Afghanistan diary: Day One

All week Newsbeat is with British troops in Afghanistan for a series of special reports on life in one of the world’s most dangerous countries. In her first diary entry, Sima Kotecha explains what it’s like on the long journey to Camp Bastion, the biggest British military base in Afghanistan.

The first thing that hit me was a chocolate chip muffin.

On board the Air Finland Boeing 727 at Brize Norton airport, a group of soldiers at the front were playing around. One of them chucked his cake at a soldier behind me but hit me instead. You have to expect some collateral damage. They roared with laughter.

Around 30 Royal Marine Commandos were on their way to Afghanistan with us. They looked smart and purposeful in their desert camouflage combat suits. Some cracked jokes, others went to sleep, and a couple just looked out of their windows deep in thought.

I found myself wondering about their backgrounds: Was this the first time they were being deployed or had they been to a war zone before? Were they scared? And how did they deal with the pain of saying goodbye to their families?

I’m heading to Afghanistan for 10 days and my parents are worried. Imagine having your son or daughter there for months at a time? It can’t be easy.

The flight was tough. It seemed to go on forever, and Pete, my producer, was snoring away. He spends his life in war zones so this is nothing new for him. I try and take comfort from his relaxed attitude.

I chatted to a woman soldier who was sitting across the aisle for me. Her blonde hair and gold rimmed glasses matched her uniform. She flicked her fringe off her face as she told me this was her first trip to Afghanistan.

She said she was going to be driving soldiers from FOB (forward operating base) to FOB. She admitted she was nervous but explained ‘a job’s a job’. I noticed she was wearing a wedding ring. We landed in Dubai, UAE, around three-ish local time. Our flight to Camp Bastion was supposed to be a couple of hours later. Instead, it was delayed for five hours. Not funny. It was the last thing we needed after having not slept the night before.

Camp Bastion facts

Number of personnel: 14,500

UK troops: 4,800

US troops: 9,000

Civilians: 700

Average daily post delivery into theatre: 300 bags

In the 40-plus degree heat, we were all guided to a white hut at the end of the runway. We were given tons of food, but soldier grub doesn’t seem to be vegetarian friendly.

Finally, our Royal Air Force jet was ready to take us to our destination. I put my body armour and helmet on and got on the plane. The seats were around the edge of the aircraft. The Captain told me I was in safe hands. He was handsome and looked like someone who should be a Hollywood actor rather than a pilot.

Midnight local time and we got to Camp Bastion, the biggest British military base in Afghanistan. I knew it was going to be big but not this big. Hundreds of tents lined the ground. Chinooks hovered above ferrying troops in and out in a constant chain of noisy activity. The clattering sound made me think of the old TV war series, MASH.

The Media Operations people welcomed us with a cup of tea and biscuits. It had been a long day and an army brew was just what the doctor ordered.

Wow, I’m in Afghanistan, I thought. But the English tea tasted better than ever.