From Kelso to Kabul: Camp Bastion arrival

A view over Camp Qarga and the Afghan National Army Officer Academy in Kabul, Afghanistan at sunrise.
A view over Camp Qarga and the Afghan National Army Officer Academy in Kabul, Afghanistan at sunrise.

In the second and third instalments of our new series, ‘From Kelso to Kabul’, our special columnist, Union Jack, finally reaches Afghanistan.

Although the journey from Kelso was very familiar, as I approached RAF Brize Norton I had no idea what lay ahead.

But RAF logistics worked perfectly: a driver appeared with a van to take me to the armoury, where I was issued with the same weapons I had practiced with the previous week, before depositing me at the terminal.

Our departure was in the wee small hours, so I attempted to sleep on a bench in the lounge using my body armour as a rather hard pillow, unsure of what conditions I would encounter onboard.

Fortunately, our flight to the Middle East was on a chartered airliner, so the remainder of my sleep was very comfortable.

A faulty tyre valve meant extra time in the heat before we boarded an RAF C17 for the flight into Afghanistan.

More experienced fliers, such as the military courier sat next to me, kept pillows in their hand luggage, others just stretched out on the metal floor of the cargo jet. The flight itself was uneventful and we landed safely in the middle of the night at Camp Bastion, the home of the UK’s Task Force Helmand.

Having been met by the efficient reception team as soon as we landed, not long before dawn, our first day (day zero) was a rest and acclimatisation day, since the weather in the Helmand desert is rather warmer than Roxburghshire and Camp Bastion is 3,000ft above sea-level, or 2,860ft above Kelso.

Staging days one to five were a mixture of lectures and practical exercises as we reinforced our counter improvised explosive devices (CIED) training, learned how to escape from upturned vehicles, better understand Afghan culture and practice close quarters marksmanship.

We were informed of the dress codes for Camp Bastion during a forceful presentation by the Scots Dragoon Guards Garrison Sergeant Major.

Finally, six days after driving off from Kelso, I boarded the C130 for the onward move intra-theatre flight from Camp Bastion to Kabul International Airport. The officer I was relieving was a long-time friend and media operations colleague, who fortunately had a vehicle handy to carry all my kit, two large hold-alls and a military rucksack, as well as all my body armour and my assault rifle.

Moving into my container accommodation was ironic, having worked in the container shipping industry for the last 10 years.

I had just a few days integration period before my predecessor headed home to his family.

And so, eight weeks after receiving my call-out letter at home in the Borders, I was in uniform as the Deputy Chief of Public Affairs for the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) Joint Command Headquarters, based at North Kabul International Airport (North KAIA).