Politicial candidate returns from tour of Afghanistan

8:30am Wednesday 11th March 2009


By Ali Dent


POLITICIAN Jack Lopresti doesn’t need to put any spin on his story, his trip to Afghanistan says it all.

The 36-year-old father-of-three has recently returned from a five-month tour of the war-torn country with the Territorial Army.

Jack, the Conservative candidate for the new Filton and Bradley Stoke constituency which takes in Winterbourne and Almondsbury, says he has no regrets despite some witnessing some harrowing scenes he will never forget. He shares his adventures with Ali Dent.

JOINING up has been on Jack Lopresti’s mind since he was a teenager.

He tried to sign up for the Royal Marines at a training day in Bristol 20 years ago, but his parents were against the career move and he entered into the family business instead.

He tried again in 2002 with the Royal Wessex Yeomanry but was rejected for being too old.

So when the idea reared its head again in 2006, this time with the TA, Jack thought it must be third time lucky.

"I had always regretted not serving my country or doing military service," said Jack, who lives in Filton with his wife Lucy and their children Domenic (CORR), 15, Sophie, 13, and Michael, 10.

"Then in January 2006 I was reading an article which stated that the TA had a recruitment crisis due to the fact that so many soldiers had been compulsorily mobilised for the 2003 liberation of Iraq and that the pressure of current operations on reservists was increasing and people were leaving in their droves.

"I found my nearest TA centre on the internet and despite being four years over the joining age, I was accepted."

Jack, a former financial services manager in the residential property sector, went through months of training before landing at Camp Bastion in Afghanistan with 266 Battery, Royal Artillery, Gloucester Volunteer Artillery.

"Life is generally comfortable there," he said. "There is even a pizza hut, a shipping container painted in Pizza Hut colours, as well as a couple of gyms and a state-of-the-art hospital."

A duty driver for the Bastion support unit, Jack joined a group of Royal Marines and Gurkhas as the only member of the TA.

"We were commanded by a great guy, a Royal Marine known as Rhino," said Jack.

"I was particularly fortunate to work for him as he sorted me out some of the best accommodation in Bastion and briefed me that I would get the opportunity to get out on the ground, do some soldiering and see some of the country.

"Most importantly, Rhino didn’t treat me any differently to any other member of the team."

Jack soon started working on Camp Bastion’s main entry points checking everyone who leaves and enters the base and then patrolling the desert with the force protection unit.

"I felt I was really living the dream," he said. "We had a very good reception from the locals, it never ceased to amaze me how they survive, grow crops and live in such a hot, dry country."

His biggest challenge was yet to come, however, as Jack was then teamed with the medical emergency response team on a Chinook helicopter. He was just a few minutes into his first shift with the team when they were called to pick up an injured soldier in Helmand Province.

"It was a mine strike, three Americans, one dead, two injured," he said.

"I helped by passing the medical team things and holding up the drip and lightly squeezing the bag as instructed.

"I thought of the families of those boys, the heartache and the calls they were going to get in the next few hours.

"As I got back on the Chinook they were cleaning out the helicopter – it was a brutal demonstration of the grim reality of the conflict out here and the daily sacrifices being made."

Now back in the UK, the parliamentary candidate is busy preparing for the next General Election.

Despite leaving his combats behind, the experience has prepared him for the fight.

He said: "It was an awesome experience, humbling at times, but one which I will never forget."

Ellie