Kerry Hutchinson, a member of Mitre Lodge of York, No. 7321, is once more on a 6-month tour of duty with the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan. Kerry, a Territorial Army Major in the 4th Battalion, the Yorkshire Regiment, is serving as a Staff Officer alongside the US Marine Corps in Camp Leatherneck, Helmand. He is there to help ISAF assist the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan to assume full responsibility for governance once ISAF leaves towards the end of 2014.
Kerry, who works as a Civil Servant for Defra in York, has been called up for compulsory military service in Afghanistan twice before, serving in a combat role in Northern Helmand in 2008/9, and following that, as a counter-corruption team leader in 2011 working in co-operation with Afghan officials trying to tackle corruption in public life. This time, Kerry has been specially selected by the Ministry of Defence to fill a role as a policy analyst, a role not that far removed from his main civilian job. 'The only difference really, is that I’m in uniform and in a potentially hostile environment' Kerry explained. 'Working and living at Camp Leatherneck in the middle of the Helmand desert can get a bit dry and dusty. But for creature comforts there is of course the good old NAAFI [Navy, Army and Air Force Institutes], next door at Camp Bastion. At least you can get a cup of Yorkshire tea there.'
On this third tour of duty Kerry is part of a UK/US policy scrutiny team that examines current policy planning and ‘group think’ and then uses such methods as ‘Devil’s advocate’, ‘alternative assumptions’ and ‘primary assumptions challenging’ to try to improve on draft policies, before they then become final. Kerry explains that the idea isthat we put our energies into doing only what is absolutely necessary to help hand off functions and procedures to Afghan Government and Security Forces. 'Basically, we are realigning our roles and responsibilities to enable sustainable security and stability to take place for 2014 and beyond. This means reshaping our troop posture in drawing down UK forces responsibly and allowing Afghan Security Forces to assume a greater role in protecting their country and defeating the Insurgency.'
In terms of his masonry Kerry had to come off the ladder because of his Territorial Army and other job commitments. In addition to his TA career, Kerry is also a professional voice actor and consultant trainer in the field of hostile environment awareness training for UK civilian NFGO and Government officials going to jobs in fragile or failing States abroad. Whilst his experiences in Afghanistan have helped add authenticity and credibility to his training consultancy, such extra-mural work has meant he has not been able to attend Mitre Lodge meetings for a very long time. 'I really do miss the camaraderie of the Lodge, helping in floor work and, if asked, giving Charges or Working Tools to junior degree aspirants.' On his first tour in Afghanistan in 2008 he had heard of a military Warranted lodge run in Kandahar by Canadian Forces, but he has not been able to find out what happened to this Lodge or whether it is still there: 'Sadly in the Military it’s not the kind of question I can start asking among UK colleagues.'
Kerry is due to return to the UK and his job with Defra in the late summer of 2013 'but getting some well-earned leave in before I exchange my uniform for my suit!'