Northern Ireland-based Scots honour regimental tradition on the eve of Afghan tour
A Northern Ireland-based Army unit will this morning wake up amid the searing heat and dust of Afghanistan.
British forces formally pulled out of Helmand two years ago, but along with Americans and Australians, they are now helping the Afghans defend against Taliban attacks.
Last December more coalition forces moved in to support the Afghan army, and earlier this year 500 soldiers from the US Army's 10th Mountain Division deployed to Helmand in a support role.
Now more than 100 soldiers from 1 Scots have left Northern Ireland for a five-month tour, based at the Marshal Fahim National Defense University in Kabul. Their mission will be to provide support and force protection measures for Nato personnel, giving advice, and mentoring the various Afghan security institutions.
1 Scots commanding officer Lieutenant Colonel Nicholas Wight-Boycott said that it was the first time one of his battalions would go to the Afghan capital, and added that it would be a very different experience from that at Camp Bastion during the war.
B Company's officer commanding Major Frank Reeves will be leading the young soldiers on the mission.
"We are well prepared, well trained and excited to go out to Kabul," he said.
"I was very lucky to go out there a few weeks ago.
"Flying over Kabul in a helicopter you really see how beautiful a city it is.
"I found it quite awe-inspiring.
"We will be mentoring, providing protection and helping to train.
"We have already built up some good relationships.
"We have a commitment to the people of Afghanistan." For some of the soldiers, this is their first tour.
Private Daniel Cree (21) from Edinburgh and Lance Corporal Keiran Robinson (22) from Inverness are among the first-timers.
"We are keen to just get out there and get stuck in," said LCpl Robinson.
"A lot of the other lads have so many stories from Afghanistan and now it is our turn," said Pvt Cree.
LCpl Robinson said it had been emotional telling his family he was going to Afghanistan, where so many soldiers died during the war. Yesterday morning, ahead of deployment, the entire 1 Scots took part in their annual Minden Day parade at Palace Barracks.
Each soldier and officer received a red Minden rose to commemorate the participation of the forerunners of the regiment in the Battle of Minden during the Seven Years' War on that date in 1759.
The flower marks the regiment's wearing of the wild roses that they plucked from hedgerows as they advanced to engage the enemy.
Lt Col Wight-Boycott said that during the battle just six battalions of the British Army took on the entire French force and won against the odds.
He said the sheer audacity of that attack - even from so long ago - can still inspire soldiers today.
1 Scots arrived at Palace Barracks in 2012 following the departure of the Mercian Regiment.
While they spend much of their time on the camp or travelling home for visits, Titanic Belfast has already become a firm favourite to visit among the soldiers.