'It was just like playing Russian roulette, waiting for that bomb to hit you' IN four months' time, soldiers from the 2nd Battalion, The Royal Welsh, will be sent to Afghanistan. In the last of his reports from British Army Training Unit Suffield, BEN GLAZE hears from a soldier about the threat they are facing.
"WE respect the Taliban - they will stand up and fight."
That's Second Warrant Officer Nick John's opinion of the enemy he will face in four months. WO2 John saw friends killed in action last year in Iraq - but is ready for the 2nd Battalion, The Royal Welsh's next deployment to a war zone - Helmand Province in Afghanistan.
The Pontypridd soldier, a member of the Battalion's anti-tank platoon, has a wife Sarah, 36, a teacher in Brecon for children with autism, and is dad to Luke, 16, a budding policeman studying at Pontypridd College and Ryan, 15, a pupil at Pontypridd High School, Cilfynydd.
"I've got mixed feelings about going because of my wife and two boys," said WO2 John. "No-one wants to go over there and get shot at, but it's a job we've got to do and we deal with it.
"Missing my wife and kids will be the hardest part. Every soldier will feel like that, especially when it's for six months. But you try to switch off from family life and focus on the enemy in front rather than the family behind - because if you don't focus on what's in front of you then something is going to happen."
WO2 John is second-in-command (2IC) of the 45-strong anti-tank platoon which operates with 10 Warrior armoured personnel carriers, each armed with a dozen 40lb Javelins, costing pounds 75,000.
When the 2nd Battalion, The Royal Welsh, is sent to Afghanistan in February, the anti-tank platoon will operate forward of the main 1st Mechanised Brigade battle group - including the Challenger 2 tanks of the 2nd Royal Tank Regiment and 2 Royal Welsh's Warriors.
WO2 John said that while the Taliban possess no military hardware such as tanks, the anti-tank platoon's American-made FGM-148 Javelin "fire and forget" surface-to-air missiles - which have a range of two andahalf miles and cut through the air at 400ft - were still useful because they could destroy buildings and hideouts, particularly at night when their thermal imaging technology was precious.
The 37-year-old soldier, who has spent 18 years in the Army and been on tours of duty to the Falklands, Kosovo, Bosnia, Northern Ireland and Iraq, used the missiles on his last active deployment Telic 10, the British Army's codename for operations in Iraq.
"It went off in camp and out of camp.
If we were in downtown Basra, it was mortars coming in and rifles going off - death and carnage everywhere," he said. "Then if we were in camp we were living in tents getting mortared eight or nine times a day.
"It was never-ending, 24/7 stuff, we were under immense pressure. We thought we were playing Russian roulette, just waiting for that mortar bomb to come in and hit you."
He recalls vividly the emotion surrounding the deaths of three troops - Private Craig Barber, 20, of Blaengarw, Lance Corporal Ryan Francis, 23, from Llanelli, and Corporal Paul Joszko, 27, from Abercynon.
"It was terrible when we lost the boys, but it was strange the way we got on with things. What we don't do is break down and cry," he said.
"We remember our fallen comrades, but deal with it in our own way."
WO2 John said the Taliban would provide a very different challenge from the threat faced by 2 Royal Welsh in Iraq.
He added: "The thing about Afghanistan is we respect the Taliban; they will stand up and fight.
"They didn't in Iraq, they were cowards who had roadside bombs everywhere.
"It's always better to know who you are fighting. It doesn't make it easier, but it's better to see them instead of them hiding away and planting roadside bombs.
"What goes through your mind more than anything isn't getting killed by the enemy, it's not coming back to your wife and family. It's just as hard for them emotionally.
"The last thing I said to her when we went to Iraq was, 'I'll see you in three months for my R&R (rest and recuperation).' You never say anything negative.
"And the best thing about the Army is the camaraderie and friends you make: these guys will lay down their lives for each other - and you don't get that on civvy street."
pounds 75,000 OF POWER
THE Javelin anti-tank weapon is a fire-and-forget missile with lock-on before launch and automatic self-guidance thanks to infrared technology.
The system takes "a top-attack flight profile against armoured vehicles" - meaning it is fired into the air then drops down on top of a tank where there is less protection.
Each weighs 40lbs and costs pounds 75,000. The missile is usually fired by a two-man team - a gunner and an ammunition bearer - though it can be fired with just one soldier.
While the gunner aims and fires the missile, his partner scans for potential targets and watches for threats such as enemy vehicles and troops.
Because the Javelin is a "fire and forget" missile, the firing team can move as soon as the missile is launched, making it harder for enemies to trace their position and respond
HI-TECH: The Army is taking state of the art weaponry into battle; READY FOR BATTLE: Second Warrant Officer Nick John PICTURE: Dan Harmer/Crown Copyright