IT IS EASY to see the impact local soldiers have in Afghanistan, where North Yorkshire units control two key functions that form the backbone of operations in the war-torn country.

The communications in Afghanistan, which provide the vital links back home for troops as well as top-secret international communications, are almost exclusively controlled by regiments from North Yorkshire.

The 2 Signals Regiments, based at Imphall Barracks, in Fulford, are helped by RAF units from Leeming and a Gurkha squadron to maintain all the communications in the main camps and on the ground.

Most of the 2 Signals are based in the south of Afghanistan in Camp Bastion and Lashkar Gah, in Helmand Province, as well as Kandahar, but a proportion is also based in the capital, Kabul, where the regiment’s specialist drivers and force protection move people and equipment around the city.

These soldiers are involved in trying to win the hearts and minds of local people, distributing flour, rice and cooking oil, and working on projects including digging irrigation ditches and wells to give clean water.

Its latest project, in memory of Signaller Wayne Bland, from Leeds, who was killed in Kabul, is to rebuild a school building. The regiment is raising the bulk of the £30,000 itself, says commanding officer Lieutenant Colonel Andy Knott.

Corporal Wendy Cunington, of the 204 Signal squadron, has devoted her spare time during the tour to raise more than $2,000 USD for the Army Benevolent Fund and a local charity in Lashkar Gah for abused women. The 27-year-old from Beverley organised a 10km run, involving 12 laps around Lashkar Gah camp.

These projects are carried out above and beyond the day job, which Corporal Adam King, based at Lashkar Gah, describes as “BT in uniform”.

The 30-year-old from Bridlington says the heat can reach 50 degrees, while the dust gets everywhere and ruins everything. “Within ten minutes you’re physically exhausted and it takes twice as long to do anything.”

Cpl King has a two-year-old son called Joshua and a daughter, Isabell, aged one. He receives letters from his wife, Hannah, about the family, which is made possible by the Signals, but sometimes it can be hard to hear from home.

“If talk to Joshua on the phone he gets quite upset, which is a nightmare for my wife so it’s a Catch-22. I try to talk to him and talk about good stuff, but as the conversation goes on I hear him get annoyed about the fact I’m not there.”

Corporal Jim Elkin is attached with the Gurkha’s Signal Squadron in Lashkar Gah. The 28-year-old arrived for the first time in Afghanistan at the beginning of August and manages the computer networks so the base has secure email and web access. “It’s been busy and different to what I expected,” he says Cpl Elkin feels lucky to be based in the camp. “I see the bad stuff on the telly and only hear about it. In camp it feels quite safe. There are people in a lot worse positions.”

At 19, Lance Corporal Ryan Howard, from Selby, is one of the youngest soldiers deployed at Lashkar Gah. He monitors all the communications links back to the UK and in Helmand Province, as well as performing sangar duty on the main gate, keeping the camp secure.

He says he feels he is doing a worthwhile job in Afghanistan but misses his girlfriend, Victoria Douglas, and six-month-old son, Harvey. “Victoria sends pictures of him over the internet every day but I’m still going to miss quite a bit, including his first Christmas,” he says.

NORTH Yorkshire troops also run the hospital in Camp Bastion.

Commanding officer Tim Davies, of the 34 Field Hospital, based in Strensall, is in charge of a team comprising personnel from 54 different units which make up the hospital staff.

He says the tour has been much busier than they anticipated, treating locals and wounded insurgents as well as coalition troops.

Warrant Officer WO2 Chris Thresh, from Haxby, receives casualties arriving at the hospital. He also has the grisly job of taking care of the deceased.

He receives the bodies at the hospital and then deals with the packaging and repatriation to families and loved ones. Very often the deceased is an Afghan and he also tries to find their family to return the body.

“You do see some nasty things,” he says. “I didn’t expect so many deaths as we’ve had out here. But when you think that the local nationals don’t consider life as precious as we do, it’s understandable the number of deaths we’ve had.”

The 41-year-old is counting down the days of his tour. When we spoke, he had worked 140 days here and had 55 left. But what’s remarkable about him is his generous spirit, despite his depressing job.

Chris raises money for Scarborough and Ryedale Mountain Rescue, of which he is a member, by cutting people’s hair and has already raised more than £1,000.

He has also adopted the American tradition of challenge coins which goes back to the First World War. Challenge coins are given out by senior officers to their men as a gesture of goodwill and Chris got a US manufacturer to make 200 coins with an emblem depicting the joint forces contribution to saving lives in Afghanistan.

He also keeps his spirits up by planning his wedding to fiancée Louise, in Haxby Church on May 28 next year.

Lance Corporal Ben Churchill, of the 3 Medical Regiment, is a medic serving with the Brigade Reconnaissance Force, a selection of the elite carrying out special reconnaissance work, namely meeting local people to find out what they need and what they know.

The 21-year-old from New Earswick is sent out with units to provide medical care to a troop of usually about 20 soldiers, mainly administering primary healthcare, but about five to ten per cent is trauma-related.

The former pupil of Joseph Rowntree School says people sometimes forget that medics are still first and foremost soldiers too.

“People stereotype a medic as working in the hospital in a safe environment, which isn’t the case anymore. There are medics as well as everyone else on the ground facing the same sort of danger,” he says.

CORPORAL Chris Johnson, from Selby, is ward manager of the hospital in Camp Bastion. The 34-year-old has served in Iraq twice before but says this tour has been harder than previous ones because he has a daughter, Kayleigh, at home with his wife, Julie.

Kayleigh will be one this month and Chris says he can’t wait until they go on holiday to Fuerta Ventura, when they are planning to catch up on missed birthdays and anniversaries.

Private Ben Broadley, from Strensall’s 34 Field Hospital, has worked in the emergency room and driven ambulances during his tour in Afghanistan, and now the 24-year-old is assisting doctors and nurses as a Combat Medical Technician.

He says realistic simulation training of wounds they were likely to see had prepared him for the work.

“There are certain injuries you think are really bad on training, like some devastating gun shot wounds, but in real life the guys are sitting up and chatting to you.”

He has also had to tend to insurgents. “Some of them can be quite hostile while others are grateful that you’ve helped them. Despite what they’re doing, they do sometimes thank you,” he says.