'My tale from the frontline'

LIVING on a frontline military base in Afghanistan, under the constant threat of a Taliban rocket attack, is business as usual for a female soldier from Essex.

LIVING on a frontline military base in Afghanistan, under the constant threat of a Taliban rocket attack, is business as usual for a female soldier from Essex.

Cpl Katie Mercer, 28, who is serving with the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, Second Battalion, in Musa Qala, a district in the north of Helmand Province, spoke exclusively about her time on the frontline.

“The last time we had contact with the Taliban was four days ago when an RPG [rocket propelled grenade] was fired into the camp,” said Katie, who was born in Colchester. “The only warning we had was when we heard the first one go off. All you can do is get down and find cover.”

Katie joined the Army in 2000 and she has not looked back. She said serving as a British soldier had given her stability and the opportunity to buy her disabled mother a home in Clacton.

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“My mum does worry about me being out here, but she is dead proud of me,” said Katie. “She watches the news which makes her panic, but I've told her that she would be the first to know if anything happens to me.”

Katie is five months into her second tour, the first was an exercise in Bosnia, but being in Afghanistan was far more “operational and intense” she said.

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Working as an HR administrator might sound like a risk-free profession, but no job on a military camp in Afghanistan is without it dangers as Katie found out when she travelled by road to Woqab, a patrol base in the Musa Qala district.

“As we dismounted the vehicle, a Warrior, I heard gunfire and could see the tracers coming towards us - it was my first contact with the Taliban. It took a while to realise what was happening and my first reaction was to run.”

Fortunately no-one was hurt in that exchange, but Katie knows what it is like to lose a member of the battalion. The Second Fusiliers have lost two men in the fighting, the most recent was Joseph Etchells, 22, who was killed by an improvised explosive device (IED) while on foot patrol Sangin, Helmand.

“I knew both of the men from the battalion who have died as I was a clerk for them at different times,” said Katie. “We held a service for the latest victim, Joseph Etchells, yesterday. It was a very tearful occasion for everyone. I have been with the battalion for a long time and they are like a family to me. But you have to move on because everyone has a job to do.”

Despite being a close-knit group, Katie said one of the biggest obstacles for her was the scarcity of female company. When a female friend flew back to Camp Bastion, the main British base in Helmand about 30 minutes by helicopter from Musa Qala, she said it had a big effect on her.

Katie enjoys her work despite all of the difficulties and finds it very rewarding.

“The work I do is really important for the soldiers and can make a huge difference to their morale,” she said. “Sorting out any pay issues quickly gives them peace of mind that their families back home have money.

“I also work with the families of some of the soldiers. I write back to the children to let them know what their daddies have been doing.”

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