A SOLDIER from St Helens who spent last summer on a gruelling training camp in scorching Cyprus is finally set to be deployed to Afghanistan.
Gunner Thomas Swanston, 23, will fly out for a six-month tour of the battle zone in a matter of weeks after his battalion finally completed their meticulous preparations.
Now a Lance Corporal, Gunner Swanston was featured in the Reporter last year when he was put through his paces in soaring Cypriot temperatures alongside 100 soldiers from 9 Battery 12th Regiment Royal Artillery.
Known as Exercise Lion Sun, the three-week exercise was designed to prepare troops for frontline service in Helmand Province.
Lance Cpl Swanston said: “It was really good. We learnt a lot of new tactics and stuff we’d never done before, including live firing.
“Coping with the heat was a bit of a nightmare but you sort of get used to it. I constantly tipped water on my head, drank plenty, stayed in the shade and got as much sleep as I could while covered up.
“I found the lack of sleep quite hard though, especially on sentry duty – I was constantly giving it the nodding dog!”
The ex De La Salle pupil, from Thatto Heath, first joined the services in 2008 following stints in the army cadets and at the St Helens TA base.
And he has not only excelled in his duties as a soldier, but in the boxing ring too - winning every single bout in an forces competition.
Lance Cpl Swanston’s proud mum, Gail Peet, admitted she was apprehensive about her son’s forthcoming Afghan tour - but said he could not be better prepared.
She said: “Thomas is keen to get out there and do the job he signed up for. Even when he was younger he always wanted to be in the army - and he’s very focused.
“His job will be to operate and maintain camera equipment while he’s out there, and to train the other lads on the equipment too.”
Lance Cpl Swanston added: “I’m excited. It will be a great experience – using the training we’ve been taught.
“I’m sure once I step on that plane there’ll be quite a bit of nerves. But the training most definitely prepares you and I’m always learning from the guys who’ve been out there before.
“They know what they’re doing so I watch them and follow suit.”