'If we do get posted to Afghanistan, well, that's what we're trained to do'
A county battalion which has just returned to the UK for the first time in five years could be posted to Afghanistan as early as next year.
The 2nd Battalion, the Royal Anglian Regiment – known as The Poachers – returned to Kendrew Barracks in Rutland – the former RAF Cottesmore base – in the late summer.
The 650-strong battalion returned from Cyprus where its troops were providing security for the British base at Dhekalia, following two years in Germany.
The commanding officer of the battalion, which is currently on a week-long training exercise in Norfolk – Exercise Resolute Poacher – revealed they have been warned they may be sent to Afghanistan next year.
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About 400 men from the battalion, which recruits in Leicestershire and Rutland, have this week been honing their core infantry skills in readiness for deployment anywhere in the world, including Afghanistan.
The battalion, which includes 200 families living at the Cottesmore barracks, is due to go to Kenya at the end of the month for further hostile environment training.
Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Colonel Nigel Johnson said: "The battalion has been warned for possible deployment to Afghanistan next year as part of the 7th Armoured Brigade (The Desert Rats).
"The foundation training we are doing this week will prepare the battalion for any eventuality. We could potentially be in Afghanistan in a year.
will be followed by six weeks of living out of bergans (large backpacks) in Kenya, where we will be operating in arid terrain where there is heavy rain and cold nights.
"It will get the soldiers used to soldiering in different types of environment."
Speaking of moving into the Cottesmore barracks, he said: "It is a first for us to be based in an area where we recruit. The reception from the local community has been second to none.
"I cannot speak highly enough of the wonderful reception we have had. It gives the soldiers the chance to re-acquaint themselves with their families, from whom they have been separated for so long.
"We support our families and make sure our soldiers are best equipped and trained to do whatever job is asked of them. There are about 200 wives and families on the base who, when their husbands and fathers are away, will have family just down the road."
The Lord Lieutenant of Leicestershire, Jennifer, Lady Gretton, was among a host of dignitaries invited to watch the soldiers during their exercise.
She said: "To me, it's an absolute eye-opener to learn what the soldiers have to go through and what life is like in the battlefield. I couldn't even pick up the kit they have to carry.
"They seem to have settled into their new home in Rutland very well and it's nice to maintain the battalion's links with the local area."
Colonel Robert Martin, a Deputy Lieutenant of Leicestershire, said: "I've been interested to see the new equipment. Every soldier I've spoken to is pleased with their equipment, which wasn't always the case.
"The major change is they seem to have significantly more equipment to carry than we did. They're training here prior to going to Kenya and honing skills which may have got a bit rusty in Cyprus.
"It's clear they're happy to be back in the UK from Cyprus and we are extremely happy to see them back to boost the regular Army numbers in the area."
Private Ben Saunders, 22, whose mum, twin brother, younger brother and sister live in Coalville, said: "It's ace to be back in the UK. I've been in the battalion five-and-a-half years and all of that time we've been abroad.
"I love it being back here, I go home every weekend. It's good for morale, knowing you can get away from the camp.
"I was only getting home once every three months, so being back so close to family and friends is awesome."
Captain Tom Aspinall, 28, of Ratby, said: "I've been with the battalion five-and-a-half years in Germany and Cyprus, so it's nice to come home to be close to friends and family. I'm also getting the opportunity to go to watch Leicester Tigers. The training this week has been good for bonding our reconnaissance platoon before we go to Kenya. If we get posted to Afghanistan, well, that's what we're trained to do."
Corporal Jack Chapman, 25, who lives at the base with his fiancee, and whose family are from Anstey, said: "I didn't go back home when we were in Cyprus, so it's fantastic to be able to see our families when we're home now."
Private Lewis Fisher, 21, of Melton, said: "It's good to see my family more and I can get back into things I used to do, such as archery and karate.
"It's been good getting back to basics in training and getting ready for anything that might happen, although I do miss the sun, the sea and the cocktails of Cyprus.
"I am eager to get to Afghanistan. It's what you are trained to do. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't worried about it."