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The Wider Regimental Family and TA 1998-2007 (including Afghanistan 2004, Iraq 2006 and Afghanistan 2006/07

At the beginning of 1998 Major General Bryan Dutton succeeded General Sir John Wilsey as Colonel of the Regiment. The election of a Labour Government the previous May introduced uncertainty and a Strategic Defence Review (SDR) was announced in the middle of the year. It soon became apparent that, while the Regular Army might even be slightly strengthened, TA manning would be reduced by some 40,000. By the end of the year it also became clear that the 4th Battalion would be superseded by The Rifle Volunteers, which would recruit across the whole of the South West. HQ and E Companies would remain at Exeter with a platoon at Plymouth, while C Company would remain at Dorchester with a platoon at Poole. However, the Volunteer Band escaped unscathed and the first Commanding Officer of the Rifle Volunteers was a Devon and Dorset, Lieutenant Colonel David Harrison. Under the Reserve Forces Act, The Rifle Volunteers were required to provide companies or individuals in direct support of the Regular Army on a voluntary or compulsory basis: twenty four Rifle Volunteers were serving with an under-strength 1st Battalion in Armagh at the end of 2000. The new Battalion was also required to assist local authorities in the event of regional emergencies and, in early 2001, provided assistance to MAFF and DEFRA during the 'foot and mouth' outbreak. The pace of TA life quickened sharply. There were exercises in Ukraine in 2001 and in Cyprus two years later. Preparing The Rifle Volunteers for FTRS (full time regular service) was vital and the support and understanding of employers essential.

Having successfully steered the Regiment through the Labour Government's SDR, Major General Dutton handed over his responsibilities as Colonel of the Regiment to Lieutenant General Sir Cedric Delves at the end of 2002. Following the refurbishment, The Military Museum of Devon and Dorset was on a very sound footing with a determined Curator, former RSM and QM, Major Len Brown. When he died in January 1999, he was followed, in quick succession, by two retired Royal Engineer officers: first Lt Col Parmley and then Lt Col Leonard. This period saw a succession of innovative exhibitions, the opening of the Crownhill Gallery in Plymouth, the negotiation of a new 50-year lease and the separation of the Museum as a charity, with its own set of trustees.

Rifle Volunteers in Iraq and Afghanistan

By early 2004 no less than 55 members of The Rifle Volunteers were taking part in Op Fingal in Afghanistan, a further 55 were on stand-by for Op Telic in Iraq and 26 others were on FTRS, bolstering an over-stretched Regular Army. These commitments were very real: Private 'Kit' Kitulagoda of The Rifle Volunteers was killed on active service in Afghanistan on 28 January 2004 while five other members of The Rifle Volunteers were wounded. In April 2004 eighty members of The Rifle Volunteers - including a number from the Devon and Dorset-based companies - were mobilised to take part in operations in Basra as part of the 1 Cheshire Battle Group, remaining in Iraq until November. This was a very considerable commitment for 'part-time' soldiers: having taken account of pre-tour training and post-tour leave, they spent no less than ten months away from their civilian jobs. While the Ministry of Defence was naturally anxious to remove some of the pressure on loyal volunteers and their employers, that did not deter many of the former from putting their names forward for duty once again almost as soon as they arrived home. The tour coincided with increasing tension in Basra and there were frequent contacts with insurgents, in one of which CSgt Smith was wounded. As a result of this tour Sgt Poole-Reeves was mentioned in despatches while there were GOC's Commendations for Pte Gavin and Sgt Pinnell.

In mid-2006 the Devon and Dorset TA companies provided many of the volunteers for Peninsular Company, which was mobilised for preliminary training that July before proceeding to Helmand Province, Afghanistan with 3 Commando Brigade in October.

They were responsible for the protection of Camp Bastion and, on arrival in Afghanistan, there was new equipment to be mastered, including the .50 Browning, before the platoons rotated through various important tasks: guarding the main gate, manning the defensive 'sangars' and providing a quick reaction force. Although shooting incidents were not uncommon, the main gate sentries, . Cpl Holloway and Pte Allen, were taken aback by the arrival of a bullet-riddled provisions truck. They were even more surprised when the Afghan driver emerged from his blood-soaked cab and hurriedly explained that, following an ambush on the road from Kandahar, he had managed to accelerate out of danger, before dropping his wounded passengers at the hospital and completing his delivery round at Camp Bastion.