1000 on a hot and dusty Wednesday morning.
We all set off looking quite fresh and chirpy considering it was the middle of the night, but then we were excited at the prospect of going home – whether on R&R or at the end of a long tour.
By the early hours of Thursday in Bastion departure ‘lounge’, the brew kits had been pillaged, the Kitkats were sold out in the little snack bar, and even re-runs of Top Gear on the BFBS TV screen were no longer holding people’s attention.
Just in time, the oft-mentioned ‘sirs, ma’ams, ladies and gents’ was bellowed across the hall and we were on our way out to the mine-taped pen on the airfield eagerly awaiting the loud hum of props and the welcome sight of the green belly of the Hercules ready to swallow us up.
A short half-hour later in the middle of the night, we landed in Kandahar. After disentangling our identical bergans and bags and humping them onto the coach, we were shipped through the darkness to a row of tents. Then another ‘sirs, ma’ams, ladies and gents’ brief before being directed by torchlight to a large collection of camp beds. Time to get our heads down for a couple of hours.
Thursday…. Daylight brought another ‘sirs, ma’ams etc’ brief.
A day of sitting in a tent watching DVDs and drinking tea was punctuated by our first reporting time around lunchtime followed by a second well after dark.
Eventually, locked and loaded onto the ageing Tristar, we trundled along the runway in the very early hours of Friday morning and back up into the skies of Afghanistan.
Friday….with dawn breaking over the Middle East far below, the never-ending supply of orange squash was interrupted. Trolleys were wheeled down the aisles laden with cans of beer. Safely out of Afghan airspace, we were treated to a celebratory can of ale each, courtesy of the generous people of Britain and some of our best-known breweries. Refreshing and symbolic, but somewhat unorthodox when served with our breakfast of omelette, sausage and bacon. But I didn’t see anyone complaining.
It wasn’t long before we were welcomed onto Cyprus soil for a quick refuelling stop, then herded back on board. So close now, not one of us was sleeping. As we got closer, we all craned out the windows for our first sight of Blighty.
Grey, rainy, lush, green, busy, traffic – it has never looked quite so appealing.
48 hours, 15 cups of tea, 3 aircraft, 7 coach and car journeys, a handful of wet wipes and one can of lager later, our dishevelled bunch arrived slightly less fresh, a tad less chirpy but no less excited to finally have made it home in one piece.
Now it’s off for a bath, crisp clean sheets and that bucket of wine I’ve been promising myself. A long journey perhaps, but thoroughly worth it to finally be home.