Gulf War II
Februaryto May 2003
Monday 17 February
Having checked in my bags down at our Squadron hangar at 08:30hrs, I expected to be getting onto the bus and driving down to Brize Norton tonight, but the unpredictability of the RAF has prevailed once again. After eight years in the Army I am used to last minute delays, and I suppose I should be thankful that the delay is being spent in the comfort of the Officer’s Mess, compared to being stuck in the confines of the uncomfortable departure lounge at Brize. Nevertheless, I am mindful of the wasted time I could be spending at home in London with Kate. At least I can still phone her, and I have been – throughout the day; my Parents too, and I’ve just made a call to Peter this evening. Now I feel guilty for not phoning other friends as well, but it’s late, and I said my goodbyes to them last week I guess.
The gradual realisation that I am going to war is continuing to sink in. The concern I feel that we are ill-prepared for it all is increasing. My Squadron sent its aircraft to Kuwait by sea weeks ago, and since then we have had the use of one Gazelle on loan from 4 Regiment – and we have been using it solely to maintain essential currency and an hour of AR5 training per pilot (the newly issued NBC equipment – God help us if we ever have to fly wearing it). I feel that we could easily have been given more than one aircraft, and that we could have been carrying out a more extensive and pertinent type of training instead of six-monthly check rides, instrument rating tests and standard low level map reading sorties. From the TV news it is clear that the US is very keen to invade Iraq in early March, during the new moon phase. That wont leave us much time organise ourselves. The rumour is that 16 Air Assault Brigade HQ is not happy with their mission from General Franks – which implies to me that we will be involved in low level, unimportant duties away from the front line. That sits fine with me. It’s not entirely surprising considering our aged equipment. I guess the Yanks don’t want us anywhere near them. We have no IFF (Identification Friend or Foe) transponders apart from those in each aircraft, and consequently a blue on blue is made much more likely. Best to be right at the back securing the border out of harm’s way I think. The question on everyone’s mind is how long we are going to be out there.
The rather dubious wine I bought from the NAAFI, called ‘Hair of the Dingo’, is taking effect. I find out at 10:00 what the extent of the delay is, so at least I get a leisurely breakfast.
Tuesday 18 February
Turned up at the hangar for the briefing at 10:00 to discover we are now due to fly at 2001:00, so will probably head off in the coach after lunch tomorrow. Apparently the delay has been caused by Saudi Arabia refusing to allow passage through their airspace. That can’t be right, surely. I returned to the Mess and watched the Winslow Boy on TV and phoned Kate to update her. She sounds as frustrated as I am, wasted time which could have been spent together. I am wishing we had a married quarter on the patch, but she has her job in London now. I am so relieved that she is managing to be so supportive and understanding considering her strong feelings about the morality of this war. Feelings, I should add, that I agree with. Blair gave another press conference this morning, claiming he understands the point of view of the million or more protesters on the march last Saturday, but still supports the US position. France, Germany et al. are sill threatening to veto any forthcoming UN resolution, which means two thing to me. If the Yanks and Brits go ahead and invade anyway, the future of the UN may well be compromised, and that the legality of any war would be called into question.
It is not the damage that a short war would cause that concerns me, so much as the repercussions of a war to the stability of the area. It’s almost as if Saddam is like Tito was, holding the country together. If he is deposed, what then? After hostilities end, any peace keeping troops are going to have one hell of a job. I suspect that peace keeping will be exactly the duties we will be spending most of our deployment carrying out. Certainly if we are there for any length of time.
From a personal point of view, deploying to the Gulf for up to six months is playing havoc with my plans. I was going to spend my last year in the Army completing my ground school exams for a commercial flying licence. Now it seems I shall have to do them when I get back – possibly as late as August. To tell the truth, I am becoming increasingly unsure if commercial flying is really what I want to do anyway. Considering the current state of the airlines and the general feeling of insecurity people have, coupled with the rather low initial wage I could expect, and the amount of separation from Kate for the first few years, makes me think that perhaps I should consider alternatives. But what? It’s going to be difficult with no commercial experience to speak of. Apart from enjoying the Army way of life, one reason I joined is because it was easy – there on a plate for me to take – a safe option. Eight and a half years on and flying is the only conceivable alternative, and I pretty much fell into that by mistake. I applied for the flying grading as a way of getting thirteen free hours of flying training, an I didn’t expect to pass it. Nor did I expect to pass through the subsequent pilot’s course. I thought three and a bit years was more than enough time to spend in the Army, and was preparing myself for ‘proper job’. I was so proud of myself for passing the long and arduous course and getting the coveted wings, that signing up for four more years seemed a positive thing to do, but now I am not so sure. Having said that, I have had a bloody good time with the Air Corps. It is only from the point of view of a future career that I think it was a mistake. If I had started a commercial flying career instead of army flying I would be several rungs up the ladder by now. Mind you, I would probably have lost my job after 9/11. I believe it was a case of ‘last in first out’ with most airlines. I don’t really have any regrets, I have enjoyed life to the full. I guess I am now fearing that the time for a great deal of hard work is on the horizon. No point in doing something I don’t want to do just for a wage packet. I’m sure I’ll end up doing something worthwhile, and at least I’ll be able to go home every night.
Picture of John checking in his kit in our hangar. The TV cameras were there too, and Kate says she saw me in the background while they were interviewing someone.
The Sun – 18th February 2003
Thursday 20 February
Yesterday we were told that the flights were to be delayed at least another 48hrs, so I took the opportunity to take the train down to London and spend the evening with Kate. She left work early, and I went down to the post office to renew the car tax disc. It seemed such an incongruous thing to do considering where I will be in a few days time. We met up at the flat, played a game of Scrabble - which I won for a change, and then walked to Ciao for dinner. This morning I joined her on the way to work on the tube, and took the 10:30 from Liverpool Street back up to Stowemarket. Got the Mess in time for lunch, after which we were briefed again. Apparently the current plan is to leave Wattisham at 04:00 on Saturday. John Cocks was phoned up last night and was given five hours to get into work and leave for Brize on a different flight. Poor sod. Thankful that I wasn’t called, or I would have had to drive up and Kate would have had to retrieve the car. We have been advised not to go further than one hour away, but I am torn between another dull night in the Mess on my own or another night with Kate. It might be my last night with her, and she is only two hours away, so I think I’ll chance it. Kate has just phoned, and I told her I was coming home tonight. Fingers crossed our flight is not brought forward… highly unlikely.
Friday 21 February
It’s a beautiful day, no clouds, 9° C. Another night with Kate and Gary was a treat, and we ordered a take-out curry so Kate wouldn’t have to cook. Kate left for work at 08:30 and I left shortly afterwards, having added Gary onto the car insurance just in case. The delay of my departure has been beneficial I think, giving us a chance to get used to the idea. I just hope Kate doesn’t think that I won’t go at all. I worry about her, and am so glad her Dad is here to keep her company.
23:30 I have just phoned Kate, Dai and Damien, but couldn’t get hold of Peter. Left a message on his machine. Shame I missed him, but we already said our goodbyes a few days ago. Kate sounded very tired – it’s been a long and stressful week for both of us, and I haven’t been sleeping very well. At least, being so tired, I’ll be able to sleep on the aircraft. Hope to God it’s not a Hercules.
Saturday 22 February
Cold and very thick fog. At 02:45 I took my hand luggage (flying helmet, thermos and nav bag) over to the hangar and waited for the off. We all packed hold luggage (bergan, holdall, day sack and webbing) into the truck. A few late comers for the 03:30 roll call, but we’re all accounted for. We then heard that one of the two coaches to take us to South Cerney had crashed on the way here. Doubtless due to icy roads and dense fog. We organised four minibus’ as a replacement, and set off late. Arrived at South Cerney at midday. Have just heard that one of the two Tri-Stars is unserviceable, so a lot of us (including me) may be delayed until tomorrow.
14:30 Walked across for lunch. Why is the cookhouse so far away from the ‘departure hangar’? Someone found a minibus and so a shuttle was organised to the nearby Tesco. Bought a newspaper, and tried unsuccessfully to snooze in a chair in the departure lounge area. We’re issued with boarding passes, and we check bags. I am amazed to hear that knives with blades longer than 3cm are not allowed in the cabin as part of hand luggage. Does the RAF think that we have been infiltrated by knife wielding Al Qaeda maniac? Have to take my leatherman out of my hand baggage and go and find all the hold baggage in another hangar, which takes an age. Dean is happy with the delay as it means we may get to see the Eng v Wales rugby match at Cardiff on the TV. This is the same match for which Damien had a spare ticket, which I couldn’t accept. Not being the biggest fan, I still know where I’d rather be – and it ain’t here.
18:00 Trying to get to sleep all day, feeling like a zombie. Then I finally get to sleep and miss the evening meal. Watching the rugby match and everyone’s spirits are lifted. Rumour has it that some of us may be returning to the ‘sham’, as although the Tri-star is now serviceable, it cannot take a full compliment. At 19:00 we make our way over to the Officer’s Mess and find a room with three beds in it. Hal, Ross and I bunk together. We find the bar and have a couple of Gin & Tonics, and badmouth the RAF. Wish I had my mobile so I could call Kate, but I have left it in London for Gary to use. Brigadier Page, Commander 16 Air Assault Bde, has deemed them illegal. I think Saddam probably knows we’re coming, not sure whether triangulating our position using my cell phone will help him all that much. As for listening in, I am certain that the likes of me will be kept in the dark anyway with regard to battle plans. Can’t see myself telling Kate all about the minutiae of them anyway. I have been wrestling with my integrity as to whether I might secrete it in my bag and use it to text Kate every now and then, but I guess rules is rules. Doubt if there would be a signal out there in the desert anyway. There should be one in Kuwait though, and who knows how long we’ll be there, waiting for the UN and Bush to battle it out with each other. I am praying they sort out something and we spend a few weeks in the sun and then come home again. I really don’t want to go – we’re not ready.
No sign of a public phone, and so to bed.
Sunday 23 February
We are not allowed to eat in the Mess, so after a much needed ten hours of sleep, we walked over to the cookhouse for breakfast. The Padre, who has friends nearby and spent the night with them, tells me it is likely we’ll be returning to Wattisham. The Tri-stars are in various states of service, and there is apparently frequent changing of minds regarding different troops’ priority for getting into theatre. I get the distinct impression that this impending war has caught the MOD slightly off balance. No sand coloured desert combat clothing, last minute issue and training of AR5 NBC equipment, which is obsolescent if not obsolete, lack of spare parts for the helicopters – even if our small involvement is merely symbolic, compared to that of the American force, I would have thought that the war stock that we are always told about should be deployed. I am glad I am not an aircraft technician in the REME. They are really going to have their work cut out.
Monday 24 February
Sure enough, we drove back to Wattisham yesterday afternoon in the minibus. Phoned Kate from the Mess, who was incredulous but excited at the possibility of seeing me again. Managed to get through to Pete, who had been away for the weekend for his Birthday in Brighton. Watched the BAFTAs on TV last night, and did some laundry. Popped into the Med Centre after breakfast for anthrax jab number three, but not yet ready. Hoping the delay will enable me to get back home one last time. Fingers crossed…
12:00 We are either going tomorrow night at 23:00 from Heathrow on a Kuwait Air civilian flight (and so necessitating travel in civilian clothing) which seems to be the preferred option as it will be much more comfortable, or a flight out of Brize at 06:00 on Wednesday. Either way, it looks as if I’ll be able to spend another night with Kate in London. Yet another briefing in half an hour to see if a decision has been reached. I had my third anthrax injection this morning, which was to have been administered out in Kuwait. Good job they had enough vaccine here at Wattisham for us all.
Poor old Taff Carey is tearing his hair out. He’s the Warrant Officer in charge of movements, and the RAF have changed our departure details so many times now, that he is rapidly loosing the will to live. After fifteen years of being involved with movements, he has never known anything so chaotic, evidence of inefficiency and lack of planning. I am amazed, as the MOD must have known we’d probably be going months ago. I understand the PM remaining officially hopeful that a war wouldn’t happen, but given Saddam’s history surely they must have been planning all this. At the moment it looks as if the RF have been taken by surprise. Our initial date for departure was the 10th Feb, and here we still are, two weeks later. I am slightly concerned that one of my bags has gone missing. The baggage truck has returned from South Cerney, and I can’t locate it anywhere. Can’t really remember exactly what was in it, but it definitely contains my lumbar support, civilian clothes, underwear, towel, camel back and a selection of novels. Shall be extremely annoyed if it is lost. Hopefully it will turn up still at South Cerney, or I’ll find it at the air-head in Kuwait.
Tuesday 25 February
On the plane to Kuwait
Yesterday afternoon we were finally told to report back at 10:30hrs, so I phoned for a taxi and caught the train to London from Stowemarket. No sooner had I walked in the door of our flat, Gary told me Dean had been on the phone and that the timings had been brought forward. At first I thought he was joking, but his face told me otherwise. Kate was on her way back from work, and was aware of the situation. She was a bit tearful when she arrived, and I realised that all these false starts must be playing havoc with her emotions. We checked train times on the web, and calculated I could spend two hours with her before heading off. Kate made me an omelette, and Gary tactfully went upstairs to bed early. It was incredibly hard to drag myself away at 22:30, and then I raced across the city to Liverpool Street station where I just caught the last train out of London with literally one minute to spare. By chance I bumped into Ross on the train, and we shared a taxi back to the ‘Sham’.
Here we go again then. We gathered once again in the hangar, ready for the off at 04:00 for a flight out from Brize Norton at 14:00. Care to place a bet as to whether we actually do? Thought not. One good point is that I collected my mobile phone from London, as I heard we might be allowed to use them out there after all.
14:00 Have arrived at Brize, having passed through South Cerney and found my missing bag. Had a spot of breakfast there too, and then back on the bus for Brize. We have been here a while now, and of course there is another delay – but just a short one this time. It strikes me as faintly ridiculous that we all need to show our passports at customs. An air trooper asked me what would happen if he lost his in the war, and whether they would let him home. I told him no, he’d have to stay in Iraq until the embassy sent out a new one, but that the embassy was closed so it might take some time – and winked. He looked uncertain as to whether I was being serious or not. Everyone is hungry and asking for lunch. I say we’ll be fed on the plane, and hope I am right. I’m starving. I’ve called Kate and updated her and said a final farewell.
18:30 Amazing. We have finally managed to depart, and we are now on the way to Kuwait. We took off at 16:40 exactly, and it’s a six and a half hour flight. An in-flight meal of gammon and pineapple was unexpectedly welcome, and I am trying to get into my book on modern Arabian history Kate bought me. The noise of the Tri-star and consequent ear plugs preclude listening to music. I’m ludicrously tired, but cannot sleep. My pen is leaking due to the low cabin pressure, fortunately the head rest covers make excellent blotting paper. I am wondering whether it will be frantic out there, or whether we will be bored stiff. Probably both, and in that order.
The news last night was full of battle plans, graphics of Iraq with tanks moving about. Despite further evidence that Saddam is complying with resolution 1441 the UK, USA and Spain have tabled another resolution. Although it does not specifically champion a war (probably so it will gain the minimum of 9 votes out of 15 it needs) it would be enough for Bush and Blair to use it as a springboard into conflict. The amount of speculation in the media, or should I say anticipation, for Gulf War II is making a mockery of all those who are still claiming war is not inevitable. I am realising it has been inevitable for quite a while now. In fact, I am feeling entirely pessimistic.
Wednesday 26 February
We landed at Kuwait City airport at 02:00 local time, but had to stay on the aircraft for an hour to allow the plane in front of us to unload passengers, as there weren’t enough steps. Upon alighting from our plane, we got onto a bus and were transported a short distance to an area with several large white marquees and British Army 12’ x 12’ green canvas tents. Here we waited for three hours, before being individually processed into Theatre. Normally it is a quick process, but the IT equipment has apparently not taken kindly to the conditions, and malfunctioned – so it all has to be done by hand. We had to show passports, military ID cards and dog-tags; and we were given a series of introductory briefs about current political status, the vagaries of driving in the desert, standard operating procedures in theatre… throughout all of which we struggled to remain awake.
Once everyone had been processed, we then waited a few hours for the coaches to arrive, which took us to Ali Al Salem airfield, our home for the foreseeable future. Ali Al Salem is situated about twenty miles West of Kuwait City, and is used
by the Kuwait military and, since 1991, the American Air Force. It only took an hour
to reach, during which everyone slept. The coaches were not allowed passed the front gates to the airfield, so we all debussed and waited for some four ton trucks to drive down and collect us. The Brits have been allocated a small area in the North West corner of the airfield, and several large marquees have been erected for accommodation. We found the mess tent, had some breakfast, and after a brief search I located the correct marquee, in which I crashed until mid-day.
Although cold at night, it is already quite hot here during the day, and the sand is deep and tiring to walk across. A thin film of dust covers everything and everyone. Inside the marquees, which have a dubious yellow coloured lining to the walls, there is an MDF floor which requires constant sweeping. My throat is already feeling the effects of the dust, which hangs in the air. There are only a couple of bunk bed frames in our tent, so the rest of us have plastic covered mattresses on the floor to sleep on. The washing facilities consist of an area with a wooden bench, a bowser of non-potable water, and a soak-away area on top of which there has been built a wooden frame from which to hang solar showers.
I am impressed with the catering facilities. Three marquees end to end, with the serving area in the middle tent, containing stainless steel fridges and cafeteria style servers, deep freezes full of ice cream, cold drink dispensers and tea/coffee urns. Either side of this, two marquees full of tables and chairs with plastic table cloths and plastic cutlery. There is another marquee with a wide screen TV on which SKY News is constantly broadcast.
Our home at Ali Al Salem Airfield, Kuwait
Thursday 27 February
Awoke at 06:00 with an extremely sore throat, doubtless from the dust and dehydration. Yesterday afternoon, after a brief period of exploration, I spent ninety minutes standing in line outside the small US Army PX shop. Not a huge stock once finally inside, but I did buy a pillow and a larger camel-bak. I wrote a bluey to Kate, and wonder how long it will take to reach her. She can, of course, write hers online, and it gets printed in Kuwait and delivered to me the next day. Having said that, she told me she had sent me one on Monday, and it hasn’t reached me yet. Of course, we have no access to computers here in the Kuwait desert. Too bad.
Today I went up to the hardened aircraft shelter (HAS) site on the other side of the airfield. Had to wait for the TCV (Troop Carrying Vehicle aka Four Tonner) which is providing constant taxi service, with a round trip of over an hour. There are several HAS, and ours is on the end of the row at the South Eastern end of the runway. It has severe bomb damage, and I discovered that it was caused by an American bomb from the first Gulf War. Iraqi troops had controlled the airfield during the occupation, and used the HAS for their MiG jet aircraft. Apparently there wasn’t much left of the aircraft kept in our shelter after the American bomb hit it. After the liberation, the Kuwaiti government allegedly sued the French contractors who built the HAS, as it had clearly failed. It was meant to be bomb proof up to 4000 kilo tonnes, and the Paveway bomb dropped on it was only half that. Apparently the legal case is still ongoing to this day. I should have been a lawyer.
The AAC HAS showing bomb damage from 1991
Side view of the same HAS (Hardened Aircraft Shelter)
I have managed to persuade the SQMS to issue me with a pistol instead of a rifle. Just as well, there were not enough rifle cleaning kits or slings in the stores. Fortunately I brought my shoulder holster. Last night a US Marine helicopter crashed. The night before, they lost two Blackhawks. Night flying here is evidently not easy, due to the lack of ambient light, and I am not looking forward to it. Day landings are going to be hard enough with all this recirculating sand and dust. At night it will be tantamount to flying blind.
We have been promised electricity in our tents, but no sign of it yet. I hope I can recharge my camera battery somewhere. One of the drawbacks of all this technology is that it requires electricity. Bad news – apparently the Iraqi army are moving equipment south to the border, including anti-aircraft batteries. We were briefed on the specific battle plans today. I may be attached to 662 Sqn as a reserve pilot during their part of the mission, and then moved back to 663 Sqn for their part due to pilot shortages. Worried about potential of becoming too fatigued. There’s a Rifle Regiment based near Basra which has been earmarked for annihilation. The current idea is to show force in Basra, and then drop propaganda leaflets on rest of Iraqi army, in an attempt to persuade them to desert, thereby saving lives. Intelligence reports that Iraqi troops are already deserting in a small way. Many more intend to desert once hostilities start. Hopefully those that are left will not resist too hard.
The breeze keeps us cool during the day, but when the sun sets, it gets cold very quickly. I am pleased I brought along my Dutch army jacket with fleece liner. I don’t think it will be long before the heat becomes insufferable.
Friday 28 February
It is reported in the news that 199 MPs have voted against an early war in Iraq. The majority of the British public are against it also. This seems to be reflected in the opinions of my colleagues. The question of whether any war happening without another UN resolution would be legal is weighing heavily on our minds, although nobody seems to want to discuss it openly.
I missed breakfast this morning. I am annoyed there isn’t a 24hr tea/coffee availability. The fresh rations we are eating at the moment are being cooked by contract caterers. I find it amusing that we have contractors – I guess it is economical. I received two blueys from Kate, one written on the 23rd and one on the 26th . Wonderful to hear from her. Spent morning doing some theoretical training. Had a wash after lunch, as there was no water this morning. Despite the hot sun, there is a cold wind, and I am now clean but freezing. There is a civilian run laundry service, but it closed today as it the Sabbath. I am on tomorrow’s flying program to fly my theatre qualification (TQ), which is good news. I am looking forward to flying out here, but not without a sense of trepidation. I am wondering how close the experience will be to that of Canada. Apparently the first ten minutes is a little scary.
Listening to the World Service, and Saddam has agreed to destroy his controversial Al Samoud missiles. That will presumably take a bit of wind out of Bush and Blair’s sails. Hans Blix is still not pacified, however. I wonder if we invade without a second resolution, will we be unpopular when we get home? I am remembering the American troops returning from Vietnam. Wouldn’t Blair be committing political suicide if he follows Bush to war?
I have just learned that British soldiers up at Camp Eagle in the north have been forbidden to carry American bought ‘camel-baks’ (portable water bags), as they are covered in American desert camouflage, and they are bringing attention to the fact that most Brits don’t have desert cam clothing. Apparently Brigade HQ don’t want reporters taking pictures of Brits using American army kit, and them being published in the newspapers. Another example of soldier’s lives being made worse due to pandering to the vagaries of ‘PR’. Isn’t it an example of bolting the stable door after the horse has bolted? After all, it has already been published that we are called ‘the borrowers’ by the Yanks.
Saturday 1 March
Awoke at 05:45, breakfasted, and caught the TCV to the HAS read for my TQ. I’m flying with Dodger which is good news, as I know him well. Windy today, which helps. First flew in formation up to Camp Eagle, 15miles North, and had a job locating it as there are so many camps in the area, and they all look similar – square berms of sand about 1km sq. No GPS in this cab either, and I couldn’t use my personal handheld as it is technically not allowed, and this is a check ride. We had a brief look at some other camps, and then flew back south via the vehicle graveyards just to the north of our airfield. All the vehicles are the burnt out tank hulks from the Basra road massacre of 1991. A hell of a sight.
After a quick refuel, we flew off to the south and I was put through my paces doing zero speed landings, quickstops, hydraulics-out landings and practise forced landings (PFLs). After returning I carried out a couple of ground runs. The Gazelle and Lynx are all parked between the HAS and the runway. At one point four Tornados took off in succession, about 100yds away from me, and despite the ear protection in my helmet the noise was deafening. I could feel the pressure from their engines through my chest. It was an awesome feeling and an incredible sight.
Still no desert combats for us. Just as well I bought my own from the army surplus store. In fact, everything I am wearing – US Army desert boots, trousers, T-shirt, desert shirt and fleece – I bought myself.
Hueys and Cobras of the US Army MEF on their dispersal (taken from our HAS roof)
663 Sqn Gazelle Flight on the side of the bomb damaged HAS
Tuesday 4 March
Frankly I am rather hoping we stay here at Ali Al Salem for a while. The electricity has appeared in our tent, and disappeared again. At least we know it’s almost here. There are still no showers, and water for washing frequently runs dry. Big sand storms yesterday, and in the evening lightening flashes lit up the night sky and surrounding area, but no rain for us. I overheard a bunch of US Marines joking that it was scud missiles, not lightening, and they would have a soft landing what with all the chemicals in the warhead.
I spent all day yesterday putting together aviation map packs, and all night up at the HAS as duty watch keeper. Didn’t sleep at all, as I forgot my roll mat, and the concrete was too uncomfortable in just a sleeping bag. Besides which, a storm raged all night. The Brigade Commander, Brig Page, was visiting yesterday. The RSM was rushing about trying to get all the vehicles into straight lines, as if people haven’t got enough to do.
All the diesel vehicles are being run on aviation gasoline. Apparently the Brigade now has a single fuel policy for ease of logistics. Consequently all the trucks are breaking down all over the place and requiring jump starts. This means we are surrounded by idling engines, the drivers not wanting to turn them off for fear they’ll never get them started again. Maybe that means I’ll get to see a broken down Lynx on the back of a broken down low-loader. Lea and I took the flight truck and went and grabbed some crates of bottled water, and loaded it up for the move North. The supply chain haven’t been very successful in getting combats or ammunition to us – so there’s a slight concern about whether they’ll be able to get drinking water to us when we go in-country. I should of course say ‘if’ we go, but I can’t see the Yanks pulling back from the brink now. The chief weapons inspector gives a report on the 7th March, and then this second UN resolution looms. Saddam is, according to the TV news, complying with 1441. He’s destroying his missiles, but still not telling where his WMD are, or providing proof that he got rid of his WMD. That’s if he had any. How do you prove you got rid of something you never had? I asked Brendan about the legality of war situation, and he says he feels as I do, but doesn’t know.
On Sunday we were given orders for a relief in place for a 662 Sqn operation. To be honest I believe everyone is quite relieved that we are going in right at the back. I however am one of six joining 662 as a reserve element.
Got another letter from Kate today. An excellent letter. The e-bluey system seems to work well. Apparently even RHQ are using it to communicate with Wattisham. That’s a laugh. Been out here for almost a week now, and I am missing Kate. There’s lots going on to keep me occupied, but nevertheless I am missing her terribly, and I suspect this separation is going to be much harder for Kate to handle.
Wednesday 5 March
Got the early morning transport up to the HAS after breakfast. Very think fog, and the top layer of sand is quite damp. Feel tired. Didn’t get and sleep at all on Monday night as I was watch keeper, and last night Elvis had a strop and got us all out of bed to make map packs, finally got to bed just past midnight. I’m meant to be flying tonight – hope I’m not too tired. Spent today washing cabs, doing ground runs and air-tests with Lea.
Night flight went quite well. Not as difficult as I had imagined, but then we were shooting approaches to a NATO T set up right beside a lit up road. When I turned downwind however, everything just went black despite the night vision goggles. I am definitely not going to enjoy night flying in the desert with a new moon.
A long day today, and I feel tired but satisfied. I got two and a half hours of flying out of it at any rate. 894.3 hours total according to the photocopy of my log book. We couldn’t bring our log books out here with us in case they got lost. At this rate I don’t think I’ll make it to 1000hrs by the time I leave the army next year. I dare say there won’t be much flying to be had once we get back to the UK. They’ll all probably need a major strip down and service, which takes months. At least I’m not a lynx pilot, they have it worse. I guess everyone will be heading off to Northern Ireland just to get some flying.
When I got back to the tent, I found three letters lying on my mattress, two from Mum and one from Pete. Titch has had tonsillitis, his car broke down again, and his honeymoon preparations are progressing nicely. He’s still keeping the destination a secret. Jez and Matt had a bit of a barney yesterday in the ops tent in front of everybody. Muff was most amused, particularly by the fact that Jez remained completely calm throughout, which just made Matt more angry. Elvis told me he had an argument with Dino a few days ago. Tempers are clearly fraying.
Early morning fog
Thursday 6 March
15:00 Just had a wash with a couple of bottles of drinking water. Cold but invigorating, and I feel great now. The weather was very sticky this morning, but now the rain is falling, the thunderstorms are raging, and lightening is flashing across the sky. I am assuming it is thunder and not artillery. Lea’s birthday today, and he received a card in the mail from his girlfriend which had a recording of her voice every time it was opened. It is a brilliant idea, but makes the rest of us feel rather homesick and my thoughts turn to Kate. Rob is not feeling to well at the moment, suffering from stomach pains. Huge clap of thunder just sounded. I guess they’re not flying much today. More delays to the TQ package, which is already beset with serviceability problems. The sand is wreaking havoc with the rotor blades, especially the tail rotors. The REME have bought some paint which they’re using as a sacrificial layer on the blades.
Friday 7 March
Woke up to find sand everywhere inside the tent. Got up to micturate and discovered a scene of devastation outside. Many marquees have collapsed, including the mess tent with the tables and chairs scattered everywhere. All but five of the line of port-a-loos have been blown over, and the stench is foul. The TV is smashed, and I hear there has been one aircraft written off up at the HAS.
Saturday 8 March
Yesterday I spent the whole day up at the HAS. An American metal framed tent blew across the dispersal and collided with a Lynx. It will probably be unserviceable for the rest of Op Telic, which is a blow. A couple of Hueys were damaged apparently, and the 9’ x 9’ tent we used as an Ops tent has simply disappeared. Probably half way to Kuwait City by now. The huge RUB tent that the Yanks had erected on the end of the neighbouring HAS to ours has been damaged too. The wind picked up again in the afternoon, and we were issued (in a timely fashion for once) with motocross goggles to protect our eyes, which was a godsend. We used the Diablo wheels to turn all the gazelles into the new direction of the wind, and while we were doing so the visibility dropped to about fifty yards. The sand is frequently whipped up by the wind, but this was my first experience of a real sand storm. No more flying for the time being.
Great weather today, however. We went off on a short exercise without aircraft, to practise the occupation of a Squadron position. Something we did all the time in the infantry, but I have never done it properly with the army air corps before. We drove south in a convoy of ten vehicles down the main road and then off to a free area of desert, and it went well enough. The Sergeant Major seemed happy anyway. We were meant to be back by 19:00, but on the way back to the road, one of the REME trucks got bogged into the sand, and then the Lynx flight truck… and it was 23:30 by the time we eventually returned. Hope to God we don’t have similar problems in Iraq. Found two blueys from Kate on my bed, and was thrilled. It means so much to hear from her. I feel very tired. Might be flying tomorrow on a training trip, at last.
Sunday 9 March
Overcast and muggy. Got the 08:00 transport to the HAS. The air control order (ACO) hadn’t been received, let alone decoded, so there was a bit of a delay. I flew 1.5hrs in the end with Lea, flying as a two-ship with The Rotweiler and Rob. Good session, but Lea is a bit despondent as he didn’t get picked up on the last promotions board. When we got back to the tents, I found out that we are moving tomorrow. The aircraft are going to a Kuwaiti base with a hard standing, and we shall be accommodated at Camp Eagle. Everyone is looking forward to the move, as they have a TV up there, and more importantly, hot showers. Did some laundry this afternoon and had another bottle wash. Managed to stop off at the ‘choggie shop’ on the way back from the HAS to buy some cigarettes and biscuits.
According to the news on the radio (BFBS are broadcasting on FM which is great news in itself) Saddam has been given an ultimatum to start complying with resolution 1441 (I thought he already was) by March 17th or face forcible action. That’s it then. Many people are claiming we’ll be home by the end of April, others reckon the end of May, but there’s a certain amount of wishful thinking in that. I dare say the war will not last very long, given that the Iraqi army are apparently not planning to put up much of a fight (thank God), but the question is who will be staying behind to make up the stabilization force. Each of us are praying it is not us. I suspect the Gazelles will stay – at least some of them will, as I don’t think the Lynx’s serviceability will be up to it. They don’t seem to be as resilient to the sand as the Gazelles, but then they say it is not so sandy in Iraq. Who knows?
662 Sqn will take all the gazelles with them, bar two, on their mission. I am therefore anticipating a lengthy road move up the Main Supply Route (MSR) into Iraq. The plan is that 662 will deploy at G+17 (G Hour being the start of the ground war) for an Op which will last 90hrs. Then 663 Sqn will relieve in place, to the West of Basra. The bigger picture will be 16 Air Assault following US Marine unit and relieving them in place, allowing them to turn north west and make for Baghdad. They are welcome. My greatest fear is that the Iraqis have a Gas and Oil Separation Plant (GOSP) rigged for demolition, and it is right in the centre of our Area Of Responsibility (AOR). If they blow it, the toxic fumes from the fire will be more than a match for our NBC kit. We won’t be able to go near the smoke, as they reckon our kit would last only 15 minutes. Hope the wind direction doesn’t suddenly change that day.
Tuesday 11 March
I received five letters yesterday. However one was a duplicate of a letter from Kate, and two were a single very long letter from Cousin Clare. The last one was from Uncle Thomas, just back from a holiday in Chile. All splendid letters, and am consequently feeling very well loved. Although letters from Kate are very welcome, they do magnify my feelings of missing her.
We were meant to move to Camp Eagle yesterday. We spent age packing up and loading the kit onto the trucks, but just before we left we were told the move had been postponed until today. This meant that we were able to attend a briefing by the Yanks about airspace issues which mostly concerned the RAF fast jets, but there were one or two interesting conversations which were applicable to us. Also an interesting talk on cruise missiles, and the plans for the first few hours of the air war. Baghdad is apparently not going to know what hit it. The idea being to hit them hard and fast to reduce the potential war fighting period. If they can disable the command structure, the Iraqi regular army will be even less willing to put up a fight. Over 800 cruise missiles, flying between 300-700ft, will land on Baghdad in a four hour period, and that’s just the first salvo. I guess I might not want to be airborne just then.
Today, after a very long and uncomfortable journey in the back of a TCV, we arrived at Camp Eagle. A large square sand berm about ten feet high surrounds the camp, but there isn’t enough room inside to accommodate us. We have set up camp outside the berm, and placed three 12’ x 12’ canvas tents end on end to provide sleeping quarters for ourselves. As I write lightening is flashing once more across the night sky, and it has started to rain. I hope we are not in for another storm as these tents will provide little protection.
I seem to be practically the only member of the squadron not to have managed to beg, borrow or steal and American camp cot to sleep on. The Rotweiler has been a star, and offered me an old British Army zed-bed he brought out with him. There is a bit of a walk along the outside of the berm to get to the sentry point, through which we gain entrance to the camp. They have port-a-cabin showers with hot water, a TV in the other rank’s mess tent (but not one for the officers), and loads of port-a-loos. The food isn’t nearly as good, but it suffices. Watery stew, piece of stale bread, an apple and a slice of sponge cake. For lunch we eat US Army rations (Meals Ready to Eat – MREs, otherwise known as Meals Refused by Ethiopians) and breakfast is yet to be tried.
The serviceable aircraft were flown up safely by 662 Sqn, and are safely in the Kuwaiti Base, which is a 45 minute drive from here. We have all been issued with a morphine syrette, a Biological Agent Treatment Set (BATS) which are pills, which help protect against chemical agents, and three ‘combi-pen’s each filled with atropine, for the same use. Also the dreaded Nerve Agent Pre-treatment Set (NAPS) tablets to be taken every six hours, which compliment the BATS. The reason they are dreaded, is because they are linked to Gulf War Syndrome. They are apparently perfectly safe and have been in use for over a decade, but the rumour is that they don’t mix well with some of the injections we had before coming out here. It’s all speculation of course, but some people are still nervous about it.
Our sleeping quarters at Eagle
Patriotism alive and well
There is confusion about time. So far we have been operating in local time as we have been collocated with the Yanks who use it. The British Army normally works on GMT when on operations (or Zulu time, as we call it) to avoid confusion. Now it seems it is half and half, which is clearly not ideal. Local time is three hours ahead of GMT, so you can imagine the problems. I have set my watch to Zulu, and intend to try and stick to that.
Wednesday 12 March
Oh dear, my journal is beginning to fall apart. The heat of the day is melting the glue of the binding. The weather today has been great. Didn’t sleep very well due to rain falling on my face through the ill-fitting window cover. This morning we covered the tent we put up yesterday with camouflage netting. The temperature reached 30°C at midday. I had a proper shower this morning, which was fantastic. Ships rules apply, allowing us only three minutes each of water, which is just about manageable, provided you time it right. Breakfast consisted o watery scrambled eggs (made from egg powder) beans, a highly suspect sausage, and a banana. We have each been allowed to bring a ‘reality bag’ in which to pack little luxuries. These bags had to be handed in today, which is a pain. Brendan gave his Confirmatory Orders this afternoon. 663 Sqn will be left here once Battle Group Head Quarters (BGHQ) and 662 Sqn have gone forward. By the time we move forward to relieve 662, our AOR is likely to be pretty benign. Our subsequent operation is likely to be to occupy the AOR and show a presence. The AOR is about the size of Kuwait, due to the fact that we are Army Air Corps. The whole Brigade is unlikely to see all that much action, unless the Yanks leave us Basra, which is highly likely to be a stronghold for the Fedayeen (Saddam’s loyal troops, and rather nasty characters by all accounts). Word on the street has it that very soon after hostilities end, the Brigade will be moved back to the UK so it can reprise it’s role as the Rapid Reaction Force (RRF).
The good news is that intelligence suggests that Saddam is unlikely to use his chemical weapons early, in order to persuade the International community that the Allies are wrong in their claims that he has them. The bad news is that they are expected to blow the GOSPs at the first sign of invasion. We have been issued face masks to help prevent inhalation of toxic fumes. Looks like it is the sort of thing one might wear whilst doing DIY. The Iraqis have dug six hundred trenches and filled them with crude oil, which will be set alight to provide battlefield obscuration. Saddam has apparently been executing some army unit commanders in order to dissuade others from deserting. He has prevented civilians from moving around the country by ruling that their ration cards will only be accepted by the local shops, and he has sabotaged the desalinisation plant in Basra, claiming it has malfunctioned, so that people are short of water, and cannot travel far. Locals have fresh water for only two hours per day. Local government supported militia are beating people publicly for daring to watch US TV channels, or listening to the radio. Some are beaten to death for these crimes, and others are publicly beheaded for more serious infringements, in order to stamp his authority on the Iraqi people. Despite all this, there is still a 25% desertion rate in most army units. A large amount of regular army commanders are planning not to fight at all, and will simply change into civilian clothing and go home. Beginning to wish I had done the same thing.
The CGS General Brimms visited us today and addressed us all, and said that we should not actively go looking for fights with Iraqis, giving them the benefit of the doubt that they may not wish to fight at all, and to be sensitive to their intentions. A little show was put on for him. Three Gazelles flew in and a refuelling truck drove out of its little hide to meet them and refuel them. The Chimp hummed the Steptoe & Son theme tune as it drove out, and we all tried not to laugh out loud. Set pieces like this are a subject of ridicule, but do provide a morale boost.
We are meant to start taking our NAPS tonight. Considering they are meant to give one diarrhoea, I think I might delay my first pill until the morning. Listening to the radio news I hear that the Serbian PM has been assassinated in Belgrade. Blair has been continuing his fight for the invasion of Iraq. The so called ‘second’ resolution looks unlikely to be won, in which case I guess it would be better for Blair not to table it at all. There is talk of the UN being weakened, and of US troops going in alone without British support. Can’t see that happening, frankly.
Friday 14 March
I have been somewhat ill of late. On Wednesday night we were ordered to start taking the NAPS tablets, just in case Saddam has got any chemical weapons. Annoyingly Chimp and I have been suffering with diarrhoea ever since. At least there are relatively clean port-a-loos here, which is just as well as I have been spending a great deal of time in them. The food here is miserable, the evening meal being best avoided. The only thing that has any taste is the porridge. Lots of mail in today. Lots of parcels full of confectionary, which the recipients are duly obliged to share around. I expect Kate’s parcel will arrive soon. I should have asked her to include a magazine or two.
Everyone but the Chimp and I attended a talk given by the Commander of the Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF), which was by all accounts a rousing oratory. Meanwhile the two malingerers sat in the shade of the cam net and took it in turns to run, from the knees down, to the port-a-loo.
Yesterday Dodger and I were throwing a cricket ball around, and somehow it developed into a full-blown cricket match, with bits of equipment appearing from the Q bloke’s store. Annoyingly my stomach decided to revolt again and so I was unable to join in, developing a different kind of ‘runs’. Apparently the embedded photographer appeared on the scene, and took a few shots of Jez batting, which might make the newspapers if we’re lucky.
I feel a lot better today. Clearly my body has finally got used to the NAPS. Letters from Pete and Mum, claiming to be very proud of me. I certainly don’t feel very proud – despite all we are told of how despicable Saddam is. I would rather have taken part in the first Gulf War and help liberate Kuwait, rather than invade Iraq with a dubious legal justification. I think that what we are about to do will cause more problems than it solves as far as terrorism is concerned. I dare say it will make the west financially better off somehow, and perhaps improve some people’s approval ratings… but I do not feel proud at all. I wonder how long we will be stuck here waiting, playing cricket in the sand. I feel selfish for hoping that it will soon start, and hence soon be over, when that means people are going to die.
Jez with a flag stuck in his head
Just heard that 12 Regiment Royal Artillery have been told that their HVMs (anti-aircraft battery) will not be required, seeing as Saddam has mothballed his air force, so instead they are to be used as Prisoners of War handlers. I’ll bet their not happy teddies at the moment. Ross and Dale have just returned from Ali, where they have been air-testing the four sick Gazelles. Lea and Rob drove down to relieve them. I was due to go with Lea, but my diarrhoea put an end to that idea. Not happy.
Elvis on his Harley
Sunday 16 March
Another very hot day, up to 28°C. The wind is picking up tonight, and there may be another storm. Received a letter from Dad yesterday, so have just replied to it, and a long overdue letter to Mary Cullen. Kate wrote to me again today, a long letter that stretched to two e-blueys. They printed duplicates again, so it looked like four letters lying on my bed. She seems to be OK but is predictably worried, and has a nasty cold.
Yesterday the whole Regiment awoke at 03:15Z and went for a run. Beautiful time of day, with dawn just breaking – which in the desert is breathtaking. The run was more of a jog, and quite pleasant if not for all the dust that people kicked up. Today there was an NBC exercise, during which we spent about two hours wearing respirators. It was so hot and uncomfortable, and we weren’t even wearing the charcoal lined NBC suits. I am praying Saddam doesn’t have or use chemicals against us, as it would be pure hell.
Before the exercise, we all congregated for a Regimental photograph, taken by the Telegraph photographer Ian Jones. After that, the Padre took a short service, and then the officers were instructed to wait behind for a chat with the CO. It came as a surprise to us that the chat was in fact a very curt dressing-down. Apparently a flying task that had come from Brigade HQ was not completed for some reason, and the CO was livid. I learned later that it was a 662 task.
No intelligence brief today, but yesterday we were told that most Iraqi Army commanders’ families had been taken into ‘protective custody’ by the Fedayeen. We could all read between the lines. Apparently there has been more desertion, but the commanders are not reporting it to Saddam as they are afraid they will be executed, as has already happened to some.
I heard on the radio that there have been massive anti-war marches in London and other big cities around the world. I wonder if Kate was marching. Is it me or does this have strong Vietnam overtones? Either way, I fully expect to be in Iraq by next week.
Ross, Claire, Jez, Elvis and Matt
Monday 17 March
Got up as usual at 03:00Z, had my luxurious daily shower, and breakfasted. Porridge, scrambled egg, tinned tomatoes, stale croissant or if you’re quick pain au chocolat, fruit juice, spam and a brownie. Interesting last item, but I’m not complaining. Maybe it’s the American influence. I watched ten minutes of BBC news on the TV in the other ranks mess tent. Blair and Bush were giving a statement from the Azores about giving the UN one more day. The Azores! Alright for some.
I have been told that tonight Lea and I are to be the overnight duty aircrew over at the Kuwaiti Camp where the aircraft are. Hoping that we get to fly the ACOs around the area in the morning, which is apparently the task that 662 mucked up. It is St. Patrick’s Day today, and there was a rousing bugle call around camp this morning followed by bursts of bagpipes and drums.
Wednesday 19 March
We did overnight at the Kuwaiti Barracks, but alas no tasking. Nice to sleep in a relatively clean environment though, with a roof over my head. Went to bed late, listening to Jack Straw speaking in the Commons. Bush has given Saddam 48hrs to either leave the Country or hand over his weapons of mass destruction. I wish they would stop talking of these weapons, it’s making me nervous.
British forces are at 12 hrs notice to move from 17:00hrs yesterday. Ammunition has been issued. I have 200 rounds of 5.56mm, but no 9mm ammunition for my Browning. Also have one grenade, one smoke grenade for signalling to the Yanks to stop shooting at us, and two packs of mini-flares.
We went down to the Kuwaiti Barracks again today after breakfast. No point really, as we cannot airtest due to there being no rotary flying on the ACOs. So we cleaned the cabs and played football for the morning until we were recalled to Camp Eagle. The visibility is bad due to sand and dust suspended in the air.
We have been issued three 24hr ration packs, which I will have to find room for in my bergan. 662 Sqn are running around packing, ready for their move up North. I have been told that I am not going with them as a reserve after all. The plans are changing daily, so the call is to remain flexible – no change there. Got letters from Kate, Dad, Auntie Pat and Gary. The threat of scuds has energized us to build a makeshift shelter using sandbags and the huge containers that came over on the ship.
Gazelle landing at Kuwaiti Barracks
Thursday 20 March
Woke at 01:00Z for some reason, so listened to the radio with my headphones in so as not to disturb the others. The 48hrs are almost up I think, but there is no news to speak of. I am tense…
I have just heard that a few Tomahawk cruise missiles have landed in Baghdad, apparently an early strike specifically intended to target Saddam and other high ranking officials. A Company of Iraqi infantry have surrendered to the Yanks on the border, and wrong footed them somewhat as we haven’t invaded yet. Amused and relieved that the intelligence reports are being proved correct.
At 08:30Z the dreaded shouts of ‘gas gas gas’ were heard along with the three horn blasts. Everybody in the tent erupted into frenzied activity. Respirators were fitted within seconds, and suits unpacked and pulled on. Bertie was till asleep on his cot, so I shook him awake roughly. The look on his face was a picture. Then we frantically pulled down the ill-fitting window flaps, and put on our protective boots and gloves. This was clearly not a drill, but strangely I was not scared – more annoyed at the thought of having to spend time in my NBC suit in this heat. We waited, sweating profusely, with increasingly dry mouths. The Chimp and Rob ventured outside to complete a liquid agent check, wiping the detector paper over exposed surfaces. Thankfully they found nothing, and they asked permission to carry out a sniff test, and finally we unmasked. Just under an hour after the initial alarm we masked up again, with news of Scud missiles landing in the area.
We heard a ‘crump’ sound in the distance. Sounded to me like it came from the South. This time I helped do the liquid test, and a residual vapour test as well, which was clear. We remained masked however, due to the fact that we hadn’t received permission to take them off, despite everyone within the berm already unmasked. Rules are there to be followed after all. The World Service confirmed the Scuds, one of which had been intercepted by a Patriot missile.
At 12:30Z there was another NBC alarm, although we unmasked relatively quickly as it became apparent the low flying aircraft was friendly. Everyone is getting tetchy and annoyed with this game now. I did some more laundry inside the berm, keen to use what time we have left. The BGHQ has moved out up North, and most of the other units have gone with them, so it’s like a ghost town. Long lines of vehicles are still visible through the haze. Looks like a bit of a traffic jam on the MSR.
At 15:00Z there came the call of lightening over the net, which means scud missiles are inbound. The Squadron rushed to the shelter, and we waited there crouching in the sand for an hour before the all clear was given. I didn’t hear any ‘crumps’ so God knows where they landed. After evening meal Jonno passed by our tent with the news that H-Hr was to be at 17:20Z today. That’s when the Invasion is begun. Looks like everything has been brought forward.
It has been a rather surreal day, what with NBC alerts, scud attacks, and meanwhile I’m doing laundry. At least all my clothes are clean. Never go to war with dirty laundry in your bergan. H-hr being brought forward means we will probably move out of here on Saturday. For the past hour we have been listening to the artillery to the North. On the news we hear that the air war started at last light, and will probably continue all night. The scuds that flew overhead this afternoon were bound for Kuwait City. One was intercepted by Patriots, the others missed and landed in the desert. No chemicals in them, which is very good news. Kate has sent me a parcel full of chocolate, wine gums, shortbread, jaffa cakes and butterscotch. Wonderful, Kate you are a star. I am sitting in a white plastic chair stolen from Ali Al Salem mess tent, with my stove next to me, water nearly boiling for a brew. Radio 4 rebroadcast by BFBS on FM, damp clothes hanging above me. Meanwhile the war has begun to the North and I am eating jaffa cakes.
Friday 21 March
Woke at midnight (03:00 local) and went outside. It was windy, noisy, aircraft everywhere in the night sky above with notably no navigation lights showing, static from the radio in the Ops Tent… I listened to my transistor after changing the batteries and heard that a Marine helicopter had crashed killing all on board. Apparently six of them were British.
07:00 Just had breakfast and watched BBC News 24 on the TV. The Sea Knight that crashed in Kuwait has twelve British commandos on board. The Royal Marines have landed a beach head to the South East in Iraq. The Ramallah oil fields (where we’re going) are burning, or some of them anyway. Ten more Scud missiles have landed in Kuwait, Patriots intercepted some of them. One of them hit 300 meters from a US Base, but no casualties. Evidence of Saddam’s Regime breaking up from within. Lots of Iraqis surrendering to the East, but they seem to be fighting to the North. Four Iraqi T54 tanks were destroyed 4km over the border, and reports of ten more being engaged by US Forces.
Wrote a letter to Gary, and spent rest of day listening to the radio and watching TV. Amazed by the amount of speculation and non-stop coverage. No more training now, so we just sit and wait.
Sunday 23 March
Packed up camp. We had to go over the berm and clear all the rubbish left behind by BGHQ and all the other units in Camp Eagle, which was annoying. Then we had to dismantle the shelter we had built, and empty all the sand out of the sand bags, as apparently there aren’t any more. We lined the bottom of the four tonne with sand bags to absorb the impact of any mines we might encounter. It took a while to join up in the large convoy heading North, of which we are only a small part.
At 14:00Z we crossed the border into Iraq, which consisted of a large berm of sand, passed an old UN Tower and huge amounts of barbed wire. Shortly afterwards we passed a large smoking trench which had been filled with crude oil and set alight to provide smoke to obscure Iraqi Forces from the Yanks. It was twilight by then, and the red flames leaping into the sky, turning into vast black clouds was quite a sight. Loads of Iraqi kids were lining the road accepting food which the air troopers threw out to them from the back of the trucks. We drove north into the darkness of Iraq, with the red flames of burning oil wells littering the horizon.
We arrived at Fort Bravo, about 20 miles west of Basra, at 20:00Z and set about digging shell scrapes (3ft deep, 7ft long trenches to protect from small arms fire) in the dark. It is called Fort Bravo, but there is obviously no fort here, just desert. Sand not so deep here, more of a thin layer of dust over hard earth, with grass growing in small patches. I slept fully clothed in the back of the TCV. At midnight we were woken with the cries of ‘gas gas gas’ and once again we scrambled for our respirators in their pouches on our belts. The alert had come over the radio, but the all clear was sounded within half an hour.
Monday 24 March
Woken at 02:30Z and told I was flying. Realise I haven’t flown since the 9th. Bit of a scramble to find all my flying clothing, helmet etc, and went to find the 662 Sqn REME, who had all the 700s (The 700 is a log book for each aircraft, listing servicing schedules etc. You have to sign the aircraft out using it). They were supposedly ready and waiting, but of course they were nothing of the sort. One cab hadn’t been signed down from last night (pilot’s mistake) and two others hadn’t had their DFS yet (Daily Flying Service). Finally I was given an aircraft, and took my gear out to it. Took a while to find, as they had not yet drawn up a map of the dispersal showing where each aircraft was using its tail number. Eventually I found it, and the blades were in a hell of a state, no stretcher in the back, no box of water bottles or passenger (pax) helmet… Had to run around sorting all this out, and it doesn’t make for a calm and relaxed flight. Not happy.
Finally we were ready, Lea flying with me and Elvis and Nick in another cab flying alongside us. We spent all day working with the Royal Irish Regiment to our north. Not above 50ft, flying under pylons where necessary, and despite being told last week that we shouldn’t be taking passengers, we always did. We flew several sorties, totalling four and a half hours in the air, and by the time I got back I was knackered. At least nobody shot at us. We heard small arms fire at one point while we were on the ground waiting for the passengers – the Commanding Officer of 1Royal Irish Regiment called Tim Collins, and his Ops Officer – to return. The sound came from the other side of the GOSP code named ‘Manchester’. We took off and had a look at the town just to the north of the railway tracks next to the GOSP, but there was nothing happening. The inhabitants of the town have been looting the deserted GOSP, and Colonel Collins is keen to prevent it.
We saw large amounts of artillery and tank shells stockpiled next to bunkers near the GOSP, and the remains of Iraqi T55 tanks litter the whole area, along with some D30 artillery pieces and even one mobile ZSU234 anti-aircraft gun. Oil is spraying up in a geyser from a few fractures in the oil pipes that cross the area, and we flew too close to one, causing the fine mist of oil to cover the Gazelle’s bubble. Ooops.
By the time we returned to Bravo it was dusk, and I was knackered. Very glad to be crawling into my sleeping bag. Slightly worrying news in that the GOSPs, which had been deemed safe, are now apparently not safe after all. The infantry protecting our position have moved off, leaving us somewhat unprotected, and I am hoping the Fedayeen don’t stumble across us. At least I have a rifle, which is more than most aircrew have. There weren’t enough rifles for everybody back at Wattisham, so most aircrew have Browning pistols only. I have one of each, but no ammo for the pistol. Well, we aren’t meant to protect ourselves in the air corps. The infantry are meant to protect our position, as we are a divisional assett. At least the RIR aren’t too far away.
Apparently the number of Killed In Action / Missing In Action is now 19. The Fedayeen ambushed 51 EOD with a Rocket Propelled Grenade (RPG) as they crossed the border into Iraq, leaving two dead. An Apache helicopter has crashed, and the two pilots are MIA. The SQMS of 2 Royal Tank Regiment has been shot twice in the chest just south of Basra, and is KIA. A Black Watch soldier has been killed. A British Tornado GR4 has been hit by a Yank Patriot missile, and the crew are MIA. Three ITN freelance journalists are missing near Basra, their burning vehicle has been discovered. Worst of all some Iraqi soldiers surrendered to the US Marines in Al Nasarea, and when the Yanks went forward to accept their surrender, the Iraqis opened fire and killed some of them. As Peter would say, that’s just not cricket.
Tuesday 25 March
Two parcels have arrived from my darling wife. Rather an eclectic selection of magazines, along with lots of melted chocolate and cereal bars. Also received letters from Mum and Pete. Feeling guilty that I am writing this journal instead of replying to letters. I haven’t seen a newspaper for a while, and I hope Kate’s not too worried – although I’m sure that she is. Elvis found Tim Collins’ sun glasses in the back of the Gazelle. There’s a picture of the Colonel in the newspaper wearing them with a big fat cigar in his mouth and an article about his rousing speech to 1RIR before the invasion. Looks quite the part, and clearly the press are using him as the hero figure. Wonder what he thinks of that.
Lea and I are at 30 mins NTM (Notice To Move). Our first task came through, to fly to Divisional HQ and take a pax down to Camp Dhofar in Kuwait, renowned for it’s ‘Burger King’ outlet. Very frustrated when, 21 miles out, we realised that the poor visibility was going to force us back to Bravo. Just as well we didn’t press on, as shortly after we landed at Bravo an enormous sand storm hit us. Lea had gone to the REME tent to sign down the gazelle, and I was left struggling with the bubble cover. By the time I had tied down the blades and put all the blanks in place, I couldn’t see the cam nets of the vehicles. I walked in the direction of my TCV and tent, which was only a hundred yards away. Half way there I turned around and realised I could see neither the TCV or the Gazelle. I could hardly breathe, there was so much sand in the air. I finally made it back to my TCV and sought shelter from what had now become rain. At least it cleared the air and kept the sand down for a bit.
The weather remained stormy for the rest of the day, but at 20:00Z it moved up a gear. The wind, already strong, became gale force, and swung around so that it was coming from the west. Elvis had just started putting up his personal tent under the cam net, and was suddenly drenched with rain. The cam net completely collapsed on him, and I could just see him through the murk flipping around like a fish out of water and caught in a net. I was alone in the back of the TCV, and the cam net was being blown across the tail gate, so I had difficulty getting out and going to his aid. By this time he had abandoned his tent, and had extricated himself from the net, and told me to get back in. The Rotweiler had dived into his tent to prevent it from flying away, and he later likened the experience to that of being inside a washing machine. I was immediately soaked to the skin. I could hear people shouting and groaning from their beds around the outside of the truck. Water was pouring through the truck’s canvas roof, and being blown into the back of the truck, and I spent the next half-hour trying to rescue people’s kit from getting too wet. That this was supposed to be a desert was my recurring thought.
The gale stopped as suddenly as it had started, and slowly people began to emerge and survey the damage. I put a brew on, while others re-erected the cam net. Elvis appeared, and reported that the Ops Tent had blown away, with papers everywhere. Decision is we can’t do much in the dark, clean up operation at dawn, so I get into my sleeping bag in the back of the TCV.
The morning after the storm
Wednesday 26 March
In the morning we all agreed that we had seen nothing like it before. The lightening, and the amazingly loud thunder was really quite powerful. Maybe it’s the wrath of Allah. Mostly dry, having slept in my clothes, but my boots are still soaking wet. The scene in daylight wasn’t the carnage I had expected. The aircraft were all fine, which is the main thing. Everyone went down to the Ops Tent and re-erected it. The printer is smashed, but amazingly the lap-top survived. Bad news is that some authentication books are missing. If they are not found, they must be presumed lost, and compromised. If they are deemed compromised, there is going to be hell to pay.
Then there was a call of "Stand to!", as some figures had been seen by the sentry off to the south acting strangely. Brendan ordered me, Den, Elvis and Cappy to grab weapons and kit, and we drove in a Land Rover towards the area indicated. We made ready, and suddenly things started to get a bit tense. We debussed and spread out, but eventually spotted the figures, which turned out to be civilians trying to hitch a lift on the road. We spent the rest of the day helping to reorganise things, and we conducted a sweep of the area to try and find the missing authentication books, to no avail. In the end they were found in the bottom of a black bin liner which had been stuffed into a ammo box to keep them safe in the storm. Phew! The GQ magazine Kate sent me got a bit damp last night, and is now twice the thickness that it was, but just still readable. My journal is dry, but falling apart even more than it was.
Friday 28 March
Meanwhile, back to the war. For the past two days the squadron has been operating in the area north of the HAMMAR canal. However as a result of poor weather and limited visibility, the rate of advance has been slow. We have only managed to clear an area 15km from the North Rumaylah Bridge and there is a large area west of the Euphrates/Shatt Al Arab waterway between Ad Dayr and Medina/Al Quarnah which is not under observation and is believed to contain significant elements of the Iraqi 6th Armoured Division. They are relatively well equipped and manoeuvrable, although they are probably more keen on survival than attacking us. More importantly, they are deemed to have an array of anti aircraft artillery and SAM systems. Our intent is to continue to clear ground to the North so we can get eyes on Highway 6, which is apparently being used to reinforce Basra, to the East.
Today the Squadron made its mark on both the Fedayeen and the Battle Group. Ross was flying on an ARP (Armoured Recce Patrol) with a Lynx from 662. Meanwhile we were all packing up camp, as we were moving to a new position a few miles to the East. There is an area about 1km square surrounded by a ten foot high wall which we are going to occupy. At least there we will have a little more security. During his patrol, Ross was engaged by artillery and small arms fire just south of the Euphrates, in the same area I had been flying yesterday. They withdrew and reorganised before probing back into the area and identifying the source, and for the rest of the day subsequent ARPs engaged the Iraqi positions, whilst supporting the HCR. I was all set to go join in later that afternoon, but a faulty IFF kept me on the ground, which was hugely frustrating for both me and Lea. By the end of the day the Lynx missiles had engaged at least three tanks, destroying two T55s, and the Gazelle crews directed our artillery to suppress the enemy fire and brought in Close Air Support.
It was almost dusk by the time my IFF was fixed, and I flew over to the new camp, named ‘Sparta’, and waited with the other aircrew for the road party to arrive. The Lynx flown by Matt and Deaks landed just after dusk, having been engaged up north and returned fire destroying a BMP1 armoured personnel carrier. They had another T55 in their sights but the old TOW missiles went rogue and they were too low on fuel at that stage so they came home. Today has been the first time that an Army Aviation Squadron had engaged enemy armour in war fighting operations.
Dino finally gets a brew
Saturday 29 March
Spent all day at 15mins NTM (notice to move) with the Gazelle and all our kit ready and waiting beside the Ops Tent. It seems that today has been designated a ‘tactical pause’, for nothing is happening. For some relief I grabbed a Harley and rode round the dispersal noting down the position of all the aircraft, and then pinned a diagram on the board in the Ops Tent, which for some reason hadn’t been done yet. At dusk we tied down the cab and put its bubble cover on. After hauling all the kit back over to the flight truck, I was informed I was needed to cover watch-keeper duties until 23:00 local. Very tired.
Sunday 30 March
Sunday has been as it should be, a relaxing day – for me at any rate. A day off the flying program, so did some laundry, drank copious amounts of tea, and read a Jack Higgins from beginning to end. Meanwhile, once again, I was missing a great deal of action to the north. In the same area as two days ago, engagements took place just like Friday. Apparently Iraqi 20mm tracer fire was at one point about five feet over the disk of a Gazelle. A total of 8 missiles were fired by the Lynx, 3 fire missions were conducted from Gazelles and at least two T-55, two 2S1 and a D-30 were destroyed in the action. Callsign W32 from the HCR has apparently been awesome, proving more than helpful pointing out the Iraqi positions. All the aircrew are full of praise for him.
I was told some bad news this evening. Instead of making use of my God-like flying skills, the powers that be have decided that I am to be spending 48hrs at Battle Group Main (co-located) as stand in watch-keeper starting tomorrow. Instead of being at the sharp end, I am at least going to be able to monitor the radio net and hear about it all as it happens. Probably no bad thing as it will be a lot safer. It will be a 6hrs on / 6hrs off shift. Kate will be delighted. Her letters are still a joy to receive, and she sent me one today in which she has cut and pasted some emails from Ali, Jo, Damien, Nick, Pippa and Lu. I got two parcels from Mum too. More melted Ferraro Roche chocolates, pistachio nuts, shortbread and wet wipes. Wonderful.
Tuesday 1 April
At 12:00hrs I started what turns out to be three 8 hr shifts at BG Main. Emily was there listening to the Brigade Net, so I took the Battle Group net as ‘zero’. One of the two signallers was also covering that net, and answered all the short calls and radio checks, so there wasn’t a huge amount for me to do, as not much happened. Relieved at 20:00hrs and went back to my tent for some kip.
Wednesday 2 April
Woke up, had a quick brew and then started again at Main by 04:00hrs. Another casevac (casualty evacuation) occurred at 08:30hrs – an HCR Scimitar had rolled into a water filled ditch, and two of its crew were trapped underwater. The Puma crews were called and briefed, and Al (the Doc) with his team and kit, expecting to be tasked by Brigade. Inexplicably they didn’t task us for several minutes (we can’t authorise the lift without an OK from Bde) preferring to task the dust-off crew at Saffron, way down South. We finally got the go, and sent them off.
Word soon came through that one casualty was stable, but the other was in a bad way. They were both airlifted to the field hospital, but it didn’t look too good for the second chap. How ironic, to drown in the desert. Finished my shift at 12:00hrs and found a pile of letters and parcels on my bergan. Letters from Kate, Gary, Andy, Peter and Lucy, along with three parcels from Kate and Mum. Everyone was amused by Mum’s somewhat eclectic selection of goodies. Some powdered milk in a plastic bag, some swimming goggles and a Reader’s Digest.
Spent a very quiet night at BG Main writing blueys and reading last week’s newspapers. There was meant to be an ARP to go up north and hit a target of six BMPs, but all the Lynx are broke, so it was cancelled. According to the World Service, the three day lull is over, and the US Forces are on the move again, heading for a fight with the Medina Division just South of Baghdad. Good luck to them, cause the Medina Division are meant to be pretty well equipped and trained.
Thursday 3 April
Spent most of today sleeping, recovering from being up all night on watch-keeper duty. I helped build a shower just outside our cam net with a proper sink away – luxury. We celebrated the build with cold cans of coke brought up by the Q man, selling them for a small profit I don’t doubt. Today temperatures reached 38°C and the powers that be have finally decided that we don’t need to wear helmets and CBA all the time, which is quite a relief. Did some laundry and had a glorious shower.
Friday 4 April
I have sun burn from my shower. Doesn’t take long for skin to burn in this heat, as I was only exposed for a while. Lea and I have been on 30mins NTM all day today with… wait for it… no tasks. It seems like I haven’t flown for ages. The news today has the Yanks claiming to be in the vicinity of Baghdad Airport. The Iraqi Information Minister meanwhile claims they are nowhere – " Wandering like a snake in the desert." Got letters from Kate, Clare, Anth & Re and Dad. Apparently they have not yet received any of my letters to them since we crossed the border into Iraq.
Saturday 5 April
On 30mins NTM again today, and still no tasking. What makes it worse is that tomorrow there’s a big operation planned in support of 1 Para, a big show of force with rolling arty barrages, presumably to prevent 6 Div from retreating from Basra into our AOR – and I am not involved. The news reports US Forces in control of the airport, and sending in probing patrol into the suburbs of Baghdad. The Information Minister denies it. I can only imagine the Iraqi Generals are too scared to admit the truth to Saddam, and instead are telling him what he wants to hear.
The desert combat trousers arrived today. The material is much thinner than temperate kit and much more comfortable to wear. Still no boots in my size though. Very glad I bought my own, as my feet would be baking hot in this heat in standard black boots - £70 well spent.
We have run out of water. We still have bottled water to drink, but no washing water. I am sweating constantly. My T-shirt is soaked, even when I am sitting down. At least the wind has picked up a bit this afternoon. Everyone is amused by the amount of tea I am drinking, as it is so hot now. I have found out that the REME have a stash of unleaded petrol, so I traded some biscuits for two bottles of fuel and my dragon-fly MSR is much happier now. They also put some wire-lock wire in my transistor’s broken aerial, so I’d be able to pick up BFBS, but no joy. World service is more informative, but some music would be nice. At least I have my mini discs. My headphones are extremely tatty, and my cell phone is not enjoying all this dust. I think I shall buy myself a new one when I get home.
Celebrating the new shower with a Coke
Claire improvising in the absence of palm trees
Monday 7 April
Awoke feeling decidedly fragile. Got up and had a wash, and put on some tea and the all too familiar boil-in-the-bag ‘bacon & beans’, but in the end couldn’t stomach them. After a while I began to feel rather ill, and told Elvis so when he came and told me I had to go and put in another shift at BG Main as watch-keeper. They were busy moving the bird table out of the tent complex and into the neighbouring building, but finally managed to find a corner of the air cell to sit down in and listen to the net. By this time I was feeling progressively worse, and was extremely relieved to see Rob arrive to take over two hours later. I went straight to the ‘bus stop’ (makeshift wooden structure over the cess pit) to discover I had bad diarrhoea. It took a while to build up confidence to leave the bus stop and make it back to my tent, but I needed to lie down. No sooner than I arrived at our cam net I, very suddenly, and violently, vomited. Fortunately nobody at that time was in the shell-scrape I chose as a receptacle. I collapsed into my tent, much to the amusement of everyone present.
After some fitful sleep, broken by a comical dash for the shell-scrape for another expulsion amid some very unsympathetic laughter, I realised it was stiflingly hot in the tent and adjourned outside onto Claire’s cot. Al (the doc) came to see me later, and suggested I might have to go back. Not sure what he meant and too ill to care. He gave me some drugs to stop the vomiting, and some isotonic powders to re-hydrate me. A few hours later I was informed that I was going to hospital and that I had no choice in the matter. Still feeling extremely bad, I packed some things into a day sack like a zombie, and made my way to the ambulance. Only then did I discover that there were five of us going to the hospital, which was back in Kuwait. The journey took over four hours, and there wasn’t enough space to lie down. Frankly it was hell. We arrived at 201 Field Hospital after dusk, and were attached to intravenous drips. My veins being notoriously hard to find proved elusive to the needle, and I now have a track of needle marks up my arm a drug addict would be proud of.
Typically Matt recognised a rather pretty female doctor he knew, and I remember listening to him chatting to her as I lay half asleep in considerable discomfort. We were shortly moved to a ward, and I can’t tell you how good it felt lying down on a bed, albeit a collapsible trolley, with fresh sheets and a pillow, in an air conditioned tent. Although hungry I slept soundly.
202 Field Hospital, Kuwait
Tuesday 8 April
My drip came out during the night and I pushed it back in, but in the morning the nurses discarded it. Breakfast came and was awful. Bleached baked beans, watery scrambled egg made from powder and a tasteless sausage. Nevertheless I was starving and ate it all. Spent the day dosing and languishing in the cool air. I discovered that outside it was extremely hot, as I visited the port-a-loo. I felt a bit of a malinger and didn’t feel ill at all. I managed to persuade the doc to discharge me along with Matt, and we got a lift back to Camp Eagle in the back of a Land Rover, and successfully met up with the QM. Our Squadron Q bloke is due to pass through on his way back up to the front from Ali Al Salem. Watched a bit of SKY news to check up on how the war was going. Baghdad has pretty much fallen, and Saddam has been hit with four cruise missiles while he was at some restaurant having a secret meeting. Not so secret I guess. Nobody knows if he was killed. Slept on the floor.
Wednesday 9 April
Felt pretty awful after not much sleep and feel stupid not to have packed my sleeping bag. I did bring my bivi bag ( a gore-tex cover), although not much comfort from that. By the time the SQMS turned up I was feeling ill again, and as Matt and I embarked with him on the journey north I was doubled up in the back of the Rover with stomach cramps. 15mins later I was turfed out of the Rover outside the Field Hospital and asked if I wanted to go back in and re-admit myself. I didn’t need to be asked twice. I couldn’t even stand up straight. I stumbled round to the back of the camp trying to figure out where to go, and made it into a port-a-loo before defecating some more diarrhoea. The cramps actually got worse, and by the time I found out where to get in I was in agony. They put another drip in my hand and gave me some ‘buscopan’ for the cramps. Back into the same ward and endured the smirks from the others who were still there.
The pain finally subsided and I resigned myself to the fact that I would be here for a bit. By the late afternoon I was feeling human again, and discovered the best shower in the world. It looked rather gruesome, like a sort of agricultural device or something from Auschwitz, but having undressed I stood in the tent and when it was switched on sprays of cool water came from everywhere. Wonderful.
Thursday 10 April
Last night a nurse woke me up whilst taking out my drip. It had clearly dislodged again and the bed sheets were covered with blood and Hartmann’s solution. The kindly nurse then reappeared with a satellite phone and allowed me a quick five minutes. I called Kate’s mobile, but annoyingly was put through to her answer phone. I left a message, and then wrote her a bluey. I am hoping there’ll be lots of mail waiting for me when I get back to the Squadron. Found a Le Carré book in the hospital, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, and finished it in hours. They’re keeping me here until tomorrow, just in case. Extremely hot outside today – one of the nurses claimed it was 51°C in the sun. The Gazelle can’t fly in temperatures above 45°C so I am wondering if it is affecting operations. Meanwhile I am languishing in the cool air conditioning and relishing every minute.
Friday 11 April
The Doc made his rounds and agreed to discharge me this morning. Only me left here from 663, the others left yesterday. No transport seems to have been arranged for me, so I hitched a lift with the RAO (Regimental Admin Officer) of 7 RHA back to Eagle. Met up with the QM, but he said he wasn’t due to travel up to the front for several days. Apparently the BG is due to move forward up North to a new area of operations, so I figure I had better get a move on if I am going to join up with them before they leave. Not to keen to spend several days at Eagle with no kit, so I managed to organise a lift to HQ 16 Air Assault Bde with an SQMS in 7RHA, in the back of his 4 tonner. I called 3 Regiment AAC on the Ptarmigan and spoke to Hal who was watch keeping at the time, and explained my plan. He said to call him again from Bde HQ and he’d send transport.
Got to Bde HQ just after last light, and found the operations room. Bumped into Lee, an officer who lives in the room opposite mine in the Mess at Wattisham, at the J1/J4 desk, and used his Ptarmigan to call BGHQ. Had a devil of a time getting through, and when I did they fobbed me off saying they were busy with a casevac. Every time I did get through, I spoke to a different person, but they did promise to call back. After waiting an age, I tried again and finally got through to Emily. She hadn’t been told of my whereabouts and told me the vehicle on standby to collect me had been stood down half an hour ago. Typical. They are moving North tomorrow, but she said she’d organise transport for me in the morning if she could. At least I can rely on her.
I found a copy of The Times dated 7th April with a fantastic picture of the Gazelle in front of a burning oil well on the front page. Looks great – and I hope everyone at home has seen it. Not looking forward to sleeping in a bivi bag again. I was looking forward to my sleeping bag tonight.
While I was in hospital it seems that the fighting has pretty much finished, which will relieve Kate enormously. Baghdad has fallen and Saddam is on the run – some say probably out of the Country by now.
April 7th edition of The Times
Saturday 12 April
Awoke before dawn and went back to the operations room and tried the Ptarmigan again, but couldn’t get through. Finally I heard a Gazelle land outside the main gate, and having heard nothing from BGHQ I ventured out to investigate. I was Ginge to pick me up. Hurrah! I jumped in the back and they flew me back to Sparta. Not much left, everyone having already left for the new AOR to the north. I was devastated to discover that they have taken all my kit with them. Really angry. There’s nothing left here apart from Ross, who has taken over from Dino as the Squadron 2ic, and a command post; the Gazelle TCV and a cam net; the Lynx Flight 9x9 tent; two Gazelle and one Lynx are not fit to fly, and are being serviced by the REME. Apparently we are due to move tomorrow, provided the aircraft are ready.
Satellite phones have arrived here, and phone cards have been distributed although my allocation has gone North with the Squadron CP main, so Ross kindly lent me one, and after several failed attempts I managed to get through to Kate. She was on a train station on her way to meet up with Pete and Titch, so I tried to call again an hour later so I could speak to them as well, but I couldn’t get through. Nevertheless, it was absolutely fantastic to hear her voice again after so long, and we had a good long chat. She was very upset that she missed my phone call from the field hospital, and has been keeping her mobile with her constantly from that moment on. Spent yet another night in my clothes, in my bivi bag, on the ground underneath the TCV sheltering from the rain.
Sunday 13 April
Very hot indeed today. Ross has made a decision to low-load the two unserviceable Gazelles north to the new camp, and send the stricken Lynx back to Ali Al Salem, also on low-loader. The other aircraft are flying north today. We will travel by road tomorrow. I have managed to procure myself some rations, so at least I can eat again, but not enough water for a shower. Last time I washed properly was Thursday, and I am dying for a shower. I sunbathed for a bit today for the first time since the war started, as there is nobody around. Found a battered John Grisham to read, which I am enjoying. The flies are becoming a real nuisance – I guess now that there are so few of us here they are all concentrating on us.
Rode one of the Harleys over to the other side of the dispersal to bag and tie down a Gazelle this evening, and couldn’t get it started again to ride back. In the end I pushed it all the way back, a heavy bike across uneven ground, sweat dripping off me. Much laughter greeted me when I finally arrived back at the CP tent. It transpired it had run out of fuel, which alleviated my embarrassment somewhat.
Well again, on the trip back to Iraq
Nick checks I’m OK under the TCV
Monday 14 April
Most amazing electrical storm last night. The lightening was so bright and lit up the whole area like daylight. I cowered under the TCV whilst the rain came down, not heavy but prolonged, lasting most of the night. We struck camp after breakfast, filling in all the trenches and shell scrapes, and helped pack the TCV with all the CP kit. Set off at 07:00hrs Local and were almost immediately held up by the RMP (Royal Military Police) for 30mins due to congestion at the North Rumaylah Bridge. Some locals were wandering around exchanging Iraqi Dinar notes for US Dollars. I bought a two hundred and fifty Dinar note with Saddam’s head on it as a souvenir, for one US$.
I spent the next three hours of the journey doing top cover out on top of the truck’s cabin roof, giving me a great view of the changing scenery. My right arm quickly got very tired with all the waving to the friendly locals. Not allowed to wave with my left arm of course, as it is offensive to Iraqi’s to show them your left hand. During a refuelling stop for the Harley, I was relieved and spent the rest of the journey in the back of the TCV reading the Grisham and snoozing.
We arrived at the new location, a disused airfield near Al Amara, at 14:00hrs Local. Pleasant surprise to find everyone in shorts! Clearly there’s a more relaxed atmosphere here. The Squadron is camped on concrete, on the edge of a dispersal on the northern side of the disused airfield. Sandbags are being used to hold down the tents, with guy ropes attached to large boulders.
The storm warning came in during the evening and it was already quite windy. I was sleeping on Rob’s cot as he is in hospital, as is Bertie. The Gazelle Flight 12 x 12 tents had been erected end on end making one big 12ft x 24ft tent, using sand bags around the base to keep them anchored. At midnight everyone was asleep, and I was awoken by an enormous gust of wind. I lay awake in the darkness listening to the wind howling outside for a couple of seconds, aware of the pressure changing, knowing that the tent was about to be blown away. Sure enough, it went with a flurry of flying objects being hurled all over the place. I felt a body land on my legs, which turned out to be Martin, who had been sleeping at the other end of the tent. I was trapped by his weight and somebody’s mosquito net which had collapsed onto me. The wind was strong and sand laden, and was painful on the exposed areas of skin not in my sleeping bag. Shouts and exclamations from everyone, followed by howls of laughter. I hadn’t uttered a word and the chimp asked if I was OK, thinking my silence was due to me being unconscious. It was quickly ascertained that amazingly nobody was hurt, and we all extricated ourselves from the carnage as it began to rain. Head torches came on and their beams lit up a scene of devastation. Everyone was trying to find their boots and clothes to protect them selves from the sand blasting. After a few minutes the wind died down and I was able to fish out my camera. Then the rain started.
Lea, who was in an arctic tent, poked his head out and calmly asked to be released, as one of the 12 x 12 tents had landed on him. It took about an hour to clean up and unpack and erect some more arctic tents, and the rest took refuge from the rain in the back of the TCV. Our flying tasks for the morning were postponed. Luckily the wind was very localised, and not all the Sqn tents were affected, and more importantly the aircraft were undamaged.
Scene of carnage after storm
Monday 21 April
Groundhog Day syndrome has set in, and has caused me to be remiss with my journal. Lots of sitting around. The flying program is actually quite full, but due to cancellations and unserviceability of aircraft we frequently get stood down. Lots of getting ready for nothing, and getting ready for flights takes some time and effort, so it is extremely annoying. I spent a whole day this week ground running one cab, trying to get the main rotor blades balanced. It’s hot and uncomfortable, and even when ground-running the temperature in the bubble is higher than the OAT (outside air temp).
Phoned Kate today and had a good conversation. I am not missing her so much now that I am able to talk with her. The Sqn has been issued with a second satellite phone, and there’s a booking list in the CP with half hourly slots, but the cards only have 20minutes on them and we get issued only one card a week. I still have a couple though, as I didn’t get to use mine initially as I was in hospital and then stuck down in Sparta. I am finding it difficult to make my slots as well as I am frequently working
without much notice.
I flew for three hours on Saturday with Lea, providing support for 3 Para to the east. We flew up and down the border with Iran and then across their AOR trying to find routes that Iranian insurgents are using to infiltrate Iraqi villages. Rob and Bertie got back from hospital that day. I am using Claire’s cot in the 12 x 12 as she is sleeping in her tent for a bit of privacy, and now Rob and Bertie are back and need somewhere to sleep I too have put up my own tent.
Easter Day yesterday, and it was supposed to be a no flying day, but we were given a tasking in the end, and there were also lots of air tests to be done. I received three parcels yesterday. One from Gary containing loads of mozi-coils which burn slowly and produce smoke which repels the mosquitoes. Kate and Mum sent me food parcels with loads of melted chocolate. Pete wrote two letters, and also got letters from Charmian, Alex and Lucy, all of which were most welcome indeed.
Tuesday 22 April
Early morning call at 05:00 Local ready for a tasking with the HCR. Shortly after getting up it deluged with rain. Water washed into the 12 x 12 through the windows and on the concrete. Everyone frantically getting up and moving their kit from the floor and onto their cots. Mud everywhere. No time for a brew or breakfast. Didn’t lift until 08:00 in the end, with an HCR Captain in the back to recce the area to the north east. The Rivers are really high, breaking their banks in places and flooding the fields. We then flew a SSgt on the same route, and returning we discovered that the Sqn foot patrol led by Cappy had got stuck at a bridge that had washed away. By mid afternoon the temperature was up to 34°C again.
The afternoon’s task was cancelled at the last minute, so I played Dino at chess again. Last time I beat him twice, this time it was one all. Had a shower, and got back to the tent to discover another parcel from Kate had arrived, full of M&Ms, wet wipes, jaffa cakes and a copy of Stuff magazine and Esquire. Also a parcel from Pete full of Ferrero Roché which proved popular with everyone, who are now calling me ‘ambassador’.
Friday 25 April
I’m missing Kate quite a lot at the moment. She is sending letters every day this week, and they only take 48hrs to get to me. I have managed to get through on the phone a few times, but recently I keep missing my slot times.
Today has been spent on a Sqn exercise delivering water, rice and diesel in under slung loads to 26 small communities to the south west of our location. The Gazelle don’t have many hours left on them before major servicing, so we could only fly up until lunchtime. 36°C today and very little wind. The weather has been great since the rain on Tuesday, and there has been a lot of sunbathing going on. Jez was cooking his supper in his little tent last night and foolishly left it unattended. Lea noticed the flames licking up the sides of his mosquito net through the slightly open door, and managed to put the fire out before it spread.
Finished reading the Billy Connelly biography Kate sent me, and Dean is just back from Basra where he has been celebrating Australia Day and getting pretty drunk from the sounds of it. Meanwhile the REME are apparently unhappy with Gazelle Flight’s attitude. Elvis seems to be the main protagonist, but I’m not quite sure what has caused it all. General mud-slinging is now the form, although I am glad to say they still seem quite happy with me personally. In fact I seem to have avoided all the personal rows that have blown up whilst we’ve been out here.
Saturday 26 April
It was very windy last night. A little rain, and on throughout the day. The floor of the tent got a bit wet but nothing drastic. No flying for me today, so played a bit of baseball, listened to music and went for a jog around the perimeter. It has been hot now for a while, and we are acclimatised, but with any exertion at all the sweat simply streams out. Staying hydrated means drinking water almost constantly. We are keeping the plastic bottles of drinking water cool by wrapping them with wet sweat-rags or towels. Towels are better as the sweat-rags dry out too quickly. This afternoon Ian Jones, the embedded Telegraph photographer, took several official photographs of various elements of the Battle Group. He has promised to give the Regiment copies on disc, and I am determined to get copies for myself.
Afterwards I phoned Kate, and got through after several attempts, for a quick chat. The main issue is the date of our return. There are lots of rumours about who will be staying out here, and some have even volunteered. However, I am keen to get back home as soon as possible and spend some time with Kate – maybe go on holiday with her provided she can get time off work. She has apparently been saving up her leave, so that shouldn’t be a problem. Not that I’m being starved of relaxation time out here. The crossword has provided the most stress of the day. Martin and I usually grab the Times 2 supplement and between us manage to complete them. Very close today, but cooler this evening so hopefully it will be easier to get to sleep tonight.
Tuesday 29 April
On Monday Dino and Lea departed for Ali Al Salem. They are flying back to the UK early as Dino is leaving the Army and returning to Australia, and Lea is posted to Germany. Flew a REME technician down to Basra for a couple of spare parts with Rob today. Whilst there we had a fried breakfast with eggs for the first time in ages. Divisional HQ is there, established in the terminal building at Basra International, a large air conditioned building with large and empty departure lounges with marble floors and check-in desks. It was rather strange to be walking on carpet and being in a building again for the first time since – well, since leaving Brize in fact. They had a shop there too, selling perfume of all things. Not much use for that out here, surely. Visited the air-cell upstairs and marvelled at all the technology. We were going to give them a hard time for messing us about so much, but before we had the chance, they started bemoaning the fact that the Div had no clue how to use the Air Corps properly, and constantly send them ridiculous taskings. Allegedly, the bone tasks we get in Amara isn’t a patch on what they filter out. A different world.
Basra International Airport Terminal Building
We flew another 3 Para Sergeant up to the Iranian border area this afternoon. All in all a very good day indeed, with over four hours of flying time.
Thursday 1 May
Yesterday Jim and Nick flew in the same area we did on Tuesday, up and down the border with Iran, and they received small arms fire from the Iran side. No damage to the aircraft thankfully, but it gave them quite a start as the fighting period stopped for us a while back. The powers that be have now instigated a two kilometre wide no-fly zone to prevent something similar happening in the future.
There has been a clamp down on what we are going to be allowed to take back to the UK in terms of souvenirs. Obviously no weapons or ammunition, but they also say no flags, no military equipment, and no currency. Everyone is dismayed, but now they are trying to find good hiding places in the trucks for their Iraqi helmets and flags etc. I am not bothered about souvenirs, but I have got an Iraqi bank note which I shall keep quiet about. I’m sure they won’t miss one note, especially as it is not legal tender anymore. I am also quite keen to procure one of the escape & evasion silk maps we carry in our LCJs. (load carrying jerkin) Will have to trade with the RAF safety equipment fitters.
Rumours are still rife about our return dates. The latest is that we are handing over our AOR to 1 Para on the 4th May. It is to be 662 Squadron who are staying. They are moving down to Basra with five Lynx to be ready by the 4th. Jez has volunteered to stay out here until the end of July to try and hours build, as there will clearly be no flying back in England for a while. I wonder what his wife will say about that! However, most of the aircrew staying are not happy about it at all. I have phoned Kate and Mum & Dad, and they are very pleased to hear that I am coming home, as am I. Life isn’t too bad here though. The flying rate is about to be severely curtailed though, as the REME are putting their collective foot down and want to make a start on all the delayed servicing. They have not been able to maintain peacetime servicing schedules as they were supposed to. If they had, they could not have provided the aircraft required. It seems to be a case of the hierarchy covering themselves from any responsibility for any potential accidents.
The daily temperatures differ from between 30°C and 40°C. There has been ample time to sunbathe recently, but I have been cautious and have not yet suffered from sunburn, as some have. Today we took a young Sapper on a jolly around the local area, showing him the abandoned tanks, armoured personnel carriers and artillery pieces. A later flight of the same type was cancelled as the other Gazelle went unserviceable. That might be my last flight, unless I am chosen to fly back to Kuwait in a few days’ time.
Emily and Charlie, two of the watch-keepers at BGHQ, have been sent home to prepare for their conversion courses at Wallop. This means Officers from the Squadrons will have to stand in for them. Claire and I have been chosen to do it from 663, and we have four six-hour stags between us, so not too bad. Unfortunately it meant I missed a great Gazelle group photo, which is quite annoying.
Last night Nick treated us to a dinner made up of nibbles sent to him by his wife, Kate, in eight parcels. It consisted of small bottles of red wine, sun dried tomatoes, humus, bread, taramasalata, dates, figs, olives, etc Absolutely wonderful to eat something other than boil in the bag pasta / meatballs and the like and we all toasted Nick’s wife. I told Kate about it on the phone and she was very distraught that she hadn’t thought I would be allowed to receive wine.
At last – real food!
Friday 2 May
Got up at 01:30hrs and walked over to BGHQ to relieve Hal on watch keeper. Quiet duty as you might imagine. Read GQ, wrote to Kate (enclosing the Iraqi banknote) and read more of the book Pete sent me – Red Gold by Alan Furst. At the end of my stag I went back to the Sqn location and had breakfast – how I have grown to love those little packets of bacon and beans – and then I helped clean a cab. Too hot to sleep, so after lunch I helped clean another cab and then did a ground run. Everyone was playing baseball but I was too tired to join in. Den has gone off to the RAP (Regimental Aid Post) with diarrhoea and the Chimp has gone over on his ankle during baseball and is now hobbling around using a tent pole for a crutch. Received five parcels from Kate and Mum. Wow! New headphones which I can actually hear my music with, a new saucepan, magazines… excellent. I am on an unexpected task tomorrow, which is the icing on the cake.
Saturday 3 May
Up at 05:00 ready for task. Long day but only managed just over three hours’ flying due to Lynx unserviceability. A hot 37°C today, and flew with Rob again to pick up a Brigadier from up north and bring him back just before dusk. Missed my phone slot again. Very tired, and want to go home now.
Sunday 4 May
Sunburn on my thighs – thank God Mum sent ‘after sun’ cream. Finished the book, and felt a bit cheated by the abrupt ending. It never really got going for me. Cleaned another cab today and did a bit of laundry, but apart from that it has been a very quiet day indeed. Still no confirmation of flights home, but we are all banking on the 18th. Apparently RHQ is arguing for us to bypass the three day stop at Condor and drive directly to Ali.
A camel spider joined me in my tent last night. It must have been on my clothes somewhere. I noticed a lightening fast pale blur race past me as I sat in the torch light writing a letter, and it went into one of my training shoes, so I stuffed a sock into it and unzipped the door and placed it outside. Next morning I gingerly took out the sock and there was a sleepy yellow white spider as big as my palm. They are flesh eaters, which anaesthetize a small patch of flesh and then eats his fill as you sleep. They move so unbelievably fast. When I knocked it out of my trainer it ran over the top of my tent and off across the dirt, quickly becoming camouflaged.
The flies have been a major pain here at Amara. After dusk if we show any light source outside the tents, it is immediately surrounded by millions of gnats and midges. Therefore, if we sit out at the table at night we put a torch a little way away from us to draw them all away. During the day it is the flies that are bothersome, and there is no getting rid of them, other than to have frequent culls. Folded old newspapers used as fly swats seem to be quite effective, and passes the time well – but does leave a rather bloody mess on the table top which then has to be scrubbed with bleach. As an alternative I have started to use a flame thrower, made out of a deodorant can and a cigarette lighter. Inspired by the old joke ‘What do you call a fly with no wings? A walk.’ It doesn’t kill them but it burns their wings off. A carefully timed spark & spray can produce a short burst of flame turning several flies at once into easier walking targets. It all sounds rather callous as I sit an write this now, but they are a health hazard, and one cannot eat without several flies landing on ones spoon on its way from food packet to mouth, which is of course revolting.
I managed to miss my phone slot again last night due to a timing mix up. Kate will be wondering why I haven’t called. I can’t wait to get back to Kuwait, where I will be able to use my cell phone to text her.
Monday 5 May
Just had a much needed and very welcome shower, despite night having fallen and midges, chiggers and sand flies (very small but sting like a wasp) are thick in the air – thankfully they left me more or less alone. My solar shower had just enough heat left in the water from the days’ hot sun to be comfortably refreshing. It was 37°C today, and very sweaty in the cockpit. Bursts of laughter are coming from the TV area. It sounds like somebody’s bought the Jackass video. The drinking water bottles are still warm from the sun, but quench my thirst nonetheless. I note with interest they are coming from Tesco now. First we had water from Saudi Arabia, then Buxton, then France and now Tesco.
I flew four hours today with Rob, another task for 3 Para. On the way home flying into the setting sun I noticed some pylons just in time to climb over them, which woke us both up a bit. Not a good time to crash, not now - at the end. We handed our AOR over to 1 Para this morning at 08:00, but we’re still tasking until Thursday. After which time it’s pack up and get out of here, and I for one cannot wait. I am longing to walk down the street to the pub with Kate, preferably on a recently dampened pavement, and sit in clean, odourless and ‘fly free’ surroundings drinking a cool G&T. What bliss.
I am reading Bill Bryson’s Down Under at the moment, and it makes me think of Kate all the more, especially as he talks about Broken Hill quite a bit. I have just phoned her and had a good long chat. I am feeling guilty I haven’t written to her very much during the past few days, but I’ll be home soon. Gary is heading back to Australia soon, but I hope to make it back just before he goes.
Thursday 8 May
Yesterday was very hot, about 42°C apparently. No flying for me, so I spent most of the day sitting in the sun with my feet in a bowl of water and wet towels around me. We had a brief by the Al the Doc, the psychologist and the Padre about PTSD and the difficulties we might face integrating back into society. Frankly I can’t see there being a problem as none of us have seen much horror. I suppose they are duty bound to give the presentation though. They told us that when we get back we will be expected to go to work as normal for the first week, before taking our post-operational leave. This will ease our integration back into family life. Clearly this is far from ideal for me as Kate is in London and I can’t easily commute the two and a half hour trip. Not happy.
Today it is meant to be the last day of tasking for 663 Sqn, and last night it looked promising – a whole day of flying planned. However this morning it turned out that we only had one serviceable Gazelle with two lines of tasks, so My trip with 1 Para was cancelled. An overcast day, quite windy and rain showers turning the dust into mud. Cappy’s advance party (he’s he Squadron Sergeant Major) has left for Ali Al Salem this morning. Two of the Gazelle will have to be low loaded down to Ali, leaving five, which are apparently now all unserviceable but have been given a one-flight only dispensation.
It seems the boat will be at the docks and ready to load from the 11th to the 13th. The flights out could be as early as one day after that. Home by the 16th maybe, just in time for the weekend! Shame we didn’t make the bank holiday. Meanwhile we have packed up camp, the tents are all down and cam nets rolled up and fixed to the top of the trucks. I have been picked to fly one of the cabs down to Kuwait, which is excellent news and has put me in a very good mood. As I am leaving the Army next year, and I expect there will be very little flying for us in the UK for months, we’ll all go un-current and there’ll be no reason to waste valuable hours on me. Therefore tomorrow’s flight will undoubtedly be my last ever.
This afternoon the rest of the Squadron drove south, leaving a few REME technicians, the flight truck and us aircrew with the cabs. Tomorrow we’re flying down to Ali Al Salem directly. Everyone is excited at the prospect of leaving, and we have been giving all our luxuries to the guys who are staying on with 662 Sqn.
Waiting for passenger in the heat
Last night in Iraq
Friday 9 May
An early start, quick breakfast and brew, and then we packed our individual tents away and loaded up the cabs ready for the flight to Kuwait. Thankfully there were no problems with the aircraft, and we all flew the one and a half hour sortie safely down to Ali. We were directed to land on a different area of the airfield, where the cabs will be prepared for their final flight down to the docks before they are semi-dismantled for the boat voyage home. It feels weird to be back here again, but fantastic to have some decent food to eat, and we all gorged on fresh fruit and fresh vegetables, ice cream and Mountain Dew.
Saturday 10 May
We had to go back down to the dispersal and clean the cabs thoroughly before their flight down to the docks. It is extremely hot, and the high pressure water pump which we borrowed from the Yanks was a good way of keeping cool.
Sunday 11 May
There are apparently several flights back to Brize over the next few days, and we will be allocated places on those flights on an ad hoc basis. The flight lists will published every day in the Regimental ops tent, and we all hustled down there this afternoon to see whether our names are on the list for tomorrow. However names are changed at practically the last minute due to priority of position. There is a lot of work to be done once we get home for some, and as I am not one of them I fear it will be days before I get allocated flight. Meanwhile we sunbathe and visit the shop at the other end of the airfield. They have finally established proper shower facilities here, open for a few hours in the mornings and evenings. Same rules as at Camp Eagle, but glorious to be so clean. There is also access to the Yanks’ washing machines in their camp next to ours, and I did a wash today. Properly clean clothes wear makes such a difference as opposed to washing uniforms in a bowl. Most of us are slopping around in PT kit now. There is an air of a holiday camp, which the Regimental Sergeant Major is doing his best to stamp out.
Tuesday 13 May
It is Mum’s birthday today. It’s a shame I couldn’t be back in time for it, as it would have been a perfect present, but I guess the news of my imminent return is just as good. I am aware of how worried Mum and Kate have been while I’ve been out here. Apparently James, my Godson, has been terribly worried also, which is very touching. Jim has bought a Kuwaiti shirt and looks worryingly authentic in it.
Jim - gone native
Ross and Claire
Wednesday 14 May
I am on the list for tomorrow’s flight. I am not going to ‘count my chickens’ as I know names change frequently, but I am praying hard they don’t.
Thursday 15 May
Today I left Ali in a civilian bus along with Brendan and a whole bunch of 663 officers. We have to go through movements control, which is twenty miles in the opposite direction to the Kuwait City Airport, but at this stage nobody really cares. When we arrived at the control point we found a couple of tents and a generator in the middle of nowhere. We had to queue for about three hours before we were processed. In the processing tent, we found a metal detector machine incongruously standing in the middle of the tent, through which we had to walk. Once through we were shepherded into a compound with several port-a-loos and an open sided tent for shade, although there wasn’t enough room for everybody. We waited there in the 45°C heat for another couple of hours before we were allowed back on the bus. I am glad we are leaving before it gets any warmer.
More waiting at the airport
A bit of last minute sunbathing
There was more waiting when we arrived at the airport. We found a shop and I got rid of my last eighty US Dollars on an impulse purchase: a pair of Ray Bans. We played a bit of chess and sat in sought refuge from the uncomfortably hot sun in the shade of the bus. Finally at dusk we boarded the plane and set off for home. Couldn’t sleep much during the seven hour flight. The RAF Tri-Star was very noisy, but I was so pleased to be flying home I really didn’t care.
Friday 16 May
It was a chilly morning when we alighted at Brize, and we waited hours for the transport to arrive and take us back to Wattisham. Nobody was allowed to meet us at Brize as there would have been chaos. Thousands of troops are returning from the gulf, and Brize isn’t big enough to handle all the families wanting to come and pick up their soldier boys. I had ensured that my cell phone was fully charged though, and phoned everyone assuring them that I was safely back in England. Mum and Dad wanted to drive up to Wattisham and meet me, but due to the unpredictable transport timings and the onset of rush hour I put them off. Just as well really, as we didn’t get back to Wattisham until 18:00. There was a small gathering of families at the hangar as we drove in, and quite a few tears. After I filled in the requisite forms, I dragged my bags back to the officer’s mess, called Kate, had a shower, changed clothes and phoned for a taxi to take me to Stowemarket Station. I slept soundly on the train to Liverpool St. and took a tube across London to Fulham where Kate was waiting for me with a meal, open arms and tears in her eyes.