The Army’s Mr Fix-it who built up bond with Afghans
Warrant Officer Gareth Davies was known as “Mr Fix-it” among the Afghans for his willingness to help anyone with a problem.
Now he has returned to his St John’s Wood home from dangerous Helmand province, he tells how he pulled off the difficult balancing act of being the “fillet” between the civilian population and his fellow troops.
“I made a pact very early that, if I had a day when I didn’t meet an Afghan person, that was a day wasted,” he says.
“So I actively encouraged the people to come and see me to talk about anything.”
He says the numbers who came to see him at his camp to talk about issues from poppy seeds to an injured child could vary every week from five to more than 1,000.
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Warrant Officer Davies was one of just 30 soldiers who were part of a military stabilisation group stationed across Afghanistan.
During his seven-month tour of Char-e-Anjir, he employed hundreds of locals to work with him to repair the damage caused by the fighting.
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If it was proven that the destruction was caused by the British Army, the 41-year-old fought for compensation for those worst affected.
“After the battle had been finished, we would establish contact with the village elders and repair any damage that had been done,” Warrant Officer Davies explains.
“It is an incredibly difficult job to do. The amount of distrust of Westerners is immense.
“But the local people are quite receptive to you as long as you don’t let them down and deliver everything you say you’re going to.”
The RAF officer, who began his career as a physical training instructor, also concedes that his own colleagues sometimes took a bit of convincing about the role he was playing.
“One day we were taking casualties and the day after I was asking the lads to patrol in a community where we knew the shots had come from,” he says.
“I had to be nice to them but the lads didn’t always see the bigger picture – you can’t really blame them for that because they’re young servicemen. Some of those kids are just 18 or 19 years old.
“But I explained why we were going and, when we came back, how successful we were in achieving our aims. They might not have felt better but they had an understanding of what they were doing and they were always professional.”
Despite the scepticism from both sides, Warrant Officer Davies still feels that he genuinely made a difference during his time in Afghanistan.
Among his biggest achievements was the restoration of a bombed mosque and the repairing of an irrigation system, which would have destroyed the local farming industry had it not been fixed.
But the most important part of his success, he says, was his involvement with the Afghan people who took ownership of many of the locally-funded projects he started. He says this approach also helped to contribute to the beginnings of the democratic system beginning to take hold in Afghanistan.
“The local people are the key,” he adds.
o Continuing his good works in Britain, Warrant Officer Davies is planning to run the London Marathon next year to raise money for the Poppy Appeal which raises funds for the Royal British Legion. For more information about the charity, visit www.poppy.org.uk.