Sunday, August 17, 2008

Basra Blog

Major Paul Smyth, RIFLES
MND (SE) Press Information Centre Director and spokesman.

The last week and half has flown by since I took over as the Media Spokesman in MND (SE). There was a sense of deja-vous as I walked off the Hercules C130 and into the passenger handling area, as I was last here in December 2006.

While much of the Contingency Operating Base (COB) was still familiar a great deal has changed with new buildings springing up all over the place. The most prominent changes across the COB being huge barns that have been purpose built to provide state of the art catering facilities and welfare areas, with coffee bars and internet access; important facilities for the hard working people living here.

More importantly, there is a significant change to the atmosphere here. Within minutes of arriving last time, I was taking cover as rockets flew into the base. It was a very timely reminder of the dangers faced by British and Coalition troops every day back then. So far, I haven’t had to put into action the Indirect Fire (IDF) drills that became second nature to me last time I was here.

The handover from my predecessor was termed as ‘hot’ as my arrival coincided with the media focus turning onto Iraq. All of the great work that had been completed out here since ‘Operation Charge of the Knights’, that has been a monumental turning point for Basra, was now under the spotlight for all the wrong reasons. As I was being pushed through the arrivals briefs and sorting out my room and kit, my oppo was hard at work ensuring that no one was in any doubt about how the British had provided the support the Iraqi security forces requested for ‘Op Charge of the Knights’ that had included armour, artillery, airpower, medical and logistic support. So, with that out of the way, the final handover took place and as Tom Holloway headed back to the UK, I took command of the Media Ops team.

With a tri-service, UK and US team, there is a great deal to get to grips with in the office before the real media ops work could start. However, this was not the time for a few days of contemplation as only days after my handover the Commander of MND (SE) was due to change too. For media ops, this was going to be a big and full on task, requiring a great deal of effort to ensure the change of Commander MND (SE) would run as smooth as clockwork.

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