Counter-IED TF [Day One, Week One]
27 Apr 2010
0830 hours and we are now on HRF (High Readiness Force), basically on a ten-minute notice to move.
We sit around waiting for a job to come over the pager. Awaiting the first job, scared, jubilant that I am finally getting out of Bastion, exalted, excited and frankly and honestly a little bit intimidated!
Over to lunch at 1100hrs and to the EFI for a coffee. Low and behold the pager goes off, of course it does, as I sip the dregs of my drink. We are on a mad running dash over the loose stony ground, lunch trying to make a guest pebble dash spraying appearance. 1200mtrs is a fair way to run with a belly full of non-ORP grub (Operational Ration Pack)!
We crash into our tent to grab our body armour, lids, kit, and pile across our lines to the ISO container. We throw on our weapons, day-sacks, body armour, thrusting magazines into pouches, sling weapons and scoot round to the OPs Room. The Boss is inside and we wait, tensely, while he receives his brief. You can smell the adrenaline and fear around all of us, like a bad 90’s aftershave. Not a man among us could deny the fear and excitement, all wrapped together in the delicious likelihood of the unknown and of course our first job, as a tried and untested team.
Simon, the WIS (ard) [Weapons Intelligence Specialist] tips up huffing and puffing and drops his kit. Fat Mess. Where is the REST (Royal Engineer Search Team) we ask? They don’t seem to be in the rush that we are and we were furthest away. WIS pops into the OPs room and comes back:
“Sounds like an Estonian job but I think it is only 10% that we are going”. At which point the Boss appears. “Estonian job, vehicles in the wadi, get your kit on the wagons we are off”. Hey Simon, well-done mouth! We load up, REST appears and we spring into action. Drivers don’t spare the horses to the airstrip.
At the flight line we promptly turn around and go back, we have moved so fast that the task has not even been authorized yet! Finally, after what seems like an age, we drive onto the flight line and de-bus onto the Merlin. Everybody just grabs any piece of kit and loads it on. Sit down strap in, ear defence and mag on, both my rifle and pistol. Unlike other helicopter rides, the Merlin rolls forward down the runway, to save fuel, apparently, like a plane and takes off.
As I see Bastion through the rear doors it dawns on me that I am actually, finally flying over a real war zone and catch sight of my first real compound. The Merlin banks hard and comes into land, then with a massive power surge it tips up, tail to the ground and shoots off at forty-five degrees. When it bottoms out your stomach comes into your chest like going too fast over a humpbacked bridge. Is this all to deceive and confuse the enemy on the ground or because the pilot got the grid wrong!?
“2 mins,” shouts the Loadie. (RAF helicopter flight crew, only just slightly harder than RAF Regt but without the five miler of death). A few moments later we land for real and fuck me if we don’t go bang! A mad rush of men and equipment pile down the ramp and lay over each other and the kit in the corner of the HLS (Helicopter Landing Site). All we can see now is each other, just about in our small little world as the massive down thrust causes a brownout.
When the bird leaves and the dust clears, after being exfoliated to a shiny pink by the grit we at last look up into the barrel of a 0.50cal mounted onto a Mastiff; a long line of which stretch off into the distance. “Just follow the tracks over to the Mastiff,” a seemingly disembodied voice shouts. Yeah easy for you to say I think, who searched this ground, not EOD, we just got here!
Upon arriving at the nearest Mastiff some Americans appear followed by ANA (Afghan National Army). Thought this was supposed to be Estonians? The REST start to Vallon the ICP (Incident Control Point) which begins to reassure my legs.
It seems dangerously most of our work has been done for us. The main charge is well out of the ground: next to it are two glass jars and a piece of polythene. God knows what they were playing at but it seems that the Lumberjack machine grabs them out of the ground?
After a manual down by the Boss and Knobby in front of a Mastiff which Garry and I sensibly stayed behind for cover, the Boss ‘hook and lined’ a cable and after a 10 min ‘soak’, went back down with two carts of PE4. It was Garry’s job to blow it and after shouting “Stand by, firing.” nothing happened. He tried again. ‘Test button says we have continuity, press fire, no bang’ he thinks. Garry wonders “What if I press both together”? And does it before telling anyone. BOOM the air sucks out of my chest a second before the blast wave blows back over me. 45kg of explosive is a big bloody bang at 40 metres!
That’s it another soak, a few photos by WIS and some sample collecting and we head back to the ICP. 40 mins to wait for the heli which changes within 5 as a yank tells us “Bird inbound, 1 minute.” Make safe my weapon systems, grab my kit and reverse de-bus onto the Merlin. Job and knock, and best of all we make it back for scoff!
Written by fellow Veteran, Marc Woods