you also learn about the cultural aspects. Fitness is part of the course and you have compulsory PT a few times a week, which is stepped up a few months before you deploy.

The one thing I did struggle with and worry about, was with the combat fitness test (CFT), it is an 8-mile booted, loaded march which has many very, very steep hills, carrying a bergen and a rifle, a total weight of 25kg (not including the water supply you have to carry) to be completed in a maximum of 2 hours. You cannot deploy on the ground without this. All PDT was Army based, MATTS and Optag. The rest of the Army tests were easy enough including the mile and a half. Apart from the awful CFT, everything else was OK. Looking back I am glad of all the loaded marches and CFT, had it not been for these I would not have lasted very long on patrols and operations, where you are carrying heavy kit and walking for hours at a time.

After a long 15 months, I was very keen to deploy. I was tasked to work with Psyops (15 Psyops Group). I arrived in Afghanistan on the 1st Dec 2010, I returned in Jun 2011. After completing 5 days of RSOI at Camp Bastion I moved to Lashkar-Gah to join Psyops.

I was a bit apprehensive at first as I had heard that the Afghan men did not like women, this was not the case, I worked closely with the Afghan interpreters, Afghan National Army (ANA), and Afghan National Police (ANP), they were always polite and friendly. The local men were always polite and often found it amusing that you were a female on patrol. I loved going into compounds and talking to the local women, an opportunity I would not have had, had I not done Pashto.
My work was varied, and very challenging, even though I had been tasked to work with Psyops I ended up working in many different locations and with different organisations, covering a very wide range of linguistic jobs. In the first half of my tour, I was lucky enough to have a mixture of office work and work on the ground patrols etc, the office work consisted of translations work, checking of translations and audio work, checking broadcast material for a local radio station to translating night letters.

The work I enjoyed the most was working with some of the Civilian Agencies, this involved working with women in prisons and girls in juvenile detention centres. I also worked with the Female Engagement Team (FET) in Lashkar-Gah, where a lot of their work was assisting with setting up groups for widows in the area.

Second half of my tour was mainly in Nad e Ali working with the FET. We moved to a different location nearly every week, living out of our bergens, moving from different Check Points (CP’s) and Patrol Bases (PB’s), going wherever we were tasked to go. This meant going on patrols most days and on Operations when required.

Like any job, you do have your moments of doubt. Mine was sitting in a ditch at 3am, on a night op with Whiskey Company 45 Commando, somewhere in a stinky field in Nad e Ali south, feeling sorry for myself, but in the end it was all worth it. It was definitely worth the hard work. I actually preferred living in CP’s where there was no running water or real toilets, or electricity (apart from the Ops room), than in places like Lashkar-Gah or Bastion. I preferred the summer to the winter, as I found it quite cold and wet on patrols and it was harder in some ways, as it is quite slippery and muddy patrolling along through fields and ditches in the winter.

You find a lot out about yourself and what you are capable of. I would definitely recommend it.