“I think every CO is proud of his regiment,” Lt Col “Jack” Nicholson said.
He was speaking in the back of Ridgeback armoured vehicle as the truck bounced down a dirt track in Helmand province.
As Commanding Officer of the 21 Engineer Regiment, based at Ripon’s Claro Barracks, Lt Col Nicholson and the Regimental Sergeant Major Paul Gallimore had set out visit sappers based all over province over the Christmas period.
“We tried to get out earlier in the tour, but getting transport is difficult,” he said. The Engineers who man the escort multiple, responsible for transporting people around Helmand, are a busy and in-demand unit.
He said he is proud of the work the 21 Engineers have done since they arrived in Afghanistan three months ago.
“We expect the guys to do well. It is very rare the Royal Engineers don’t have a good tour. They lads get bored if they haven’t got enough work, and the thing about Engineers is that the harder you work them, the more you get out of them.
He spoke of his hopes for the regiment’s current six month tour in Helmand province.
“I said before we came out that most of all I wanted to get everyone home in one piece. Losing James Townley so early in the tour was a bitter blow.”
Captain Townley, of the 28 Engineer Regiment usually based in Germany, was attached to the 21 Engineers in Afghanistan. He died on Friday, September 21 in an incident not thought to be the result of hostile action.
“It was a massive blow. I think as a commanding officer it has to be the worst feeling ever to hear one of your guys has died. A whole raft of things go through your mind - you wonder if we could have done things differently,” Lt Col Nicholson said.
He went on to praise the youngest soldiers serving with the Ripon-based regiment.
“Everybody knocks the younger generation, but there is nothing wrong with young people. We put them in dangerous environments with huge responsibility and they always deliver.
“We have 22 and 23 year olds taking command of 28 tonne trucks, and I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t feel safe with them,” he added.
Before taking over as the 21 Engineers commanding officer, Lt Col Nicholson first came to Ripon in 2007 as a squadron commander in the 38 Engineers - the regiment which left Claro Barracks in 2008.
“The sad thing for me is that this will be the last time I will command soldiers. I only have a year and a half left in this post, and it’s a bitter pill to swallow because this is what we join up for.”