My Pals Told Every Day in Me I'll See Action Afghanistan ... as the First Armed Forces Day Approaches, Reporter Vicki Kellaway Met Merseyside Troops Using the Vast Canadian Prairies to Prepare for War in Afghanistan

Article excerpt

Byline: Vicki Kellaway

THERE we sat. Rammed together in the back of a tank, weighed down by our helmets, held fast by our body armour and wilting in the unforgiving heat.

The soldiers around me offered to sing to pass the time. I could only nod - clinging desperately to the inside of the tank as we hit a pothole and soared through the air, landing in a heap.

I spent a week with troops in the 1st Battalion, Duke of Lancaster's Regiment at the British Army training unit in Suffield, south-west Canada.

While those at home were preparing for the first Armed Forces Day on Saturday, these soldiers were busy training for a potential tour of Afghanistan.

And there's nowhere better to train than this vast Canadian prairie, which is four times the size of Merseyside and unpopulated bar the occasional elk, coyote and rattlesnake.

Here the troops can attack their fake targets with real missiles and must live on the dusty and inhospitable prairie for a month; eating their rations and keeping themselves clean.

It's likely they will deploy to Afghanistan next spring.

Gunner Mark Pratt, 26, from Tranmere says he is still struggling to visualise the wartorn country, despite having served twice in Iraq.

"Iraq was mostly in vehicles and there was no real war fighting," he says.

"But my mates at home are all in the army and they've told me about Afghanistan.

"I still can't picture it. They've told me you get contact (with the enemy) every day of the week.

You expect the odd one or two - but you don't want that." Others, like Corporal Daniel Wilson, 24, from Warrington, can't wait to deploy.

"Maybe I'll change my mind when I experience it," he says.

"But I am looking forward to Afghanistan. I expect it to be busy. The lads who come back are all shattered. I can't help wanting it to come sooner than next year." Kingsman Tom Cruise, 25, from Kirkby, says he's been in the army for eight years and experienced two vastly different stints in Iraq.

"The first time was okay, but the second was bad. We lost nine lads and 14 altogether," he says.

"It really affects some people.

One lad lost his best mate. He was in bits because they'd grown up together.

"When stuff like that happens all your training kicks in. It's harder afterwards." Most troops returned home via Cyprus for a period of rest and re-adjustment known as decompression, he says.

"That's very important because it gives you your own space. It means you don't take it out on the people you love." Kgn Cruise is unashamed to admit he feels scared at the prospect of Afghanistan.

He says: "In Iraq it was all IEDs (improvised explosive devices).

"One goes off but you don't really see the enemy, they watch a bit and then give up or attack you with mortars. In Afghanistan they just come at you." He is engaged to Leanne, 22 and says part of him hopes not to be deployed. …