Teething problems. Everyone and everything has them. Normal, you say. Par for the course, you say. Not when your ass is on the line in a war-torn country, I say. But we’re past this. My cynicism has gotten the better of me on previous occasions, and so a concerted effort is now being made to present events as objectively as possible. "...as possible". Hmmm.
Leaving behind Bagram with all its culinary excess and diligent instructors, the time inevitably arrived when we had to depart this violent, vulgar, alien stain on the arid Afghan landscape and progress towards our home for the next 6 months or so. - our FOB. The chopper ride out to our permanent post was tense enough, partly due to the rather incredible mess of an embarkation which unfolded on the airstrip. At least watching 40 guys load up one-by-one to drop their bags in the aisle, before then hopping off again only to all embark again at the end had me inaudibly chuckling to myself (it gets fairly loud once those rotary blades start spinning). Wherever you go, whatever you do, the Legion’s still the Legion baby. Thankfully, nothing befell us during the brief flight out to the FOB, which is more than can be said for the porta-loo sent unceremoniously tumbling a hundred metres as the chopper set itself down inside the walls of our little combat-clad colony quarters. Our first casualty and we hadn’t even set foot in the base. Ominous?
How about oppressively rushed? The final loosened pebbles had only snuggled down for the night following the return of the helicopter to Bagram when word came through that we’d be heading out on our first mission at 7pm that evening (heads hit our dusty, dishevelled pillows at about 1am). Jesus! So much to do, organise, orientate. Minimal sleep was had that evening as our C.O.s plotted and planned all things concerning an operational patrol in the new neighbourhood. As it turned out, the mission was quite simple: drive the 18 or so kilometres north from our little FOB to our much-larger, considerably calmer sister FOB. Once there, we’d kip in some make-shift tents before returning the next day with an extra vehicle or 3 in our jolly convoy. Leaving after dark, responsibilities and hypotheses diminish to a digestible level. If someone shoots at us, we put the foot down. If someone tries to flag us down for whatever reason, we put the foot down. Considering the foot would already be lowered to just within the boundaries of physical capability, there really was very little room for confusion. Or so we thought.
What to Do When Your Vehicle Breaks Down at Night in Afghanistan
1. Stay Calm.
2. Report Clearly and Concisely what the problem is.
3. Attempt to resolve the problem as quickly and competently as possible.
4. Restart the procession and arrive at destination.
What Was Done When Our Vehicle Broke Down at Night in Afghanistan
1. Shout random French words over radio so as to resemble childbirth being broadcast through a guitar amp.
2. Get into argument with driver over what problem is.
3. Watch as door is almost ripped off hinges by passing vehicle attempting to set up a tow-cable.
4. Spend 20 minutes looking for entrance to sister FOB before eventually entering by initial gate encountered.
Oh, and all this without night-vision as that particular delivery had not yet been realised. Delightfully frightful for our first ever mission in Afghanistan. Once safely inside the sister FOB, there was no time to waste as a new VAB (French armoured personnel carrier) had to be found and equipped before the return journey once day broke in a few hours time. A replacement was found, but my poor driver’s calf muscles were roaring red by the end of the entire mission, as our "new" VAB was sadly without hand-brake. And there were a lot of hill starts. On a more positive note, my repertoire of Bulgarian swear-words had grown impressively in just 24 hours on the ground in Afghanistan (Bagram aside). Who knows what the next 6 months hold in store....