Excerpted from a recent e-mail from SN1, and posted with permission (the CH-47 photo was obtained from the web):
And so it goes...
So there I was: Afghanistan, climbing into the back of a British Chinook...my first helo ride ever! We all had our "battle-rattle" on and our 3 day bags packed. We were traveling down to check on our Rescue maintainers and the British are SO much more practical about travel. Our own beloved USAF makes us show 3 hours prior to take-off, everywhere in the world, while the British will process you up until about 15 minutes prior to take-off. They recommend an hour prior, but talk about a huge difference! SO...we're on the helo and we taxi less than a hundred yards and lift...a short ride to the other side of the airfield to the FARP (Forward Area Refueling Point) and off the helo for the refuel op. A couple of pics while we're waiting and back onto the helo...alright! Now we're headed out...or maybe not? We fly back across the airfield and taxi back to the same spot. While the MX officer part of my brain tries to ascertain all the possible flight malfunctions that would cause us to return...via a short hop, but airborne none-the-less(?)...it becomes apparent the other helo won't make this trip and they start cross
loading the packages of mail and parts for our FOB. Ok...cool. 5 minutes later we're airborne again, this time for real.
So we're skimming along, not too high above ground and I'm trying to see out the bubble windows...15 minutes into the flight and a WTF? moment! We popped off a couple of flares...naturally one might get a bit excited there...so we go into a hover...felt like forever, but can't tell you how long, and next thing I know we're dropping into the FOB. Never did find out why the flares went..
The FOB is a bit more "challenging" than Kandahar. Dust is everywhere...in mass quantities. We toured both the British controlled camp and took a trip over to Leatherneck, the Marine FOB. Big differences. The British side was the Force-protection guys dream...the Marines take a different approach. I think it's almost a challenge: Yeah, we're here...bring it!
As for our operations down there, the facilities we have aren't quite as nice, but the guys/girls are taking care of them. The distance between where they stage and where the helos are is significant. The Alert mission is alive and well...and in demand. They scrambled MANY times while we were there. Brings the war front and center yet again when you know we don't launch unless someone is really hurt and needs to be taken to the hospital...NOW. Lots of activity, many moving parts, and lots of "work-arounds" in place, but the morale is high because the sense of mission is higher than anywhere I've ever been.
Towards the end of the day we sat around and made the "grocery list" of things we'll shop for here to get to our maintainers down there...the crazy little things that annoy the hell out of you in austere locations:
Trash bags, light bulbs, a decent printer, more comm equipment, etc. That accomplished we began the process of getting home. We confirmed a couple of our party on a British helo back, but not our entire group. We then went to the USAF terminal and got the obligatory "space a" sign-up and report NLT 3 hours prior!! Annoying! We planned all along to try as a group to get on board the British helo...and we got lucky. Last minute we ended up boarding the two helos headed back. I was the last guy on one of them. I sat next to the open door for take-off and watched as the gunner scanned his AOR, sitting on an ice chest...low-tech, practical solutions to problems! Thankfully uneventful ride back in the dark...
And so it goes...