Since the age of 17, when he started training with the London Irish Rifles, based at Princess Louise House in Hammersmith Road, Jason Craig could not wait to be deployed in action.

His chance finally came in 2007, when he spent six months out in Helmand Province with around 20 other members of his Territorial Army (TA) company.

For around eight weeks, he was on the front line - an experience he describes as "a bit hairy."

"There were some nasty bits, things you wouldn't see if you were walking down the street in London", he said.

Tragically, one member of his unit was killed in action.

"We had to send one of our lads back in uniform, in his coffin," said Mr Craig, now 21. "I had gone out to Afghanistan with him, and that was definitely one of the hardest times for me. When you see stories of people dying on the news it does affect you, because you're worried it might be you next time."

The overall experience, however, was one of the best in his life, he added.

Aside from coming home for a well-earned rest, his most memorable moments were meeting locals while on patrol.

Mr Craig said: "We were given language cards before we left, with a few phrases on them. But mainly we had to communicate through hand signals."

Food in camp was also a highlight. "The chefs laid on some fantastic food, with fried breakfasts in the morning, three dishes to choose from at lunch and a massive spread for dinner," he said.

"But when we were on the front line, we had to cook for ourselves. It was mainly boil-in-the-bag food, and the worst was definitely the corned beef hash."

The soldier also relished the opportunity to put into practice the skills he had picked up during training.

Every Tuesday back in England, the Rifles meet for one hour of rigorous physical exercise - including circuit training and endurance running - followed by an intense hour of learning about battle drills and weapons handling.

At the weekend, they can fire weapons and practice these drills at places such as the Pirbright army training camp in Surrey.

Mr Craig explained: "It has to be hands-on learning, because otherwise you won't be able to do the job when it's for real. The first time I fired a gun, I wasn't scared.

"We're told not be intimidated, because we should be in control of the situation. The teaching we're given is really good because it prepares you for everything. After you've done it a few times, it becomes second nature."

This year, the Rifles are celebrating their 150th anniversary. Many of Mr Craig's family members have joined the unit over the years including his grandfather, father and uncle. His grandfather, who was a member for 43 years, was the first to take him along to a training session at the age of 17, the earliest he could join.

Mr Craig fits his TA training around studying to become a PE teacher at college. Through the Rifles, he has completed a Physical Training Instructor course and plans to head off to university to study sports education later this year.

He said: "My family were so proud when I got back from Afghanistan, and I hope to go back onto the front line after I've finished university. You can't go into this half-hearted."