Wing Commander Simon Ling, a long time supporter of the RAF Benevolent Fund, has just completed a six month Afghan deployment as part of a tri-service logistics team. In the first of three blogs, Simon reveals his impressions of Afghanistan.
The first thing that strikes you on arrival is the heat. The climate of Afghanistan is one of the most diverse of any on the planet with harsh winters that includes snowfall and temperatures below minus 15 degrees, and parched summers with temperatures in excess of 50 degrees.
I deployed from pleasant early summer temperatures in the UK, so arriving to conduct initial training in 40 degrees was a shock to the system.
My training on the weapon ranges felt decidedly uncomfortable, but it left me with a strong feeling of respect for those who fight on the front line in the oppressive heat.
As the summer progressed and temperatures continued to climb, I could only imagine and be humbled at the thought of our troops having to live and fight, devoid of any air conditioning and often carrying over 60kgs on their backs. Fighting in Afghanistan is very much an activity of the young and fit!
In my time in Afghanistan, I have been fortunate enough to travel and see different parts of the country. My job dictated that I often travel to the bustling capital city, Kabul. The journey from Bastion to Kabul is completed by RAF C-130 transport aircraft.
It is a journey that allows you to appreciate a stunning and spectacular aspect to this beautiful country as you follow the mountains that lead to the Hindu Kush mountain range that surrounds Kabul.
Once there, I got a real and tangible feel for the progress being made. Yes, Afghan security is everywhere, but so are many signs of development.
As I was driven to meetings in the city centre I would see countless children making their way to schools and roadside market traders selling everything from raw meat to used tyres.
On the roads themselves, chaos prevails. Kabul is without doubt the most chaotic traffic system I have ever encountered.
Everything uses the roads from heavy trucks to donkey carts and motorbikes often carrying two or three people. Then there are countless bicycles and pedestrians that seem oblivious to the dangers of traffic.
Rules of the roads seem non-existent with traffic often travelling on the wrong side of the road and against the flow! All in all, it’s a chaotic mix but one that leaves you with an impression of a bustling city striving to develop.
Closer to Camp Bastion, I have also been fortunate enough to travel to the Helmand provincial capital of Lash-Kar-Gar.
This journey is an exhilarating ride in the back of RAF or naval helicopters that fly both very low and very fast.
As they weave their way to the various landing sites across Helmand, I was lucky to see more rare glimpses of life outside of the Bastion wire.
Flying along stretches of the Central Helmand river allowed me to see first hand how life in the barren south thrives around the river, very much in accord with the saying "where there is water, there is life."
By Simon Ling