St Albans heroes ready for Afghanistan missions

Former journalist and experienced sailor prepare for military challenge

EXPERIENCED sailor Captain Rachel Beszant has tackled huge waves, bad weather and sleepless nights to captain her team to second place in a week-long military challenge in the Baltic Sea.

Rachel, 29, who comes from St Albans and is a former student of Townsend School, led her team on board their boat the Skula to a close second place in 7th Armoured Brigade’s annual regatta – coming in just half a point behind the eventual winners.

With the rest of her brigade, Rachel is about to embark on a strict programme of mission training designed to prepare them for possible deployment to Afghanistan and the sailing expedition was a break from their regular duties.

Rachel, whose parents Mervin and Pauline still live in St Albans and who is married to Major Adam Wilson, 36, who is currently serving in Afghanistan, said: “I’m really proud to come second but I have to admit I am a tad disappointed – we lost by just half a point.

“Going into a race with a bunch of novices was quite intense – but they all did splendidly. The night sailing was quite intense, especially keeping them awake, and getting them to cook as well as stopping the boat from capsizing.”

Eight boats, each with a seven-man crew, navigated their way through a number of challenges including long-distance passage racing, can racing in which the boat needs to be manoeuvred through a short course of barrels and a night race in pitch-black conditions.

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Rachel is expecting to be deployed to Afghanistan next year and has already served in Iraq since being commissioned as an officer in 2004.

n A former journalist from St Albans is advising the UK military in Afghanistan.

Ben Wilkinson, who began his journalistic career in the city before spending a further six years working for various newspaper titles, is based in Lashkar Gah, the capital of Afghanistan’s Helmand province, for the next six months.

Working from the media operations centre, his role is civilian media advisor offering professional communications advice to the Commander of British Forces, Brigadier James Chiswell, and his military staff.

Ben, 27, who lives in St Albans and grew up in Park Street, is usually based at the Ministry of Defence HQ in central London. In his spare time he trains cadets at 220 (St Albans) Squadron Air Training Corps.

He said: “This job is very different to anything I have done before and it’s a very different atmosphere to the local newspaper offices where I started my career – I’m one of very few civilians in a predominantly military environment.”