I HAVE never been on a helicopter before and my first experience was with armed soldiers in a war zone.
As I have been told before flights in a war zone are very different to any others so a baptism of fire doesn’t quite cover it.
To be honest I loved it. We headed to Nad-e Ali to spend 36 hours with 3 Para and attached regiments also from Colchester – including 16 Medical Regiment and 216 Signals.
Warrant Officer Class One Bob Alexander was to be my escort. I liked him from the moment I heard his name. Bob is a good name, a safe name – you can rely on Bob.
Luckily my instincts turned out to be right.
From getting me breakfast on the first morning – after I had managed to rack up a massive five hours sleep in two days – to looking after me throughout the first part of the tour he never let me down.
I decided to stick closer to him than loved up teenagers at a school disco. Part security blanket and part actual armed protection he proved invaluable.
During the day I was briefed on how the tour had gone so far and then got a chance to see the incredible success for myself from my base in Shahzad.
I was delighted to find the weather had turned from rain to heat.
But the initial delight was short lived when everyone explained this made it “fighting season” when the insurgents tend to get a new lease of life.
Never one to miss a story I interrupted the man in charge of all the vehicles and weapons while he was trying to wash his underwear before meeting some of his team.
I also spent some time watching 7 Para RHA in action and speaking to some of the lads about how the tour had gone for the artillery regiment and sat in on the daily briefing about overall activities with all the heads of the various departments.
The camp was friendly and morale was high. This is despite them having to pee down a tube – known as desert roses – and poo in a bag.
My first big success was probably managing this without a mishap. Without going into too many details it is like setting up an Ikea wardrobe while needing to go.
The food and conditions are far better than I expected and getting the chance to keep up with the sport, via a British Forces Broadcasting Service link, was an unexpected bonus – not that I had any time to watch it.