The Decon 2 Story
Saddam - our part in his downfall
"We'll never go, it's too late, the war's nearly started."
- Famous last words.
The call came during the middle of a bandmasters' class rehearsal. It was Tuesday
and we were to leave on Sunday, giving us three working days to assemble the
whole troop, make a flying stop to Plymouth for weapons, inoculations and the
first of many next of kin forms. Leaving two precious days to buy military equipment
most Bandies haven't possessed since basic training, and time to try and fit
ninety litres of equipment into an eighty-litre Bergen. Time also for Band Colour
Sergeant Ian Davis to phone from Kuwait telling us not to forget our bivy poles.
Monday 3rd March saw the six-hour flight from RAF Brize Norton to Kuwait City.
On arrival, we began the procedure of booking into theatre. As musicians, we
were used to doing this via a stage door, not a tent flap. Being such a rush,
it wasn't obvious if the powers-that-be even knew about the thirteen bandies
arriving. So, after sitting in the rain for a while we hopped onto the nearest
bus, arriving at Camp Coyote two hours later. We then sat around for another
three hours, in a raging sand storm. After dispatching several bike couriers
into the storm, the truck finally arrived to take us to Camp Gibraltar, our
home for the foreseeable future.
The next few days saw us trying to adjust to the role we had been brought over
for - a second Decontamination team in the event of a chemical or biological
attack. Decon 1 had a two month head start; and unlike us had undergone intensive
training. We had a lot to learn in a short space of time. The main problem was
equipment - there wasn't any. Decon 1 had been procuring kit for over a month
and there was precious little of that, but with a little begging we were able
to kit ourselves up. We all worked hard to gain as much knowledge as possible
before the time came to repack our bergans, pick up the ammo and rations and
move to Camp Viking.
Decon 2 relaxing during a gas alert at Camp Gibraltar
Decon 2 fly their colours at Camp Gibraltar
Camp Viking, a vast area of desert running parallel to the Iraqi
border, was the holding area for the whole of the allied ground forces. We arrived
mid afternoon 11th March, marked out our harbour position and started digging.
Luckily, the sand wasn't too compacted so digging was comparatively easy. Our
knowledge of trench building was limited, and made for some interesting shapes
and sizes of trench, though as we were only meant to be staying there a few
days, the all important factor was that they offered good protection as we were
well within scud and artillery range.
The first night we established the night sentry routine. The desert was a different
place at night; in the distance, we could see the twinkling lights of Um Qassar
just over the border, and ships sailing in the Arabian Gulf. The second night,
just after evening stand-to, one of the fiercest storms recorded in Kuwait history
hit. Within minutes, the sky had turned cauldron black. A hole in the ground
with just a flysheet over the top is not the best place to be in this situation.
The only thing to do to avoid being buried was to keep moving. Tents were collapsing,
and there was nothing to be done, just ride it out. One trench nearly had a
Land Rover parked in the middle of it, as the driver lost his way during the
storm. Morning saw the stereotypical calm after the storm, we all emerged from
our holes bemused and amused, surveyed the damage, and started re-digging the
trenches that were almost filled to the top.
First into Camp Viking from the Brigade; Decon 1 and 2
The big difference at Camp Viking was the lack of basic commodities. For those
that had been to the desert before this came as no surprise, for the rest of
us it was a real eye opener. We switched to 24hour ration packs for the following
eight weeks, with six bottles of water a day. The latrine was also a novel experience.
As we were only meant to stay at Viking for a week, the Pioneer Corps had only
dug one latrine trench, but due to the political situation, we were in position
for 10 days longer. Come evening, all the nice little Dung Beetles would return
what had been deposited throughout the day, to the amusement of those that had
not been visited.
We were all excited and nervous about the start of the war and entering the
unknown but the sooner it would start the sooner we could get home. Due to their
greater experience Decon 1 remained the designated decontamination team, whilst
Decon 2 joined up with CFSG 2 (Commando Forces Surgical Group No 2) as ambulance
crew /casualty handlers. Our job was to help transfer casualties from the helicopters
and ambulances, into the triage area. We tagged and bagged equipment, and POWs
were searched and guarded at all times. This routine was regularly interrupted
with scud and gas alerts. There is no experience that can prepare you for the
first time you are fired upon. Blind fear is the only way to describe it, and
a huge sense of relief when the all clear is sounded. It soon became a part
of the daily routine though; most of the alerts came too late anyway. The closest
they got was 1 KM, so no need to worry, small target, big desert! It's an experience
we'll never forget, watching scuds fly overhead. Good job we had our tin helmets.
Over six days we saw around twenty casualties, a few allied, but mostly Iraqis.
Some in quite a state and all very frightened, but the professional attitude
of the medical team soon put them at ease. Some of the troop had to make flying
visits into Iraq to pick up casualties, returning with stories of what was going
on over there. On 26th March we were all to find out for ourselves, as the order
to move was given. In pitch darkness, we packed our bergans again and jumped
in the back of the ambulances for the journey into Um Qassar.
We arrived just as dawn was breaking; our main role to secure the area in which
the hospital was located. The first objective was to familiarise ourselves with
the location, and start wandering patrols. At long last, we found ourselves
out of the sand, in an abandoned reception centre. It wasn't the most hygienic
place, but at least we had a roof over our heads. Being an old customs centre,
there were objects all around that made life quite comfortable. Many of the
troop managed to acquire beds, complete with mattresses and blankets. We even
found an old television, but as the only station was 'Comical Ali's', it was
of no use.
As well as the wandering patrols, we were still required to supply casualty/prisoner
handlers; this was because we were primarily receiving Iraqi prisoners and civilians.
For many of us this was the most rewarding time during our time in Iraq, as
it made a real impact on the local people. The locals were living in terrible
conditions and seemed genuinely grateful for our help, and relieved that Saddam
Hussein's regime was approaching an end.
The 94mm anti tank weapon at Bridge 5
On the 6th of April, we were crash moved to guard a bridge on a supply route
south of Basra. Our main task was Force Protection for the Landing Force Support
Group, which meant keeping all Iraqis away from our position. There were a few
hairy moments but we are proud to say we never fired a shot in anger, just three
schmoolies! The Bootnecks gave us a 94 anti tank weapon (at £23,000 a
go) in case any enemy armour came near us. Having explained that we were parade
ground warriors their solution was to load and cock the weapon, so all we had
to do was point and shoot. Fortunately, we never shot! We handed the position
over to the Army several days later and returned to Al Zubaiyah Port, the HQ
position of 3 Commando Brigade.
After fighting in the British area of operations ceased, the next four weeks
became a battle against boredom, frustration, heat, insects and military indecision.
After the joys of 24-hour Sanger duties, we were tasked to work for the QMs
department with one Major Todd RM (of Deal PW fame) in command. This eventually
led to our running the regimental shop, selling Coke, nutty, noodles and Pringles
to the great unwashed. Bugler Dave Nevatte was also attached to the QM's department,
though he was facing the Iraqi public with the difficult task of handing out
On the 7th of May, after several false starts we eventually made it to Kuwait
City Airport. Once the RAF decided which aerodrome we would land at, we eventually
landed at Exeter, via Cyprus, on the 8th of May. It was then left to say our
last goodbyes, and make our way back to our respective bands.
We would to thank the Lympstone and Dartmouth Bands for their welfare parcels.
We would also like to thank the RFA Argus band also, for what they sent out
to us. Congratulations also to BdCSgt Eddie Neighbour for his work on board
HMS Ark Royal, spending more time in theatre than any other member of the Band
Finally, the individuals who made up Decontamination Troop are to be congratulated
on dealing with exceptional circumstances and getting through it all with humour,
patience, no alcohol and a high fibre diet. As Tiny Tim says, God Bless us everyone!
Downtown Umm Qasr as seen through the camera of Paul Bateman
Band Colour Sergeant Paul Bateman stops a coach full of Iraqis on the first
day at Bridge 5
Band Corporal Colin Friend took this photo from Bridge 5's tower
Band Corporal Colin Friend on the Tower at Bridge 5
A Warrior APC on its way to Basra through Decon 2's location at Bridge 5
After delays to the flight, Musn Q Brown was not a happy bunny!
Before departing Iraq our resident cartoonist Paul Bateman
left his mark in Az Zubayr Naval Base!