Episode 3/8

This documentary series follows the lives of British servicemen and women at Kandahar Airbase in Afghanistan. In this week’s instalment, base commander Bob Judson inspects security; the RAF Regiment sets off on a four-day patrol; a physical training instructor comes up with an unusual tournament; and a Chinook crew is tasked with a vital mission.

Kandahar Airbase is a war zone like no other. It comprises a bustling community in the middle of the Afghan desert. 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, gymnasiums and even a disco.

Security is the top priority on an airbase in the middle of a war zone. This week, base commander Bob Judson inspects the main entry point to the camp. Every day a thousand Afghan workers come into the base to do jobs like cleaning – and they must all be searched.

The job of guarding the base falls to the RAF Regiment. The lads are engaged on a four-day patrol through Afghanistan’s rugged yet beautiful landscape. It is a dangerous job and the troops are under a constant threat from suicide attacks and roadside bombs. There is a tense moment when they spot a mirror flash coming from a compound. This is the Taliban’s way of communicating with each other and it signifies to the soldiers that they are being watched by the enemy.

As part of a ‘hearts and minds’ initiative, the troops visit a village with no water supply where they plan to install a well. Twenty-one-year-old Nathan Choules, who had never been abroad before this posting, is shocked by the poverty he sees. “Look at what these people live in,” he says. “It’s horrendous. Does make you think. No electricity – nothing.”

Back at the airbase, RAF physical training instructor Adam Hennesey has come up with a novel way of taking the troops’ minds off the war – a Kandahar’s Strongest Man Competition. With over 60 entrants keen to flex their muscles in a battle of the brawn, the contest is fierce – but there can only be one winner.

All that physical exertion takes its toll on one competitor, Army PTI ‘Stricky’. He decides the only way to sooth his aching muscles is to pay a visit to one of the camp’s less well-known facilities – a Thai massage parlour. “I can’t believe I’m on operational tour and I’m getting a Thai massage!” says Stricky. “It’s amazing – it’s unbelievable!”

Elsewhere, the amazing capabilities of the RAF’s Chinook helicopter are on display. With a top speed of almost 200mph, it is faster than any other helicopter in Afghanistan and plays a vital role in delivering troops and supplies to the combat zones. One Chinook crew embarks on a trip to deliver a two-ton communication tower to Marine Commandos based at Lashkar Gar.

Finally, the regiment lads return to base to hear some shocking news. Their mates from another patrol have encountered a roadside bomb. Nathan Choules articulates how they are all feeling. “If the locals don’t appreciate what you’re doing, how can you appreciate what you’re doing yourself?” he reflects. “It’s a mixed barrel of feelings – it’s weird.”

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