A young Shetland army officer will be spending the festive season in Afghanistan working as education and press officer for The Royal Highland Fusiliers, 2nd Battalion The Royal Regiment of Scotland (also known as 2 Scots). Lieutenant Erik Smith, 25, the son of Jim and Jenny Smith of Russell Crescent, Lerwick, started his six-month tour of duty in Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand province, five weeks ago. He will not be home until March or April but is relishing the challenges of working in a difficult environment.
Part of his dual role is to help soldiers achieve qualifications. He said: “Just because the lads are deployed for six months does not mean that their personal development stops. It is my job to ensure they are getting the qualifications they need and to help them achieve any extra ones that they may wish to take on.”
The press officer aspect of his job means he is responsible for publicising the activities of 2 Scots, ensuring that the media back home and locally are aware of the unit’s work.
Despite only having been in theatre for a month or so, Erik, who earned his commission from the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst in December 2008, has already seen plenty of action. Recently he was involved in an operation which saw the Afghan National Police (ANP) and Afghan National Army (ANA) conduct a clearance of the area to the north of the provincial capital.
He said: “It was great to see the ANA and ANP taking on full responsibility for their country’s defence. They really have come a long way from the forces that they were a few years ago and, with our training and mentoring, are continuing to improve all the time.”
Contrary to the negative reports of equipment that have featured in the press since the start of the conflict, Erik has been impressed with the items issued to him. These include hearing protection designed specifically to fit into his ears, ballistic glasses which protect against shrapnel and boots designed to fully support the additional weight that he carries while still being light and comfortable to wear. “The new body armour is fantastic. It offers great protection that really does work and it feels very reassuring to wear it.”
And although he described conditions at the British-controlled Main Operating Base (MOB) Lashkar Gah as “pretty basic”, there are compensations. “There is a gym and facilities to call home, the food is pretty decent and there is always plenty of it. By far the best part is receiving post, that always brightens up your day.”
Erik, born and raised in Lerwick, was educated at Bell’s Brae Primary and the Anderson High School, gaining a languages and linguistics degree at the University of St Andrews.
Before going to Afghanistan he received training in how to handle the media, write news stories and took a number of courses in specific army education to be passed on to the soldiers.
Erik is due to return to the UK in March or April and is looking forward to spending time with his wife Kirsty at home in Edinburgh. He also plans to return to Shetland to see his parents and sisters Aimee, 24, Leisl, 21, and Ellen, 18. A keen cyclist, he hopes to use some of his post-tour bonus to buy a new racing bicycle in time for the upcoming time-trial season.