Robert Marchment’s Tour In Afghanistan

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An Ammunition Supplier Advanced with the Royal Australian Army, has had more than his share of adventures. He tells us about his latest tour in Afghanistan …

What’s your history with the Royal Australian Army?

I lived in the Wauchope area for 21 years before joining the Army, and I’ve been in the Army now for just over 8 years. I was allocated Royal Australian Army Ordnance Corps. After my basic training down at Kapooka, I went to Bandiana to do my Ordnance training. From there I was posted to Townsville, Tenth Force Support Battalion in 2004. In this position I deployed once to East Timor – in 2005 under United Nations, on the Force Extraction Team. During that time I also participated in Army shooting competitions – at the Australian Army Skill at Arms Meeting, where the top 100 shooters in Australia compete.

In 2007 I was posted to Three Combat Service Support Battalion (3CSSB), where I was in operator/supply. I went to Malaysia during that time. After that I was posted to Ipswich – Ninth Force Support Battalion, where I’ve been since 2009. I deployed at the end of 2009 to East Timor again under Operation Astute, as an Ammunition Supplier.

I did my Ammunition Supplier Advanced Course – which involves the issue and receipt of ammunition and the disposal of malfunctioned and expired/out of date explosive ordnance. After I became a fully qualified Ammunition Supplier, I deployed to Afghanistan on Force Support Unit Four. I was based in Kandahar as the Ammunition Supply Corporal. My job there entailed the issue and reciept of third line ammunition for all of the Middle East area of operations – including Iraq and Dubai – and the disposal of explosive malfunctioned ordnance with the United States Airforce explosive ordnance disposal teams.

What were your reasons for joining the Army?

Dad was Commonwealth Military Forces (CMF), and I also wanted to serve my country. I really like to shoot – and it’s something I’ve always liked to do outside of my job. I also like camping and the Army lifestyle.

What was your most recent deployment in Afghanistan like?

I was at Kandahar Airfield for 8½ months. The main memories I take away from that experience are doing my job overseas in an operational environment as an Ammunition Supplier working with Coalition Forces. The difference was being on active service, as opposed to the peace keeping missions I’d been on earlier. I saw a lot more of the world – going to Dubai first, seeing the United Arab Emirates and parts of Afghanistan. On my leave, I was able to travel to Europe.

How would you describe the conditions in Afghanistan?

When we first got there, it was the start of winter and it was really, really cold. We’d wear puff jackets – they look very similar to sleep bag material. After a few months, the weather changed and it became very hot. It was always extremely dusty, which was one of the harder things to cope with. It never rained much, but when it did everything would turn to mud.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get to have much contact with the local Afghan people. We went to some of the bases close to Kandahar Airfield and were able to interact with a few locals on the way there. They were friendly and supportive.

What would a typical day on duty entail?

Usually we’d get up at about quarter to 7. You’d do your morning routine – shower, shave etc. then get ready for physical training. As a Force Support Unit, we’d all go together – mainly to the British gym – and do a quick circuit for around an hour. We’d have breakfast, then it was a half an hour’s drive to our office on the other side of the airfield.

From there, we’d get the issues and reciepts together for the ammunition for the day and go down to the ammunition supply point and pick or receipt incoming or outgoing ammunition to the various units within Camp Baker (Camp Baker was the main camp for Australian forces at Kandahar Airfield). We’d also prepare ammunition to be sent further afield – to Tarin Kowt or the UAE or Kabul. We’d prep the ammunition for air movement.

Around 5 o’clock we’d finish up, drive back and have dinner. We’d have another quick gym session if we felt like it in the afternoon, then it was time to relax and watch a DVD, use the internet, or go to the Boardwalk – which was a small shopping place we had at the airfield – and grab a coffee.

How did you cope with the dangers that would always have been present?

Every day there was a chance of danger … anything from rocket attacks from the Taliban, to vehicle accidents on base. There was a vehicle accident and we had to treat some Bulgarian soldiers who’d fallen off the back of a vehicle. The roads are quite bad over there, and they tend to fall apart. The vehicle had shifted, throwing a few soldiers off. They were injured quite badly – a few broken bones. There was always the potential for an attack on the base, so you’re always aware of that.

Our training does prepare us extensively before we’re deployed, covering just about any scenario you could imagine – attacks, accidents, fire … We trained for 2½ months before we deployed. Once we arrived in Dubai, we received much more intensive First Aid training, extensive cultural briefs and intelligence reports.

What other interests do you have when you’re not at work?

I like doing things with my friends – camping, hunting and fishing. Growing up around Port Macquarie and Wauchope, I know the area and fishing spots well. As I’ve mentioned before, I enjoy shooting. I love going to the range with Dad and shooting clay targets. When I’m home at Ipswich, I go motorbike riding.

Back home from your overseas duty now, what’s next on the agenda for you work-wise?

I have 6 weeks off, so I’ll be spending that with family. I’ll head back to Ipswich to catch up with a few mates before I go back to work. I should only have about two month left of work before I come back to Port Macquarie and Wauchope again, as the start of my Christmas stand down.

Plans for next year are to do a few more courses relating to my ammunition supply job. In between that, there’ll be numerous field exercises – probably a lot of them up around Townsville.

Thanks Robert.

Interview by Jo Atkins.

 

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