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Maintaining Weapons in Afghanistan

Royal Marine Sergeant Marcus Smith
Sergeant Marcus Smith, Royal Marines, makes sure that everyone's weapon will work when they need it to

Using his specialist skills as an Armourer, Royal Marine Sergeant Marcus Smith is currently serving in Afghanistan to ensure that the weapons systems used by British Forces are second-to-none.

Sgt Marcus Smith, aged 34, from Devon, is known to everyone as 'Smudge'. He is part of the UK Landing Force Command Support Group (UKLF CSG), deployed to Afghanistan for six months.

Based in Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand province and the base of the 3 Commando Brigade Headquarters, he is the Unit Armourer:

"I am responsible for the inspection, maintenance and upkeep of all the weapons being used in this immediate area, somewhere in the region of 2,000 pieces of kit," he said.

"This includes standard rifles and pistols, grenade-launchers, grenade machine guns, the awesome .50 calibre heavy machine guns and sniper rifles. I look after night-vision goggles, telescopic sights and other specialist bits that the lads use on a daily basis.

"The kit is great; things like the SA80 rifle have had lots of modifications to improve them to cope with the conditions, but there is always a battle. Here in Afghanistan, you put oil on the working parts and you get dust sticking to it, but if you don't oil it, the temperatures and the dew cause rust. It's a tough job to keep it all working smoothly, but it never lets them down."

Any weapons that require maintenance are given to Smudge for inspection first and expert work to remedy any problems:

"Most of the time, it is simple fair wear and tear that I will have to deal with. The going is tough out here; there's the dust, then the high heat and extreme cold which can cause metal expansion and contraction. Sometimes weapons get hit by enemy fire and sustain damage.

"My job is making sure that everyone has full confidence in their kit so we know it will work in a situation when they need it to work and that it is safe for the user and those around them. No-one wants a misfire from a machine gun."

The main responsibility though for weapon care rests with the individual serviceman or woman, and it is a central part of any member of the Armed Forces to care for their equipment.

British Forces have continually out-gunned the Taliban and it's due to the quality of their training and equipment that they have been able to do this, as Smudge added:

"It's inevitable that our weapons have continually been improving what with the conflicts that we have served in over time. Kit is good and the lads look after it, they're professional and this is second nature to them all."

This is Smudge's first tour to Afghanistan, despite having served all over the world, including Norway, Greece, Egypt and even a year in Diego Garcia, in a career spanning more than 17 years:

"I've been in camouflage since I was three and playing soldiers all my life. I was always going to join up. I've travelled the world and had some experiences. Armoury is a trade for me and one I've been doing for 13 years.

"It's satisfying to get out here and do the job I've trained to do. I know that what we are doing here is making a difference and I'm playing my part in that."

His deployment is due to end in March and with just weeks to go, Sgt Smith's finely-tuned sights are now firmly on getting home to his young family; wife Sarah and three sons, Lewis, five, Harrison, two, and Bailey, one:

"It's always hard coming away like this. I'm missing my little ones and their early years, so of course I can't wait to get back. Most families have one child who plays up a bit, but mine, they're all bonkers! Sarah is an incredibly strong person, she just gets on with it, being a mother and a housewife all on her own. My missus is hoofin'!

"We'll go on a bit of a holiday together when I get back, spend some good quality time together and get back to see my parents in Burgess Hill."

But until then, Smudge will continue to make sure that the equipment that is helping British Forces bring stability and security to Afghanistan keeps running smoothly.