August 23, 2011
Soldier from SVG fighting in Afghanistan

The first time he was shot at, he remembers thinking:

“Oh my God, because the rounds (bullets) were landing close and the Taliban were only about 50 -70 meters away down in an area called Zangal in Nad-e Ali (South) area of Helmand province”.{{more}}

Sergeant Kev St. Hellen-Charles, 36, from St. Vincent and the Grenadines, ponders on his first encounter with the Taliban:

“It was a long contact; it lasted for 7 hours, and for guys who had never been in contact before, it was an experience they won’t ever forget. It was a real wake up call – you are here in Helmand; this is not training any more.”

‘Sergeant Kev’, as his soldiers affectionately call him, shoulders a lot of responsibility:

“My main thing is to take the guys out of the gate, go out on patrol and to bring them all back safe. Every day I go out and I make sure that they come back safe, even if we have been in a gun fight for 8-9 hours. I want to make sure every man is safe and that is my main role out here; to make sure when I take these guys out on the ground they get back at the end of the tour to their Mum and Dad.

I do get some of the young lads who have just left the training regiment and come straight out here and it’s my job to mentor them in everything. They look at you as the number one when things aren’t going well, so you have to make sure that they are on the ball, so the responsibility on my shoulders is mega.”

A Company, The 1 Rifles have had a busy but successful tour so far. Sergeant Kev and his soldiers have spent most of that time operating out of strategically positioned Check Points (CP). These combat outposts are quite austere and often isolated and for the soldiers it’s a challenge that they rise to.

“It’s back to basic soldiering; it’s what we signed up for when we joined the infantry,” comments Sergeant Kev.

One of the key purposes of the CP’s is to, alongside the Afghan National Security Forces, provide security to the Afghan people who live locally; small protected communities grow up around the CP.

“Everything we do is aimed at winning the hearts and minds of the people, making their lives safer. Some of the locals are easy to talk to and you can talk to them easily about why we are here and how we are here for their long-term good and to benefit them. They understand now that we are here alongside the Afghan Security Forces to protect them and that we are going to be here for a while. We are making sure that the local community is safe and feels safe.”

After 4 months operating in Helmand, he is now looking forward to some well-earned rest and recuperation back in his adopted home, High Wycombe, with his friends.

“I am looking forward to getting back into ‘reality’. I just want to get home so that I can chill and sleep in a nice bed, get some nice fresh water, get some good showers, have a good proper scrub and then relax and just chill and have a few pints of Guinness and cooking some West Indian food. It’s summer and the thing about us West Indians in the summer is we always want to get together to enjoy the sun and have a good laugh with good food.”

When asked about what he is then looking forward to at the end of his tour and what that will mean to him, Kev’s thoughts turn towards St. Vincent. His eyes light up and his face bursts into one big happy Caribbean smile.

“Oh, St. Vincent is my homeland, land of the blessed. I am going back there in December to see my family, Mum and Dad , Mr and Mrs Brown and my kids, my daughter and son Kevish and Terise. I can’t wait to see them and to take them to Florida. St. Vincent, I love it. I am going to be home for Christmas – a St. Vincent Christmas is special; it’s like a big festival. Everyone will share and go to everyone’s house to have a drink and then go to the next house and enjoy; everyone has one big party.”

His family and friends stay in touch as best they can and Kev looks forward to receiving the occasional parcel of his favourite treats that help ease his time at the front of operations in Afghanistan; “Haribo is mega, Vimto I just love and Sainsbury’s salted nuts, man, they are good!”

Officer Commanding A Company 1 Rifles, Major Karl Boswell speaks highly of the job that Kev and his colleagues are doing, commending the soldiers of A Company.

“I am quite possibly one of the most privileged people in the Army or the UK. I am as proud of my Riflemen as I am of my own children.”