Commuting isn’t easy at the best of times. Travel into and out of Helmand’s northern district of Musa Qal’eh however, requires a whole new level of resilience.
Heading out on leave involves the planning of a military operation. Limited helicopters mean I can only travel on odd-numbered days – provided I submit my request at least four days in advance. I can only hope that the day of my flight is not ‘Patrol-Minimise’ – a condition grounding all non-critical movements due to a lack of available hospital beds. (A grim and all too regular occurrence).
The night before, my flight is confirmed ‘wheels-up’ for eight-thirty am. I am packed and waiting at the windswept HLZ (Helicopter Landing Zone) before eight. You never want to be caught off-guard if the bird comes early.
It doesn’t arrive.
We are told to wait an hour. We wait. There is a sandstorm in Bastion. The air-coord thinks we’ll be ok for eleven-thirty.
Just after eleven all hell breaks loose on the HLZ. An incensed crowd of Afghan Army soldiers appear, wielding rifles and angry expressions. They are immediately followed by a military ambulance and I quickly see the reason for their rage. Three of their own had been shot in a hit-and-run attack by the Taliban just moments before. The ‘Pedro’ – a Chinook tasked with emergency evacuations – is inbound. I grab the corner of a stretcher and help carry one of the stricken men onto the helicopter when it arrives. He is covered with blood and I have no idea if he will live. The chinook disappears as quickly as it arrives and the HLZ empties of people and vehicles. It is as if nothing has happened. I resume waiting.
The medevac has delayed our helicopter. It is 43 degrees so we find a seat in the shade.
At two, it arrives. We are overjoyed and leap on before it can escape.
Arriving dusty and laden in Camp Bastion Im told there is a flight leaving at three am. A good thing I hadn’t planned to unpack.
I check in at the loading hall – an enormous tent teeming with soldiers wearing all manner of uniforms. We are herded onto the runway of one of Britain’s busiest airports. Standing in our body armour and helmets we brace ourselves against the hot spray of sand driven by the relentless jetwash of departing cargo planes.
We are marched into the bowels of a giant C130, and strapped in against the netting. As the lights dim and the engines howl, I feel like I am about to parachute out into the void.
I am met in Kandahar by one of our weary staff. It is just after four am. Helping with my gear he tells me of a flight leaving later that morning to Dubai, but there will be no time to sleep if I am to get a seat. No rest for the weary it seems. I haven’t eaten since the previous morning, I’m in the same sweat drenched clothes, and I haven’t even made it out of the country yet.
https://www.wasafirihub.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/Wasafiri-LOGO-1.png00Hamish Wilsonhttps://www.wasafirihub.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/Wasafiri-LOGO-1.pngHamish Wilson2010-06-18 12:51:092020-06-12 12:06:21Helmand 6: No ordinary commute