Series Premiere: Episode 1/8

This brand-new documentary series follows the lives of British servicemen and women at Kandahar Airbase in Afghanistan. In the first instalment, a Harrier jump jet is scrambled to fight the Taliban; a new squadron of recruits arrives from the UK; and one young female officer finds ways to make the most of life in a war zone.

Kandahar Airbase is a war zone like no other. It comprises a bustling community in the middle of the Afghan desert, complete with fast-food outlets like Pizza Hut and Burger King. It boasts two massage parlours and three canteens serving the 10,000 troops and 4,000 civilians who live on the base. The base’s personnel sleep in relative luxury, sharing four-man, air-conditioned rooms. To take their minds off the war, the troops have plenty of distractions, including an ice-hockey rink, football pitches, three state-of-the-art gyms and even a disco run by the Dutch army.

The airbase is the gateway to the war in Afghanistan. It operates 10,000 flights each month – roughly half the number of Gatwick Airport. Every type of military plane is housed on the base, including the GR9 Harrier jump jet. Kandahar is also home to the Joint Force Harrier Unit, which supports troops fighting the Taliban in Helmand Province.

In the first episode, squadron leader Rich Hillard is called upon to perform a show of force to scare away the enemy who are firing on the army near the Kejaki Dam. Flying the jet at 600mph, 100ft above the ground while under enemy fire requires immense skill. “Probably the biggest thing I’ve got to look out for is the ground,” says Rich. “Because when you’re going that fast that low, it comes up to meet you pretty quick.”

Thousands of miles away, a new RAF squadron prepares to leave the UK to fly to Kandahar, where they will be charged with guarding the base and the surrounding 400-mile area. After a tearful farewell to their loved ones, the troops set their minds on the job ahead. Thirty-year-old Sgt Benet Jones is ‘daddy’ to the 30 men of the squad – 18 of whom are brand-new recruits. “I think that any dad would agree with me that having a child is very stressful,” he says. “Imagine having 30 kids to look after at once!”

One of the rookies is 21-year-old LAC Nathan Choules from Reading. The trip will be his first experience of going abroad. “This is my first holiday – going to Afghanistan. It’s going to be brilliant,” he says. But the reality of serving in a war zone soon hits home when the new arrivals are given their dog tags. “It may not look much but they mean so much – especially when you’ve got them on,” Nathan reflects. “I feel like a proper soldier now.” Being given their morphine is another grim reminder of what might happen when they face the Taliban.

Kandahar Airbase is also home to 900 women. Among them is SAC Kate Aziz, an HR clerk for the Expeditionary Air Wing. Kate is, by her own admission, “not too military”. In her downtime, she works on her suntan – although she dislikes wearing her body armour because it ruins her tan lines. Kate has a boyfriend on the base but finds the strain of a relationship in a war zone too much, and they eventually decide to go their separate ways. To take her mind off the breakup, Kate’s girlfriends take her to the disco, where they are chatted up by some US Marines.

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