Air Force Afghanistan Series Finale

Friday 17 July at 8.00pm

Concluding 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 final instalment of the series, an RAF sergeant returns to the UK to meet a new member of his family, a Hercules flies into the war zone to drop off a new engine for a stranded Chinook and a British magazine journalist makes a special trip to Afghanistan. When he and his regiment came to Afghanistan four months ago, RAF Sgt Benet ‘Jonesy’ Jones left behind his pregnant fiancée Lucy. Now, two thirds of the way through his tour, Jonesy receives some news from home – he is the proud father of baby daughter Maisy. “I wish I was there and I’m gutted I missed it,” he says of the birth, “but it doesn’t stop what I’m doing here.”

Two days and a long plane journey later, Jonesy is back in the UK with Lucy and Maisy having been granted a month’s leave from duty. While he will cherish this time with his loved ones, he still worries about his regiment back in Afghanistan and checks on their progress every day via the internet. “Even though I was leaving for a good reason, it still felt rough leaving them behind,” he says of his men.

In Afghanistan, Hercules pilot Flt Lt Chris ‘Chap’ Philips prepares to fly into the war zone to deliver a new engine for a damaged Chinook stranded at a forward operating base. Before the plane can take off, however, it must first undergo some body work to repair damage inflicted during a rocket attack on the air field. No one was injured in this particular incident, but the C-130 Herc, one of just four in Kandahar, took a hit. A few hours later, the engineers have finished the job and the Herc is fit to fight another day. “It’s the time that’s impressed me,” says Chap of the engineers’ speedy work. “I thought it was going to be out for a long time!”

Chap and his crew finally take to the air, only to run into further problems five minutes into the flight. Without warning, the Herc’s on-board defence mechanism is triggered and the plane releases a number of flares to divert any incoming heat-seeking missiles. Observers in the back of the craft scan the ground for activity, but can see nothing. Luckily, on this occasion, it is a false alarm – but the crew is not yet out of danger. Landing in the desert is tough, since the runway is just a quarter the normal size. When he does land, Chap must continue to stay on high alert in case of attack from the ground. “You never really switch off,” he says. “You can’t in this environment.”

After successfully dropping off the Chinook engine, Chap and the team pick up some more cargo and head to another base in the Afghan capital, Kabul. It is a long day at work, but the lads have a treat waiting for them at their destination – a freshly cooked Thai meal.

Back in Kandahar, the RAF regiment is about to receive a very different delivery. Nick Soldinger, deputy editor of Nuts magazine, has arrived with a photographer and a cargo of magazines, posters and calendars to hand out to the lads. But Nick is not only in Afghanistan to distribute gifts – he is also researching a feature about Nato’s work in the Middle East. While the rest of the regiment head outside the wire for a routine patrol, some lads stay behind to be interviewed – including Cpl Ben Wharton, who was shot in the chest just a few weeks ago. “I think it’s important for the stories soldiers have to be heard,” says Ben.

After hearing Ben’s story, Nick finds he has new- found respect for the soldiers stationed at Kandahar. “My admiration for these people has grown tenfold,” he says. “They are very impressive young men.”

Elsewhere this week, the inter-service football cup final takes place between the Gurkhas and the Marine Expeditionary Force; and rookie corporal Nathan Choules looks forward to returning home after six months of active service.

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