THIRTY years ago, Robert (Bob) Alexander from Kirkcowan walked into a recruiting office in Stranraer and enquired about joining the Army - today he is serving in Afghanistan.
After three decades in the Army, Warrant Officer Class 1 Alexander is still serving his country.
The 46-year old is usually based at the Army Personnel Centre in Glasgow where his duties include finding soldiers to take on various posts in operations around the world. Late last year, he himself was selected to spend three and a half months working in the 16 Air Assault Brigade Media Operations team based in the Task Force Helmand Headquarters in Lashkar Gah.
Although Bob has served in many places including Bosnia, Germany and Northern Ireland, this is his first time in Afghanistan. It began with media training and WO1 Alexander has progressed to working as an escort and advisor to visiting journalists – accompanying them on frontline patrols across Helmand.
Bob says it’s been a great experience. He added: “When I joined up in 1981, I didn’t think I would still be soldiering after 30 years. I certainly never thought I would be doing a job like this but the post needed filling and was an opportunity to do something different. It has been a real eye opener. I have found it strange that I’ve been in the Army since before many of the soldiers out here were even born though.” In the past 30 years WO1 Alexander has seen a lot of changes and been through a lot himself. Bob said: “The Army is a lot more worldwide than it ever was. The improved equipment and the advances for soldiers have been remarkable. When I joined up you bought a lot of kit yourself but now the equipment we are given is second to none.
“The soldiers now are also much fitter and they have to be as they are working harder than ever. The guys can be out patrolling two or three times a day in the intense heat often in very dangerous areas. This is real soldiering with real risks.” Next week, Bob will have another medal to add to his collection when he returns home from his tour in Afghanistan. He says being away from his family this time has been a little easier:
“In the past it could take weeks for letters and parcels from home to get through and it was really difficult to stay in touch with the family. But now, the welfare system is great and I can email or speak to my wife and children every week and that makes a huge difference when you’re away from home.”
However, WO1 Alexander is still looking forward to seeing wife Samantha and the kids in a few days time as well as walking Murphy the dog and getting back to a his home life.
Looking back on thirty years Bob has no regrets:
“It’s been an interesting career – especially considering I only joined up to get my HGV licence. But if I had the chance I would definitely do it all again.”