A SOLDIER has achieved an armed forces first during his four tours of Afghanistan.

Corporal Oliver Mercer toured in Helmand Province with the Apache detachment, 654 Squadron.

The former Westhoughton High School pupil is the only serving member of personnel to have deployed on all four HERRICK tours which his squadron has been involved in.

Cpl Mercer, who serves with the 654 Squadron (Sqn), 4 Regiment Army Air Corps (AAC), based in Wattisham, Suffolk, has just returned from a six-month tour of the war-torn country.

The 26-year-old, who has a three-year-old daughter, Olivia Grace, who lives in Bolton, said: “I’m part of the ground crew which are essentially like a Formula One pit team.

"We have to prepare the Apache helicopters when they come in from a tasking, ready to deploy again at a moments notice.”

As well as being a shift commander on tour he is also a physical training instructor.

He has to ensure that the Apache crew’s fitness levels are at a high standard at all times by providing a range of fitness activities.

He said: “I’ve done a lot more physical training and teaching on this tour, which has improved my confidence as an instructor.”

Cpl Mercer, who has a 27-year-old brother, Keith, and whose parents, Patricia and Graham, still live in the town, joined the army in 2005. He says he wanted a challenge.

Cpl Mercer added: “Although I’m enjoying this tour as much as the previous ones, it’s been at a much slower pace, and we’re firing a lot less due to the Afghans taking the lead and the British troops moving into more of a supportive role.”

He is also on tour with his girlfriend, Airtrooper Lauren Morgan, who is an Apache gunwoman in 654 Sqn. They met in the army and have been together for two years.

Outside of his military role Cpl Mercer enjoys running and playing football, and plays football for the regiment.

He is a Manchester United season ticket holder and has been missing the football season while on tour.

Cpl Mercer said: “I’ve also been missing my parents, and my daughter, who are all back in Bolton.”