Two Bute shinty players are among a quintet from the Armed Forces shinty team who are currently serving in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, as their team-mates prepare for Sutherland Cup first-round action back home in Scotland.
Four of the soldiers are based in Helmand Province’s capital, Lashkar Gah and the fifth club member is based at the UK’s largest operating base, Camp Bastion.
The Bute pair, Staff Sergeant Craig Harrower and Lance Corporal James Dunn, along with their team-mates from the army’s SCOTS Camanachd shinty team, Captain Robert Stoddart and Lieutenant Rob Illing, took time out from their duties to explain a little more about their work.
Staff Sergeant Harrower (35), of the Royal Military Police, has been working at the police station in Lashkar Gah training and advising the Afghan Uniform Police (AUP), who come in from all over the province.
Since the UK deployed into Helmand in 2006 Staff Sergeant Harrower has deployed three times in various roles.
“I’ve seen the police develop over the last seven years from a group of men brought in and simply given uniform,” he said, “to men, and women, trained and organized into a police force that serves the community.”
Lance Corporal Dunn (22) is just starting his six-month tour, based in Lashkar Gah. He is part of the Mechanical Transport Troop, maintaining and driving the Task Force Headquarters’ fleet of vehicles, allowing the commanders to get out and visit the Afghan and British soldiers around Helmand Province.
“I’m a soldier first; trained to do a job,” said Lance Corporal Dunn, when asked about spending six months away from playing shinty.
“The Army comes first, shinty second, but the Army has fully supported me. Over the last two years I have spent almost a year playing shinty.”
Lance Corporal Dunn has been playing shinty for seven years, starting out at Bute Shinty Club - for whom he is a first team regular when home on leave - while he also represented Scotland last year against Ireland.
Captain Stoddart (47), from Torrin, Skye, of the Royal Regiment of Scotland, has been based in Lashkar Gah in Headquarters Task Force Helmand for the last six months.
“In comparison to my last tour, which was in Musa Qal’eh in Northern Helmand, Op HERRICK 17 has seen the Afghans in the lead,” said Captain Stoddart, “and Musa Qal’eh is now in the hands of the Afghan Security Forces.”
Lieutenant Illing (24), from Aberfeldy, of the 2nd Battalion Royal Regiment of Fusiliers has been in Afghanistan for two months having deployed from Cyprus as part of the Theatre Reserve Battalion.
He has been working in Headquarters Task Force Helmand as a liaison officer. Rob has been playing for SCOTS Camanachd since he was at Aberdeen University Officers Training Corps.
A sixth SCOTS Camanachd player is preparing to deploy to Mali as part of the British contribution to the EU training mission there.
Captain Stoddart, who is Club Secretary of SCOTS Camanachd, said: “It’s great to meet up with other SCOTS Camanachd members and promote shinty to the wider Armed Forces.
“Unfortunately only one of the six servicemen currently deployed will be able to make it back to Scotland in time for our Sutherland Cup first-round game against Col Glen on Saturday, April 20.”