Estonian troops don’t quit the sauna, even in Helmand
There are a large number of coalition forces under the ISAF banner; all highly professional and all working towards a common goal. Each nation though likes to recreate a little piece of home at their base wherever possible and this is no different for the ‘crazy Estonians’ (their words, not mine!) who decided to build themselves a sauna.
Captain Georgi Kokoshinski, in his own words, tells the story of how the temperature in Helmand just wasn’t hot enough for the Estonians.
When the temperature in Southern Afghanistan will rise to the middle of fifties in summer it feels pretty hot and uncomfortable for someone. There are places in Helmand where troops enjoy even higher temperature and do it voluntarily with pleasure.
British partners in Helmand, Estonians tend to build saunas to the locations where they are stationed at. For Estonians it`s like bringing a piece of home and luxury to the desert.
One of the two saunas built by Estonians in Helmand is located at the Camp Bastion`s Estonian National Support Element area. The sauna in main British base has been established in an old sea container. Inside the container there is a steam room with an electric heater for four, showers for two, relaxing area with the fridge and the terrace. The temperature in sauna is usually between 80 °C (176 °F) and 110 °C (230 °F).
Sergeant Major Hanno Pärnaste, QM, Estonian National Support Element-10, said:
“It`s in everyday use. Our troops like to use the sauna in order to relax and just to socialize. Especially it was crowded during the winter months when the temperature outside fell close to the zero.
Our British colleagues think that we are crazy. Some say that you go to sauna and start to hit each other with the birch branches. It is common in Nordic countries and actually it improves the blood circulation. But here we are usually in shortage of the birch branches.”
The second sauna is a simpler one and it is used by the Estonian Company in Patrol Base Wahid in northern Nad-e Ali, where Estonians are serving alongside British and Afghan troops.
Couple of months ago one of the Estonian NCO`s welded a new wood burning heater for sauna. This time it`s bigger than the previous one and gives more heat to the steam room. The steam room is established in an insulated old compound. In Wahid troops are using old wooden pallets for heating the sauna. It`s not the perfect material but in Helmand where most of the landscape is covered with desert it works just fine.
First Lieutenant Meelis Tasa, Mortar Platoon Leader, Estonian Company (EST COY-11), said:
“It`s a mixture of traditions, sense of home, hygiene and a good sleep. That`s why we like to go to sauna. Besides Estonians some British troops visit the sauna in Wahid as well.”
Sergeant Martin Niinepuu, Mortar Section Leader, Estonian Company (EST COY-11), said:
“It helps me to relax and gives a sense of home. During the winter we had the sauna twice a week, now that it`s warmer usually once a week. Estonians are trying to take a piece of home everywhere they go; sauna is a good example for that.”
Most of the 164 Estonian troops in Afghanistan are based in Patrol Base Wahid and surrounding checkpoints in northern Nad-e Ali, where they work alongside British troops from 3rd Battalion the Parachute Regiment to drive out insurgent elements, restore peace and stability to communities, and develop the capability of Afghanistan’s own armed forces.