Returning for a third tour of Afghanistan

Lisa is pictured with one of the local children during her last deployment to Afghanistan.
Lisa is pictured with one of the local children during her last deployment to Afghanistan.

Territorial Army Captain Lisa Irwin from Brechin is looking forward to her third tour of Afghanistan after 15 gruelling months of training.

On her last deployment Lisa worked as a Female Engagement Team commander. This time round she will take up a post as a Cultural Specialist (human terrain).

On this tour Lisa will help work with local residents to find out the best way to work with them to resolve conflict.

Lisa explained: “Basically our job is to advise commanders and anybody in the forces how to engage and work with the locals and to act as an interface between them and the locals.

“Now I speak, read and write the language. This enables me to speak one-on-one with the locals.

“I wouldn’t say that I am at a professional level but I can debate and talk about most subjects.

“The idea is that we will go out, into the local areas and talk to locals about any issues that they have.

“We have also done training in ethnography, anthropology, cultural specialist.

“I have to try and work with local families and understand any cultural issues, kinship issues, political issues and from that, advise commanders what might be the best way to deal with any issues that come up in the village.

“It can be quite complicated but it can be quite useful. It is a capacity that in the past the military didn’t have.”

The role taken on by Lisa is vital, not just in Afghanistan, but in any conflict.

“To have specialists, such as myself, means that when we go to a conflict we can go there with some knowledge,” explained Lisa.

“Some of it, when you go in initially, is just what you have read, and then you try and understand the population and work out what is going on in that conflict so you can work with them.

“The operations that we tend to be doing now are counter insurgency and one of the main tenets of counter insurgency is securing the population.

“The population are really important and that is why we need people like me.”

Lisa’s work will see her based in Camp Bastion for six-and-a-half months.

She said: “Most of the troops are drawing back to Camp Bastion in time for leaving so Camp Bastion is seen as quite key.

“For me to get out and talk to locals around that area and keep Camp Bastion secure would be quite useful.”

For the past 15 months Lisa has been learning the Pashto language.

“I’ve been through a long arduous course and I want to use the language,” she explained.

“Pashto is the language they mainly speak in Helmand. It is mixture of Vasi, Pashto and Arabic, so you have to learn bits of all three.”

Lisa’s tour, which starts in July, will be her first during the summer.

“When I get off the plane it is going to be about 50 degrees and I will be wearing the full rig and getting quite hot,” she said.

During her time in the UK Lisa, a former paediatric nurse at Tayside Children’s Hospital in Dundee, has been putting her newly acquired knowledge of Pashto to use.

“I do bank nursing down in England and twice I have been working in the hospital and have treated an Afghan child who didn’t speak English so I spoke in Pashto.”

Lisa hopes she can work in the hospital in Afghanistan where she can use the language to help locals.