Reserves Day 2021: British Army reservist reveals what life was like in Afghanistan

DEPLOYING to Afghanistan has been ‘the top experience of my life so far – 100 per cent’.

Wednesday, 23rd June 2021, 4:55 am
Hilsea-based army reservist, Gunner Ben Dawson pictured in Afghanistan during his deployment this year.

That is the view of Gunner Ben Dawson after he returned from a six-and-half-month stint in the capital of Kabul.

The 24-year-old reservist soldier, who is part of 295 Battery Royal Artillery based in Hilsea, was deployed with his regular counterparts from 16th Regiment, Royal Artillery – who are based at Thorney Island.

Serving in an air defence role, Gnr Dawson helped protect Hamid Karzai International Airport from drone attack – a threat which has been growing in recent years.

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Hilsea-based army reservist, Gunner Ben Dawson pictured in Afghanistan during his deployment this year.

It was Gnr Dawson’s first operational tour and one he relished the opportunity to take part in.

‘Going out there on deployment was nerve-wracking but I loved every single second of it,’ he said, having returned to the UK last month.

‘Since Afghanistan first happened when I was a little boy, I have always wanted to deploy. I have always wanted that medal. And now I’ve done it. It’s a great feeling.’

Gnr Dawson is speaking out as the UK today marks the contribution of its reservist soldiers, sailors and airmen as part of Reserves Day.

His time in Afghanistan saw him spending Christmas in Kabul, away from family and friends.

‘Being away from family was hard. But the army was my second family anyway so we made it special in our own way,’ he said.

Reservists are trained to the same level as regular troops, with many volunteering their weekends and evenings to hone their skills.

As a part-time soldier, Gnr Dawson said he loved the challenge of operating with his full-time counterparts.

‘Mixing with the regulars was difficult at first and it posed its own challenges, coming from a reserve background,’ he added. ‘But we’re trained soldiers so we have just got to muck in and get as involved as we can.’

As well as having to stay alert to any airborne and ground-based threats, Gnr Dawson said there were other challenges to living in Afghanistan which he was surprised by.

‘The most challenging part of being out there was the air quality,’ he said. ‘There is so much air pollution where the locals try to burn anything to just keep warm.

‘That was probably the most challenging thing at first. I was getting coughs and sore throats all the time. That was horrendous.’

Reflecting on the tour, Gnr Dawson added: ‘I’m glad I’ve had the experience because sometimes you have just got to throw yourself in the deep end to actually push forward as a soldier and as a person.

‘This has been the top experience I’ve ever had in my life, 100 per cent.’

Reserve soldiers are required to serve anywhere from 19 to 27 days as a minimum – although many notch up more than this.

To find out how to join the army reserves, see apply.army.mod.uk

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