SOLDIERS from the North East are being put through their paces in Africa. Echo reporter David Allison jetted to the desert to meet them.
WITH desert conditions and heat soaring to more than 45 degrees, soldiers from Sunderland are a long way from home.
As part of the operation Askari Thunder, the Third Battalion The Rifles are being put through their paces in the heart of the Kenyan desert in preparation for future combat.
Hundreds of soldiers from the battalion, which fought so bravely in Afghanistan during a six-month tour in 2009 to 2010, are taking part in live firing ranges in the difficult conditions.
The Echo spoke to some of those from Wearside who are out on exercise.
Sunderland’s Ryan Scott, who has been to the Falklands and Afghanistan during his three and a half years in the Army, said being in the desert is all about getting used to the type of climate.
He said: “It’s not just that, though because you’re training in extra heat and, as well as that, there is the altitude which makes it hard.
“But you’ve got to show that you’re able to do your job out here.”
The former Pennywell School pupil, 20, said that he was enjoying testing himself in the extreme conditions and rough terrain of Africa.
“I think I’m doing everything I can possibly do to show I’m up to it,” said Rifleman Scott, of B Company.
“I really think that we are keeping up all of our skills and ability up to standard. You’ve got to be able to meet the physical challenges.
“If you can do that, then we can definitely do our job more effectively when we are out on operations.”
He added: “Hopefully, before I leave Kenya I’ll be able to go out on safari, because it’s something I really want to do.”
Another Wearsider doing his duty is Carl McAvoy, from Usworth, in Washington, who has also been in the Army for more than three years.
The 25-year-old former St Robert of Newminster School pupil said: “It’s a good training area out here that’s for sure.
“But after a while you get used to it, so it isn’t a problem.
“The ranges we do live firing on are much better than what you can get in the UK, too.”
Rifleman McAvoy, who still lives in Sunderland when not working away, added: “I’d really say it’s a good experience because it’s certainly a different kind of training going into a foreign climate like this one. It’s totally different to what you get back at home.
“There have been quite a few of the lads with heat injuries but I suppose that’s normal when you experience the temperatures here.
“It’s hard work with how hot it is and it makes it harder when you see how much kit you have to carry.
“I struggled a bit the last time I was out here so I’m making sure that I’ve been prepared for what I’ll have to do.”
Asked what he thinks about the possibility of returning to combat operations in the future, Rifleman McAvoy, of C Company, said: “I’m a looking forward to it.
“When I was in Afghanistan the other year it was hard and arduous stuff, but in all honesty that is the type of thing I joined up to do.
“The work out here is a little bit different to other things that we’ve done.
“In Afghanistan, it’s a lot more patrol-based work that we have to do, and winning hearts and minds of the people who live there, getting them on our side.”
Rifleman McAvoy also had praise for the comrades he is serving with.
“It’s good having your own section of lads to work alongside. You can end up teaching them things and passing on stuff to them.
“Because I’ve been to the Falklands and to Afghan I can tell them what I’ve done and bring them on if you like.
“I enjoy doing that kind of thing. It’s good.”
He also paid tribute to those he says are helping him progress in his Army career.
“I work in a great platoon. All the section commanders in my platoon are brilliant to work with.
“I’d say I get on well with all of them, and that can only be a good thing.”