27 Sqn RAF Chinook det back in Helmand
Hi my name is Sgt Barry ‘J’ Fulton and I am a Weapons Systems Operator on the Chinook Helicopter. I joined the Royal Air Force in 2002 as an Intelligence Analyst and in 2005 was selected to become aircrew. I am now a member of 27 Sqn and based at RAF Odiham in Hampshire.
After what was fast becoming our ritual “pre-deployment bbq “, at Odiham we boarded the bus bound for Brize Norton and considering the time of night we were all in surprisingly high spirits! We arrived to find that we had a six hour delay so while some of us passed the time by donning our sleeping bags with a good book, others decided that this would be a perfect opportunity to test out our new indoor golf putting set. After a few rounds of “terminal golf”, we boarded the plane bound for Minhad. A couple of hours later there was a seamless transition from the A300 to the C17, next stop, Bastion.
We arrived at Bastion and went straight to bed to prepare ourselves for RSOI (Reception Staging and Onward Integration) a few hours later. I immediately noticed the difference in temperature and it made the glorious English Summer’s day that we left behind two days before seem like it was the middle of Winter! We had 2 days of RSOI and then moved into our temporary accommodation until our predecessors, 18 Sqn A Flight, handed over the flying duties to us. The handover went smoothly and it would not be long before 27 Sqn B Flight would be assuming the responsibilities of the Chinook Force in Helmand.
One of the main things that I had noticed in the first few days of being here is that of the sheer magnitude of the place in comparison to when we were here last summer. It dawned on me when someone mentioned “Bastion Four”,….. FOUR?!? Bastion Two had just been built when we left last year and since then it has just expanded beyond belief. The facilities here are increasingly becoming more homely; there is now a central gymnasium with excellent facilities and the old tents that we used to eat in have been replaced by a large dining facility that would give some “All Inclusive Holidays”, a good run for their money! Everywhere you look there seems to be improvements being made to the infrastructure and aside from the heat and the sand it is bearing some resemblance to that of any military establishment in the UK.
We were very quickly placed into our designated crews and started to undertake the flying duties that we are to hold for the next ten weeks or so. Some of our guys went straight onto IRT (Immediate Response Team) which is the most important role that the Chinook Force fulfils out here. We work closely with the MERT (Medical Emergency Response Team) and are on constant 24/7 standby ready to go anywhere at any time, be it a designated Forward Operating Base or a random field in the middle of the green zone to recover any of our injured coalition troops or members of the local Afghan population. This task is often undertaken in the most uncomfortable circumstances; in low night light levels, in dust-storms, when time is against us and enemy fire incoming. This is a role in which I personally feel an overwhelming sense of satisfaction in making a small difference in the here and now.
Whilst one crew concentrates on IRT duties the rest of us assume the role of resupplying the troops on the ground. This can be anything from food, water and ammunition to generators for power and bridges for river crossings. We often move troops from one area to another and albeit not always a huge distance (a comparison would be that of moving passengers around a county the size of Hampshire) the moves are done by air to ensure that the troops are moved expeditiously to their targets as a pose to the routes being made slower if undertaken by road.
We are settling in nicely to the tempo of operations and we are just as busy now as we always have been. One of the things I have noticed is that if you take away the threat from this whole situation how aesthetically pleasing it is. It is hard to believe at this time of year when the harvest is at its peak and when we are flying over the poppies in full bloom covering the ground below with the unassuming farmers tending to their crops and their families going about their daily business that we are not in another less hostile part of the world.
We are two weeks into our tour now and as the poppy harvest continues we are being kept busy with 16 Air Assault leaving after their tour of duty and being replaced by 3 Commando Brigade. It is a good feeling when we see the troops getting on board our aircraft homeward bound and their successors eager to undertake the challenges that lie ahead. As for the Chinook Force, we strive to continue to provide the best support for the boys and girls on the ground we can.