‘Making the most of what they’ve got’

WO2 Craig (Ed) Lawson and, below, Lt Cl Martin Morris.
WO2 Craig (Ed) Lawson and, below, Lt Cl Martin Morris.
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Two former Ripon-based Royal Engineers are serving in unique roles in Afghanistan.

WO2 Craig (Ed) Lawson and Lt Col Martin Morris - who was once as Ripon’s Deputy Mayor - have both been based at Ripon’s Claro Barracks and now work in reconstruction and advising the Government in Afghanistan.

Lt Col Martin Morris in Camp Leatherneck - the US base in Helmand province

Lt Col Martin Morris in Camp Leatherneck - the US base in Helmand province

At home in the UK WO2 Lawson lives in Leeming Bar with his wife Hazel and children Bailey, seven, and Shona, three.

After postings to the Ripon barracks the family have close links to Ripon - and Hazel once worked at the city’s Ripon Spa Hotel.

In Helmand WO2 Lawson works in the Military Stabilisation and Support Team organising the construction of traditional Afghan mud buildings - known as orthodox built earth (OBEs) as check points and bases for Afghan forces.

The new traditionally built check points will give Afghan forces bases to work from once the British Army - and other international troops - have left the country.

By building in these traditional local styles the reconstruction teams can provide employment for local people, and make sure the bases blend into their surroundings, WO2 Lawson said.

“The OBEs are much less conspicious - building our usual type of check point would be like living in the middle of Ripon with lots of guard towers all over the place. These blend in, and don’t look as scary to walk past.

“They are not the most technical buildings, but they’ve been tested and can survive attacks from RPG fire.”

WO2 Lawson spends a lot of time travelling to sites around Helmand to plan the projects, together with his interpretor, and “force protection” - 10-15 British soldiers there to let him and his interpretor survey sites and plan builds in safety.

And working in this team WO2 Lawson said he has for the first time in his Army career found himself working with people from all three services - Army, Navy and Air Force, as well as Afghan contractors and interpretors.

Lt Col Morris was based in Ripon from 2004-6 as second-in-command of the 38 Engineer Regiment then based in the city.

He became Deputy Mayor after helping organise the Queen’s visit to the city.

He was the city council’s photographer for the day, and remembers the preparations and celebrations well.

“I think I am one of the few people who have told the Queen to ‘crack on’,” he said, after he delayed proceedings at the town hall and then caught up with Her Majesty.

He served as Deputy Mayor the year after the visit. “It was a great honour and a priviledge, and I enjoyed it very much. I’d like to get involved in local politics again once I retire from the Army,” he added.

In Helmand for 12 months, Lt Col Morris’s job now is advise the Afghan army and government on media relations.

“My job is to get the Afghan National Army, the Afghan Uniformed Police, and the Afghan media all talking to each other.”

It’s a role he is used to after serving as a mentor in public affairs to General in the Iraqi government.

But there are still cultural differences to learn, he added.

“It’s been good to learn how they do things. It’s rewarding and frustrating at the same time. It can be a case of two steps forward, one step back. We can’t look at things with a Western eye.

“Afghanistan has very limited resources, but we can advise them on how to make the most of what they’ve got.”

“And the Afghans really need to sort out their tea. I’m used to it now though, I can drink Afghan tea until the cows come home.”