Gurkha salutes his warrior girl
Posted by Ram Kumar Shrestha on September 5, 2010
GETHAMPSHIRE.CO.UK BY PETE CASTLE
Private Rita Rana, 26, is now taking part in a tough military exercise on the prairies of Canada to prepare for a posting to Afghanistan.
Pte Rana, from the Germany-based 1Bn the Princess of Wales’ Royal Regt, has flown 8,000 miles to join 1,200 soldiers in the middle of the Canadian wilderness.
In the week when the government was refusing to squash suggestions that the Gurkhas could be disbanded in defence cuts, Pte Rana was following in her father’s footsteps by putting her life on the line to serve her country.
Before she can do that, Pte Rana will have to battle the heat, mosquitoes, long hours of endurance and constant engagements with the “enemy” in her training.
Then she will be in line for a deployment to Afghanistan next year.
Exercise Prairie Thunder is taking place at a British army training unit in the heart of the vast plains of Alberta in the west of Canada.
It is designed to show the complexities experienced in Afghanistan, with purpose-built villages, Pashtu-speaking people and a mix of threats and opportunities, an ideal training for the rigours of Helmand Province.
Pte Rana, a staff and personnel support clerk, has heard all the stories from her Aldershot father who served Britain for 27 years in 2Bn the Royal Ghurkha Rifles. But this exercise also tests the armoured infantry and support units, such as engineers, artillery and logistics, who will deploy on Operation Herrick – the name given to the British deployment in Afghanistan.
The exercise includes a live fire stage, featuring machine guns, heavy artillery, Challenger 2 tanks and Warrior armoured vehicles.
This then switches to a dry phase in which the soldiers use state-of-the-art weapon systems in what is described as a military grade version of “laserquest”.
A computer system records every detail of the attack, showing injuries from gun fire, shrapnel or mortar attack during a mission. Injured personnel are evacuated out of the combat zone by their comrades.
Pte Rana said: “I did the live ranges in the first week and we have been attacked in our Forward Operating Base numerous times.
“I have also been working in the quartermaster department, doing the re-supply of water, rations and ammo. It’s all about getting experience.”
Pte Rana says the lack of sleep and hours in the day to get everything done is the hardest part of Prairie Thunder, but she is enjoying being out of barracks.
She said: “I normally deal with the pay, leave and daily administration for the company, so the guys can focus on their job and not have to worry about it.”
Pte Rana, whose parents still live in Aldershot, also has a brother who works at the Royal Surrey County Hospital in Guildford. She says that her parents are supportive.
“My mother is worried about me going to Afghanistan, but not my dad who has been on many operations and knows the score,” she said.
“He’s happy for me and quite proud. It’s my mum I have to reassure.”
Military exercises in Canada have been conducted with a cold war mentality in the past, dealing mainly in conventional heavy artillery warfare, but Prairie Thunder has evolved to take account of modern counter insurgency operations, which includes defending against conventional forces, neutralising insurgents and engaging the population.
Officer Commanding A Company, Major Ed Gentle, said: “We have had a couple of guys suffer with heat illness, as well as the normal bumps, sprains and bruises. This is a tough exercise and the most important thing is that they are improving, and improving all the time.
“It’s really important to get these basics right so that next year we can concentrate on the theatre specific training.
“Most of the troops in A Company will deploy on tour, but not necessarily in the same jobs that they are doing at the moment.”
He said the Canadian training grounds have been adapted to meet the hybrid nature of current operations, which includes conventional, irregular, terrorist and counter insurgency scenarios.
“Prairie Thunder tests the soldiers to their limits in a complex and unforgiving terrain, similar in many respects to Afghanistan,” Major Gentle said.