Thursday, December 15, 2005

And it begins.....

After 8 weeks pre training we’ve finally arrived in theatre… Sat in Basra now it still feels very surreal! We’re based at Basra air station 10 minutes drive from Basra’s busy centre, our role as Cambrai Company is force protection for MND (se) which is the multi national division (south east of Iraq) what this role consists of I’ll explain thoroughly later. Leaving the UK was an experience, on leaving my mind was full of visions, questions and thoughts of what it would be like? What will happen when we get there? What will happen while we’re there? But I suppose more importantly what will it really be like there will it be as I imagined….. The flight was a bit different! I’ve been on planes lots of times before but when you board an RAF plane carrying body armour, helmet and wearing a desert cam uniform your brain starts ticking, especially getting on the plane as part of a full company of 120 Infantry soldiers heading for Iraq; probably the most dangerous place on earth or so we kept getting told all the way through our training. When we were getting on the plane the reality started to hit home “you’re actually doing this, there’s no going back the next 6 months are going to be spent in Iraq, away from Beth, friends, family…. What’s going to happen in the next 6 months? Anything is possible!” If you’re scared of flying then you would have had a heart attack on this flight! The take of and flight itself was fine, a 4 hour journey on tri star which is similar to a commercial flight with in-flight meal provided by stewards. How ever about 20 minutes before we landed we were told to don our body armour and helmets for our final approach. Looking round the plane was a most surreal experience, imagine a normal passenger flight to Majorca for example or were ever you go on your holidays, the planes rammed to the rafters every one is sat in there rows but they’ve all got Kevlar helmets on and body armour. The reason we wore body armour and helmet is because there’s a risk of being shot at from the ground on the final approach. Moments after we’d put our body armour and helmets on the blinds on the windows are all rolled down, it was dark outside any way but we now couldn’t see any lights on the ground just the blind. Then all the lights inside and outside the plane were turned off plunging the plane into darkness I couldn’t even see my hand in front of my face…. The last 15 minutes of the flight I was just guessing using my senses to try and tell where we were, the plane suddenly banked steeply and then bounced up, while this was happening we were loosing altitude very quickly and my ears felt like they needed to pop but wouldn’t so they started squealing, I was in agony! I wanted the plane to land so me ears could sort themselves out but it felt like we were going all over the place quickly and downwards, a few times I thought the plane had landed but actually it was still in the air! This went on for what seemed like an eternity with my ears screaming and the darkness rocking me around and around… eventually we landed but my ears didn’t return to normal instead it sounded like I was listening to the world through a shell of the beach… Once on the ground and at the airport my mind was ticking over, we were finally in Iraq, started thinking about mortar drills and wondering if we’re going to get attacked by mortars what to do if we did? How safe is the airport? Now I’m settled in and know what’s what it’s different that’s just really unlikely and I know not to worry but in the same breath I’m not switching off and becoming complacent. I know my drills and I know the threat is very real but also realise that it’s not an everyday occurrence, it will happen in our time here but deal with it when it happens. The company of soldiers we took over from (the rifle volunteers) had 6 mortar attacks in 6 months so as we’ve been here a month we should be due one. I suppose the reason my mind was racing when we first got here is because in reality before you get here all you do is train for mortars, small arms attacks, how to defend your selves and how to attack your attackers, watch the news and see bombings, hear about soldiers being killed but in reality over here its totally different to how you expect it to be. The reality is the insurgents are here and they are killing troops, detonating bombs and mortaring multi national forces but once you here it becomes day to day and the edge is taken of it, the drama and I suppose media/movies driven excitement is removed and it becomes life. We don’t see any news over here papers are few and far between. The risk is in a sense as day to day as when I used to get up in the morning jump in my car and drive to work I had to stay alert and watch out for other maniacs on the road who could kill you with head on smash or a pedestrian that could walk out in front of you. Obviously it’s dangerous over here and there is a extremely higher possibility of ending up in a situation but the point I’m trying to make is it’s very different to how I imagined it because everyone is dealing with the same problem the threat is more manageable, so in turn the threat to us out here psychologically is not as intense and stressful as I first imagined. The best phrase to use is “We’re just doing our job and the risk is a large part of that job” Reality, we spent the first and the second week doing more training based round what the guys we’re taking over from were doing and how they did it and if it was different to the way we planned to do it. However the training wasn’t excessive so we had quite a bit of time to sort our selves out and get settled in, mind you if it was planned like that I’m unsure... We had chance every night to get in the camp bar and indulge in our 2 cans of beer, phone friends and family. Every one had started to feel safe and snug in this little world that actually wasn’t all that bad. Almost forgetting where we were…. Until a patrol going through Basra got hit by an IED (improvised explosive device, bomb) the device used was an EFP (explosively formed projectile). EFP’s are basically big molten lumps of copper that blast from the explosion through the armour of the vehicle and out the other side, currently the subject of hot debate in the press and showing through political strains with Iran, as the source of these EFP devices seems to be Iran but if we remember the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq they were never found, hence the media debates at the moment. Sadly a fusilier from Birmingham lost his life in the IED attack. The first we new about this incident was moments after it happened as part of our force protection role is to provide an Incident response team which is a 4 man team who go out with the medics on sea king helicopter to any incidents like this. The 4 man team then provide protection to the medics on the ground and assist with medical treatment and in some cases picking bits of people up and popping them into evidence bags. So in this case the IRT team were crashed and went out to this bombing. A British soldier being killed in our back yard using a route that some of our guys were going to take that afternoon was a wake up call for everyone. It brings on a moment of reflection you sit back and think SHIT! We’re in Iraq and people are dying! The reality of what we’re doing and the risks suddenly became real again, you could see that everyone had received a reality injection, seeing some of the guys round camp it was obvious….


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