Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Life under fire in Afghanistan - Manchester Evening News

James Ferguson

AN RAF helicopter crewman has told of daredevil missions in some of the world's deadliest battlefields.

Sgt Spencer Donnelly, from Oldham, was a paratrooper until a parachute jump went wrong - leaving him with steel bolts in his ankles. The 36-year-old switched to the RAF and now serves as part of a crew of four onboard a Chinook.

Spencer, who lives in Chadderton, regularly dodges enemy fire to rescue injured soldiers and ferries troops to assaults on Taliban positions in Afghanistan's Helmand province.

On one occasion his helicopter was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade that luckily failed to explode.

Spencer has done four tours in Afghanistan, three in Iraq and had spells in Beirut, the US, Morocco and Ethiopia. But he is still eager to see more action - and has just signed up for another 10-year stretch.

The former Loreto College pupil, originally from Moston, said: "Before I joined I had never been abroad or flown. This has been a real opportunity for me.

"I have been involved in jobs like delivering emergency generators after the Boscastle floods and rescuing the pilot of a Turkish Black Hawk helicopter that had crashed."

Spencer said that, while it was tough to leave his family, the job had its own rewards.

He said: "Being shot at is never a good thing, but it is exhilarating. It is incredibly rewarding getting soldiers back to safety and medical help."

And he was hopeful that his next tour could see the allies making real inroads into Taliban territory.
He said: "Poppies are a big source of revenue for the Taliban and there has been a bad harvest this year. That should inhibit their ability to restock weapons."

But there was no question that it was the taste of home he missed most.

He said: "The worst thing? No beer and no Holland's pies!"

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