The Fear of the Unknown
Sunday 28 Mar 2010
Op Rescue Wardy begins at High Wycombe train station at 1515. Wardy has had a spat with his girlfriend and needs a lift back to Wimbish.
This is closely followed by a trip to the Live and Let Live for send-off drinks with Sherlock and a farewell dinner at Mum’s. We finally, worse for wear, pull in to Audley End Rail Station, an hour late, driven by Erica; D has beers waiting.
The day is topped off by Erica coming to inspect my room. When I return I find her on my bed wearing a pair of knee high boots and little else.
Monday 29 Mar
Wardy and D fly into my room like whirling dervishes, grinning like men lobotomized ‘We are going, today!’ They both shout like excited little school boys. They have grins on their grids like teenage boys who have just seen their first, real life pair of lady’s underwear; That didn’t actually belong to their Mothers. It’s 1030, I subsequently prolapse my rectum as the reality bomb hits, we are now actually going, years in the making, in actuality the last 6 months training were always going to lead to this inevitable jump off point. No more waking up at 0300 thinking about reconsidering your career choices; Will I let my mates down, will I come home alive, maimed or horrifically injured? The fear of the unknown runs wild in your own head in the dark, quiet and lonely hours before sunrise. Well now it is truly happening, the acceptance washes over me and I dispel the lingering doubts. Almost immediately the adrenaline replaces the fear and I am as wired as these two idiots.
The transport is coming at midnight, so we go to the bar at 2100 and in dribs and drabs we pop back to get into uniform. A group of pad wife’s buy us a few rounds. One of which has only just lost her husband a couple of months ago on Herrick 11. As awful as it sounds I don’t remember his name. Our resolve more than firmly stiffened we get on the transport to Carver Barracks, Wimbish.
Tuesday 30 Mar – 0300hrs
We leave late as D has monged it and forgotten his body armour. Crated. One of the lads is not at roll call. We have to send a runner to wake him up and tell him to pack. He had no idea he was going on tour!
We arrive at South Cerney for our flight and surprise, surprise Wardy, D and I are not booked on the passenger manifest. Oh dear. However, Crab Air in an unheard of logical step swap Wardy and D for two RLC lads who have not turned up. In a further baffling moment of common sense, the RAF fit me to a spare flight crew seat on the plane. This final process takes half an hour. Having built myself up to it I thought I was going home again, as ordered. Not sure if Erica and I could have done yet another ‘final’ goodbye!
We drive to Brize after check-in and leave the ground at 0920 GMT. As I sit and write this I am sat in Akrotiri, Cyprus while the plane is refuelled. Morale is high. We leave at 1730 Cypriot time and arrive at Kandahar, KAF at 2335 Afghan local time. Strangely since I left the bar last night I remain calm and collected.
It is 0330 hrs local time and as I step bleary eyed from the plane the first thing that assaults my senses is the smell. We must have exited by the sewers as it really does pong. We move from the apron onto awaiting coaches that look older than me. Not really sure what I was expecting but it was not a third world airport.
My second overwhelming thought as we drive away from the aircraft, on coaches that are clearly older than me, is the dust. It is thick in the back of my throat, and nose. It is on the windows, in the seats, basically on and over everything. In the cones of light cast by the vehicles headlamps the sand and grit fail to swirl and eddy away but just hang there; Unlike the better behaved English variety which has the common decency to blow away.
We take a short drive to the arrivals lounge; A tent with lots of elbow high pens constructed with loose laid concrete blocks. This seems strange to me until I realise it is in case we get IDF’d. Still calm.
We move from Kandahar on another flight, this time a Hercules which only takes half an hour. Like the last 20mins of our flight from home this is done in the dark, wearing body armour and helmet. We are all giggling and laughing despite the fact that certainty that we are now flying over a war zone and there is no turning back now. More coaches at Bastion 1 to the RSOI tents which are fairly space age and known as ‘pods’ and in a happy accident have what at first glance appears to be good quality aircon. It is now very early in the morning around 0430 local time. We opt for breakfast at 0530.
Off to bed for a well-earned rest, not starting until 1330. Rudely awakened at 1220 we are late, as a group we were given the wrong timings. We all file into the RSOI tent, heads hung low like little boys. Low and behold we wait 50mins for the instructors to turn up, usual Army then!