Soldier describes fun of ‘playing the enemy’ during Kenyan exercise

A Welsh soldier has said it is better fun playing the enemy as his battalion challenged an infantry counterpart ahead of their deployment to Afghanistan.

Trooper Thomas Ashley Hopkins, 26, from Merthyr Tydfil, is one of the 1st Queen’s Dragoon Guards personnel testing 2 Rifles’ readiness to deploy next year as part of Exercise Askari Storm in Kenya.

Co Antrim-based 2 Rifles are facing a gruelling exercise in bushland in a remote part of the African nation, contending with temperatures reaching the high 30s.

Askari Storm
A soldier from the Queen’s Dragoon Guards plays the enemy in Kenya, defending a forward operating base (fob) from an attack by 2 Rifles. (Robbie Hodgson/Ministry of Defence/Crown Copyright)

Trooper Hopkins was involved in defending a forward operating base (fob) from an attack by 2 Rifles working with the Kenyan Defence Forces.

“So we are trying to provide 2 Rifles with a free thinking enemy and trying to test them before they deploy to Afghanistan, and it’s going well,” he said.

“It’s better playing the enemy, you try to get one up over them.”

Askari Storm
Members of 2 Rifles and the Kenyan Defence Forces attack a forward operating base (fob) in Kenya being defended by the Queen’s Dragoon Guards during a training exercise. (Robbie Hodgson/Ministry of Defence/Crown Copyright)

The Merthyr man has been in the Queen’s Dragoon Guards (QDG) for 18 months after transferring from the Parachute Regiment.

“I never really knew about the QDG to be honest until I looked into transferring,” he said.

“I made the transfer, most people think the Welsh Guards are the main regiment for Welsh boys, but the QDG also recruit from south Wales.

“I was 19 when I first joined the Parachute Regiment, I got discharged on medical grounds for doing my ligaments in my ankle during selection.

“It’s not as tough as people think, it’s genuinely not, it was just bad luck that I got injured.

“I came back in 2015 and went back to the Parachute Regiment, but transferred over to the Queen’s Dragoon Guards. I enjoy where I am now, and vehicles make life a bit easier. Although we do a lot of dismounted work as well.

“I’m a vehicle operator and heavy machine gunner.”

While the dirt tracks in the African bush proved difficult driving conditions, Trooper Hopkins described Salisbury Plain as the hardest conditions he has had to drive in.

“Over the last 18 months I have done battle group exercises with Wessex Storm and deployed to north-east Poland as a deterrent to Russian threat,” he said.

Trooper Hopkins described the deployment to Poland as being in a town close to forests, a short distance from the border with Russia.

“We were out there as a deterrent, it’s more of a show of force from Nato and reassuring Europe.

“There wasn’t a lot to do, I’d rather be doing what 2 Rifles are doing here.”

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