GWENT troops got ready for an upcoming tour of Afghanistan at a special training camp in Norfolk.

Argus reporter BEN FRAMPTON and photograper CATH BOOKER joined them.

FOR one week, part of the Norfolk countryside became Afghanistan as Gwent soldiers, along with their colleagues in the Welsh Guards, undertook vital training as they prepare for deployment.

Around 500 soldiers in 1st Battalion Welsh Guards will be sent to Helmand province in April to join the 8,300 UK troops for the regiment's first tour of Afghanistan.

In preparation for the six-month tour, troops spent one week at Bodney camp, near Thetford, simulating a variety of scenarios they can expect to encounter.

Guardsman Sam Williams, 19, from Abersychan, said: "We're doing different jobs every 12 hours, one minute we'll be on guard, the next we're on patrols."

Guardsman Williams has served with the Welsh Guards since last June and said he was "excited and nervous" about his first deployment.

Troops will have a number of roles during their tour, including working with the 60,000-strong Afghan army on security to help their soldiers take a bigger role in combating Taliban insurgents.

To give soldiers the best possible preparation, surprise attacks are launched at the compound, which is treated as a former Taliban stronghold seized by the British Army.

Soldiers have to be vigilant any such attack and respond as they would in the field.

Lance Corporal David Haines, 22, from Newport, said: "It's really important to know what you’re doing and know your roles, so when you get into theatre, you know exactly what you're doing."

With the forthcoming presidential elections, expected to take place later this year, Welsh Guard troops will be working on tactics with the Afghan Army to ensure it runs smoothly.

Another key aspect is preventing the cultivation of poppy plants, which are processed into heroin, and working with locals, gaining their trust in order to work alongside them.

Guardsman Ed Kemp, 25, from Newport, said: "It's basically similar to what we do in Afghanistan, we're going in, doing patrols, searching villages and trying to get friendly with the locals.

"It's vital because we've got to be on top form when we get out there and the more realistic it is, the more it prepares us for what it's going to be like out there."

To add to the realism, the Army have brought over 30 Afghan nationals to play different roles at the training camp.

They act as both terrorists and villagers, allowing soldiers to interact with them through interpreters to help prepare them for life in Afghanistan.

Guardsman Kemp added: "It makes our training more realistic and gets us used to the way they work out there and an insight into the culture we're going into."

Guardsman Kemp is facing his first deployment since starting in the Welsh Guards two-and-a-half years ago: "When I first found out, I was a bit apprehensive, but with the training we're doing now, I feel pretty much ready to go out there," he said.

Training also entails live ammunition battles, which last several hours and aim to replicate as closely as possible, the intensity of a real firefight.

'It's hard being away from family’

Lance Sergeant Lee Davies, 33, from Newbridge, has served in the Army for 15 years and has done tours in Iraq, Bosnia and Ireland as well as working as a UN peacekeeper in Angola, but this will be his first time in Afghanistan.

"I'm apprehensive, you've got to get out there and do the job, but obviously there's a fear factor because you're going into a war zone," he said.

Lance Sgt Davies described the training exercises as "massively important," saying what they perfect in camp can help save lives in the battlefield.

One thing all soldiers have to face is six months away from their families, wives and girlfriends.

Lance Sgt Davies has a wife, Sarah, and four-year-old son Nye: "It's hard being away from your family, especially when you've got kids. six-week tours aren't too bad, but six months away - it's quite hard," he said.

Many soldiers at the camp are facing their first deployment since joining the Army, with most looking forward to getting out into the field, with a degree of apprehension.

Guardsman Steven McMail, 19, from Bassaleg, said: "I'm looking forward to it, it's a good bit of experience, it's the first time I've been on tour. I'm nervous about going out there, but it's exciting as well. But I'm missing my family back home. I've been away from my girlfriend before, it's always tough, but it's part of the job."