They used to be passing strangers in their home town of Barnsley but two military men from the South Yorkshire town have now become brothers in arms as they prepare for a tour of Afghanistan next year.
Major Neil Watson and Sergeant Major Daniel Long are working together to lead a company of soldiers during an intense training operation in a remote area of African bush.
They unsuspectingly frequented the same bar in Barnsley before their military careers brought them together when they both joined the former Light Infantry regiment. Now, they have been cast together in the central African nation of Kenya to lead B Company from the 2 Rifles infantry battalion through a gruelling training exercise.
Scorching heat, scorpions crawling into practice trenches and setting up camp close to herds of elephants form just part of their unfolding experience during Exercise Askari Storm.
“It’s not exactly something you’d see in Barnsley,” the pair quipped.
Major Watson and Sgt Major Long have brought similar distinctive accents to the command of B Company, with Major Watson serving as the company’s Commanding Officer.
Ordinarily, they are both based at Thiepval Barracks in Lisburn, Co Antrim, home of the 2 Rifles, which was created in 2007 following the amalgamation of several older regiments.
The pair’s former regiment, the Light Infantry, became part of The Rifles in 2007.
Major Watson said it was unusual to end up working so closely with someone from the same town because of the battalion’s policy of recruiting from across much of the UK.
“We both served together in the old second battalion of the Light Infantry, which was 3 Rifles when I was a 2nd Lieutenant, and he (Sgt Major Long) was a Lance Corporal,” Major Watson said.
“It’s been great to be able to come back together later on.
“The Rifles has got a big recruiting area, we recruit from south of the Tyne all the way down through Yorkshire, the Midlands, Birmingham, pretty much nationwide now.
“It’s quite unusual that you would have a company commander and a company sergeant major from the same place, but I think it proves the strength and depth in the Rifles - that it doesn’t matter where you start off, if you have got the capacity to be able to do your job well, then there is absolutely no limit to what you can achieve,” Major Watson added.
Also taking part in the African training exercise is Captain Kate Taylor, a general duties medical officer from Harrogate.
She is a member of one of two teams of medics on duty with the soldiers. One of the teams is training in dealing with simulated injuries, but Capt Taylor is part of the other team, one which has been assigned with treating any real-life injuries that the soldiers suffer as they are rigorously put through their paces.
Those on duty have been advised to drink six litres of water a day because temperatures can reach a sweltering 40 degrees.
Capt Taylor said the heat had been an “inevitable factor” but she had not seen an extraordinary level of injuries on the exercise so far.
Capt Taylor said she joined the Army because she was unsure about which speciality to pick during her medical training with the NHS.
“I’ve learned a lot that would probably be useful when I go back to the NHS, mostly that’s around tropical medicine,” she said.
“There are also injuries and illnesses that you have to deal with out here that you won’t necessarily deal with back home, such as snake bites and scorpion stings - they don’t happen very often in the UK.”
PREPARING FOR ACTION
2 Rifles are training in the hot and sandy conditions of the African bush to help them acclimatise to their posting next year in war-torn Kabul; capital of Afghanistan.
Barnsley duo Major Neil Watson and Sergeant Major Daniel Long, who are leading the battalion’s B company in Kenya at the moment will be doing likewise on the 2020 Afghan tour of duty.
Major Watson is a commissioned officer, while Sgt Major Long joined the battalion as a Rifleman.
In total, 2 Rifles comprises of around 550 Riflemen.
No longer routinely committed to security operations in Northern Ireland, the battalion has been deployed on four tours to Iraq and Afghanistan over the course of the last 12 years.