Afghanistan – The Patrol

November 15, 2010

Chinook helicopters

‘So what’sit like Blue?’ said I to our Chief Medic. ‘Whaddya mean, Doc?’ says Blue. ‘What’sit like to go out on a Patrol?’ I enthused.

I was keen to find out about this, for whist we are very much doing the best to look after the ‘hearts and minds’ of the local Hazaran population, here in Afghanistan we are still very much an Army and as such have a military role in protection and defence.

Blue sat me down, and told me all about the patrol that he had just come back from.

“We were around 34 soldiers and our patrol consisted of Kiwis, and our American Cousins. We also had interpreters and members of the Afghan National Police and I was responsible for the health and trauma management of any casualties.

Early on Monday morning we got uplifted by Chinook helicopters from outside our Forward Operating Base in the north of Bamyan Province. These huge choppers landed on uneven ground that looked pretty impossible to get down on, we were waved on in lines and sat down a little uncomfortable as we still had our packs still on. Out the back of the helo the tail gunner hung over the end of the ramp. To the sides of us, two gunners took care of their respective arcs of vision. Up and away, the birds took off with an escort of four apache gun ships. Our destination was to a ‘landing zone, LZ, some distance away. The flight was exhilarating and, for me, it felt like I was truly part of a multi-national patrol.

We initially flew low over a village called Do Abi where there had been reports of some insurgents (or Taliban) setting up ambushes for us to walk into. The intent of our ‘fly by’ was to show them that we weren’t afraid of them and that we were ready to step up to confront them, and defend ourselves, if we had been attacked.

Over Do Abi we went, and then ascending the huge valley adjacent to the town we flew to a high altitude drop zone (DZ) on the far East of Bamyan Province.  In the second bird my section waited for the first one to land and deploy its forces, so that we could deploy ours. We circled around the DZ and then came in to land between a couple of close peaks and onto a small, narrow plateau. As soon as we were off the Chinook, up goes the ramp and she is away. A couple of Apaches made a low pass to clear the peaks for our advance and then they are gone, leaving us in the silence of the forbidding Hindu Kush mountain range. I looked around at the  steep and unforgiving terrain, wondering how we would go at this altitude, but we Kiwis are a fit bunch and we seemed to just step up to this patrol opportunity.


Blue on patrol

We quickly determined our battle orders, and then advanced up a steep valley. I figure that we were about 3000 metres above sea level at this point, so the going was pretty stressful on the ‘ole lungs’. An occasional stop to pause and look around at the stunning mountain range, before we got to our first waypoint.

On we go, and up higher and higher along a goat path higher still we track, finally arriving at our night-time location, approximately 3500 metres above sea level and right on the border with the next eastern-most district and within 2 kms of a village that we were keen on observing.

Our security and observation posts were set up for the 12 hour night. At this time also, I went to check up on the health of all those in the patrol. Had to put an IV into one guy who was a little dehydrated and who had a low BP. Then we hunkered down into our night routine, and the silence of the mountains was incredible and unforgettable. I could hear my heart beating and as it did so, I had this unbelievable feeling of being alone atop the world. Truly amazing and very humbling.

The intention for our patrol at this point was to observe any activity in the area. At this height we had a good chance of spotting any movement in the region.

A good nights sleep for me in my warm sleeping bag on the ground and then the next day we were up and gone by 0715. Going down the way that we had come up, first we headed down a steep narrow river valley and then we began the steepest descent I have ever walked or patrolled. It was truly amazing that no-one was lost off the steep 1 in 2 hillside at any stage of the patrol back. The track was barely wide enough for our boot prints. Looking down the drop off to my side took my breath away such was the depth of the ravine, but for all that we reached our pick up point relived that we had made it in one piece and in good health, save for a few bruises, blisters and abrasions.

For me, a challenging and rewarding patrol to have been involved in. I saw and participated in the multi-faceted aspects of a modern army patrol, and certainly it was a privilege to have been the Medic for it.”