Sunday, September 20, 2009
By Kate Silverton
Armed with wet wipes, lucky charm and flak jacket, the BBC newsreader makes a revealing - and dangerous - journey to the Afghan frontline.
Thursday, September 3
What to pack for a war-zone? One pair of trousers, some clean shirts and the Army surplus desert boots I love (they're men's boots but they are so comfy and it's the only time I've been grateful to have size 9 feet). I then add the book Afghanistan Over A Cup Of Tea by legendary American aid worker Nancy Dupree, which gives a comprehensive look at Afghanistan's chequered history.
Into my bag also goes my lucky charm, a silver ladybird coin my fiance Mike tucked into my luggage as a surprise gift when I went to Iraq in 2006. And finally I add my notepad.
I call in to the BBC to collect my flak jacket and helmet and take a last look at the stories running on the various news wires. I notice that Terry Wogan is taking a swipe at autocuties. I look down at my kit, think of what lies ahead and smile wryly.
Friday, 3am, RAF Brize Norton, Oxfordshire
I've snatched a few hours' sleep in a local hotel and I am now with my crew as we pack up our kit and head for the airport. It's an airport like no other, full of soldiers dressed in desert fatigues, and the loudspeaker is calling passengers for Kabul, Kandahar and Camp Bastion.
Most of those here have been with their families for two weeks' rest and recreation after a particularly tough tour in Helmand. They have mixed feelings about their return. I speak to a soldier who lost a leg in Iraq to a landmine --he is looking forward to getting back to work. He won't be on the frontline, but says just being with his mates will give him a sense of normality.
Friday, Middle East
We touch down in the Middle East and are ushered into a large air-conditioned tin hut, where we are told to get ready for the next leg of our journey - into one of the most dangerous places in the world.
I chat with a guy who supports the teams which locate and destroy Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs), the roadside bombs which have killed and maimed so many British servicemen in recent months. He explains how the threat is increasing and the strain on the men is immense. He says he's 'threaders' - Army slang for exhausted and strung out.
We board our next flight - a C17 military transport plane. I am huddled on a canvas seat, clasped by an old-fashioned lap-belt. After two hours we're told to put on our helmets and body armour, and the atmosphere changes. We land at midnight.
Special forces soldiers are first off the plane. The journalist in me is curious to know who they are and where they are going.
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