The military emigrants: ‘I’ve lived in Canada and in a hole in the ground’
The Royal Dragoon Guards on tour in Helmand province in Afghanistan
GENERATION EMIGRATION:On a tour of duty to Afghanistan, two Irish members of the British army talk about life as soldiers and their reasons for joining up
‘I wouldn’t talk about it in the pub in Dublin’
“I have a long family history in the military,” writes Conor, a 25-year-old from Dublin. “My great grandfather was a member of the Royal Irish Regiment of the British Army during the first World War, and fought in the Battle of the Somme in France and Passchendaele in Belgium.
“My granduncle joined the Royal Tank Corps in the 1930s before the second World War, lying about his age to get enlisted. His stories about becoming a troop sergeant, fighting Rommel in north Africa and escaping as a prisoner of war in Yugoslavia had a huge influence on me.
“I started thinking seriously about a career in the army while studying business, economics and social studies at Trinity College. I never had any real desire to pursue economics or finance as a career, and craved a challenge.
“During my final year I applied for the British Army Officer Academy at Sandhurst in Surrey, and was offered a place for the following year.
“With the 12 months I had free, I decided to do something mad and went to live in Japan, playing rugby for Yokohama, working in Irish bars and travelling the Far East.
“The main draw to the British Army is that they get involved, which Ireland’s neutral status doesn’t facilitate. In a world where conflicts are no longer national but cultural and ideological, the concept of neutrality is rather outdated, I believe.
“For the whole of 2011 I trained for 18 hours a day, Monday to Sunday, learning my trade as an officer and how to deal with every conceivable scenario. The course is divided into three terms: the first covers basic soldiering skills; the second works on planning and command skills; and the final term puts it all into practice. Tactical situations are simulated, ranging from attacking mountains to counter-insurgency and riot control.
“I was accepted into the Royal Dragoon Guards, one of four regiments with Irish connections. I chose them because of that, and because their tour to Afghanistan was coming up. Half the regiment is from Yorkshire and the rest from Ireland, mostly from the North, although there are about 50 guys from the South who have joined up for reasons similar to mine.
“I chose an armoured regiment, and did my troop leader course with 82 tonne Challenger-2 tanks for six months.
“Last October, my squadron was deployed to Afghanistan for Operation Herrick 17. We are part of the Police Mentoring and Advisory Group, mentoring and training the Afghan National Security Forces so they are ready to police the country after we withdraw in 2014. The Royal Dragoon Guards has about 500 guys here, but there are many other regiments of the British Army with us, not to mention the Danish, Americans, and Estonians, to name a few.
“Myself and my troop of 15 lads go on patrol with about 60 Afghan police every day. I keep the Afghan commander by my side and mentor him during operations, which could involve clearing an area of insurgents or searching compounds for weapons and drug caches.