From Kelso to Kabul: This week it’s life with the paras for Union Jack

US Paratroops on parade in combat uniform being filmed by Afghan TV at the transfer ceremony at Camp Spann
US Paratroops on parade in combat uniform being filmed by Afghan TV at the transfer ceremony at Camp Spann

One of the great things about being a public affairs officer is that you seldom do anything boring, since boring events are not newsworthy.

And events which are not newsworthy are therefore of no interest to the media. However, this doesn’t prevent one being involved in routine staff work, which is what I have been doing for most of my time on tour.

In 2001, Micheal Spann became the first American to be killed in Afghanistan.

Enabling media coverage of the ceremony to mark the closure of the camp named after him was the reason I was able to escape the ‘office’ and travel north to the east of the city of Mazar e Sharif.

First stop was a helicopter flight to Camp Spann on the west of the city and meeting members of the 2nd Battalion of the US Army’s 82nd Airborne Division.

The tens of paras of B company were the last of up to 2,000 armed forces and contractor personnel at Camp Spann, who have trained Afghan Army personnel at the extensive Camp Shaheen, which surrounds Camp Spann on three sides.

Life for these American warriors was becoming increasingly spartan as the various camp facilities were closed down, including the laundry and dining facility.

As their role as ‘guardian angels’ for the trainers living in Camp Spann and working at Camp Shaheen had decreased ahead of the base transfer, their commander, Captain Bryan Blackburn, had arranged various activities to keep his men occupied.

On our first visit, this involved a marksmanship test.

Capt Blackburn handed me his American M4 automatic rifle and invited me to attempt the same test. Given it was the first time I had held an M4, I didn’t do too badly and no-one was injured, except the target – occasionally.

Touring Camp Shaheen resulted in another first – riding in the back of an US MRAP (Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected) vehicle.

On day two, I had my first chance to fly in a Bell 212 Twin Huey helicopter – derived from the famous UH-1 of the Vietnam war era.

Our final trip to Camp Spann was to cover the closure ceremony and I was able to observe the paras conducting ceremonial duties as they lowered the US flag for the last time before handing over control to their Afghan colleagues.

As each speech was given in English and Dari this meant the simple ceremony lasted an hour, and since it was conducted at 1300hrs, I left with rather darker face and arms than I had arrived with.