Monday, May 11, 2009

AFGHANISTAN - Rocket attack scare as Laura Jones lands in Kandahar

Evening Leader reporter, Laura Jones, sends her first diary reports from Afghanistan.
Evening Leader reporter Laura Jones is spending a week in Afghanistan with the Welsh Guards and the Royal Welsh.

In the first of a series of diaries from the troubled Helmand province, Laura recounts a difficult landing into Afghanistan.

Thursday, May 7 - Flying in to Kandahar.

THE past 24 hours have been horrendous. The flight was great, but just before we landed the lights all had to go off, the window shutters went down, our body armour went on and we descended quickly into Kandahar.

Touchdown was bumpy but we landed safely and taxied into the terminal. The lights went up and we were told that there had been three rocket attacks on the airport base that day. The captain turned off the seatbelt signs and we prepared to disembark.

That's when the air raid siren sounded.

My heart sunk into my stomach.

The captain gave the IDF (indirect fire alert) and said we should remain on the plane until we heard the all-clear siren.

I dropped to the footwell of my seat and put my head in between my knees.

My heart was racing and I didn't realise, but the sweat had poured from my hands and soaked my combats.

We were told the wait would be about three minutes, but it was more like 10. The longest 10 minutes of my life. I was terrified.

I didn't panic as I thought I would, all I kept thinking was about my family and my friends and how much I loved them and what would happen if a rocket fired and hit the plane, which still had enough fuel to get all the way to Oman.

When the siren sounded again I ducked and took a deep breath.

Luckily it was the all clear and everyone gave a sigh of relief. Not even the bravest person in the world can help but be scared when the threat of a rocket is imminent.

We were transported to the base and met with our media operations officers, SO2 Media Operations Camp Bastion Steve Clarke and SO2 Media Ops Task Foce Helmand Sarah Davis.

It was good to finally have someone to reassure me that things were going to be OK.

We had landed on time, just after 8pm Afghanistan time, and we were told that our Hercules to Bastion would come at 2am.

We had a long wait ahead of us. After a few hours of chatting to people and finally getting back to normal after the scare, we were told to check in for our flight.

After check-in, plans changed. The Hercules was being sent to a region in Helmand for a category A casualty (very, very serious), for emergency medical care in Kandahar.

So we were transported to an ROSI (a very basic bunker in the Kandahar base) which was made up of over 100 metal bunkbeds which were topped with plastic covered mattresses, covered in thick dust.

Since I touched down in Afghanistan I have been pretty overwhelmed by the dust and dirt which is on the ground, in the atmosphere and covering everyone's clothes, face and boots.

It has a murky smell, but the only thing I can compare it to is the smell of a bonfire.

After a broken night's sleep surround by my colleagues, soldiers and Afghan government officials, we were picked up to come to the media operations centre, from where I am sending this diary entry.

I feel a lot calmer now and I am more settled. It's surprising that I got any sleep last night. When that IDF alert came I just thought, 'what am i doing here?'.

Today we are with Sarah and Steve, and we will be taken around the base and hopefully we will get a chance to meet some local lads who work on the base.

Laura Jones, Evening Leader reporter

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