Air Force Afghanistan: Episode 2

Friday 19th June 8.00pm

Continuing this week is the documentary series that chronicles life for the British servicemen and women stationed at Kandahar air base in southern Afghanistan. In the second instalment of the series, the RAF regiment embarks on a mission to allow locals access to veterinary care for their livestock. Later, three men from the same regiment are seriously injured by a roadside bomb. Elsewhere, a Navy lieutenant brings a taste of home to Kandahar; and a Chinook crew heads into the combat zone to rescue injured troops.

As the sun rises over another Kandahar morning, the RAF regiment prepares to embark on a hearts- and-minds mission under the leadership of Flt Sgt Rob Williams. The regiment’s task is to take an army vet into the community so that the locals can have their animals checked over. But the lads know that any mission outside the wire is dangerous, having recently been hit by a roadside bomb. “It was scary as hell,” recalls 21-year-old gunner John Burn, who was on top cover when his Land Rover took a direct hit.

Progress outside the air base is slow since the troops must carefully check the road for improvised explosive devices (IEDs) at regular intervals. On this occasion, however, the roads are clear and the convoy passes without incident. Once safely into a nearby village, US Army vet Cpt Ed Wilson performs health checks on sheep, goats and cattle for the gathered locals. “I think it’s important they know we’re not bad people,” he says. “We’re here to help them and they can count on us.”

At Camp Bastion, 90 miles northwest of Kandahar, an RAF Chinook crew serves a four-day stint transporting troops and supplies into Helmand Province. One of the crew’s most vital roles is as an immediate response team (IRT), where the men are called upon to rescue injured soldiers from the middle of the war zone. “I think the IRT is probably the most satisfying thing we do out here,” says Chinook pilot Flt Lt Andy ‘Scratchy’ Scrase. “You see a definite impact.”

Because Chinook helicopters are large and relatively slow, they are an easy target for Taliban insurgents. To provide protection during any mission to the front line, the Chinooks are accompanied by the awesome Apache gunship. This attack helicopter is packed with a variety of weaponry, including a 30mm Boeing M230 chain gun capable of firing 625 rounds per minute, two pods of 19 CRV7 rockets and eight laser-guided Hellfire anti-tank missiles. “The enemy forces are very scared of the aircraft because they know its capabilities,” says Apache pilot Lt Will Rouse.

When a call comes in from Sangin in Helmand, Scratchy and Lt Rouse rush to their crafts and take to the air. Two soldiers have been injured in an explosion in the heart of the combat zone and need urgent medical attention. With the Apache circling overhead to engage the enemy, the Chinook is able to land and bring the casualties safely on board. The injured men are then transported to the safety of Camp Bastion where they make a full recovery.

Back at Kandahar, reports come in that Rob Williams’s convoy has been hit by another IED. This time, a combat-patrol Land Rover has been blown 15 feet into the air, seriously injuring three men – including Rob. “It’s a sickening feeling to hear that,” says security chief Mark Hand of the news.It is six hours before the casualties can be freed from their vehicle and brought back to base. By dawn, they have undergone life-saving operations, but must now be sent back to the UK for further treatment.

It is up to Sgt Benet Jones – a close friend of Rob’s – to begin the process of finding the men responsible for the attack. “It makes you really angry – they’re just cowards,” he says of those who laid the bomb. Meanwhile, the young men who narrowly escaped the blast reflect on their experience. “Something like that will stay with you for the rest of your life,” says Mark Burns.

Elsewhere this week, a British Navy lieutenant tries to bring a taste of home to Kandahar when he sets up a tea party in the middle of the desert.

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