Hagar’s Day Is The Night Shift

My day:

I work mainly nights when on det, it’s the safest time of day out here. The dark is my friend so I embrace it and hopefully, it will look after me. I get up around 4:30pm. It’s still hot outside, low 40s Celcius. You can feel the heat even from inside our 2 man air conditioned room. A shave and a clean of my teeth and I am ready to get dressed into my fire proof Multi Cam combat trousers and shirt. A cotton t-shirt or flame proof long sleeved layer goes underneath, along with cotton underwear. In my right thigh pocket is an escape map, printed on silk, so it is small and yet strong, in my left, some American dollars and a morphine syrette, safely contained inside a plastic ‘coffin’ so it doesn’t auto-inject me by mistake (as has happened to some pilots in the past!). My left hip pocket contains a lip salve and mini leatherman tool, my right a small wallet with my meal card (more on that later) my various compound passes and my ID. My shirt chest pockets hold my work mobile phone and pager. Around my neck goes my dog tags and small head torch that always lives there for when I am in the dark and need to see! I wear desert socks and tough desert boots, with sole that won’t melt in a fire – I often wonder that if I am standing in a fire that is hot enough to melt the soles of my boots I won’t care if they are melt proof or not, as the rest of me will be melting anyway! On my head go my issue ESS sunglasses (going from dark to light is hard on the old peepers) and my Multi cam floppy hat with cut down rim to make it look less like a sombrero……

I walk the 5 minutes to work with some of my crews and we check in to see what’s on the cards for us work wise, sometimes busy straight away, sometimes not. If we are not busy, we have scoff, then gym, then TV, sometimes we go shopping…..

Around 7pm we go for ‘Breakfast’ ie Scoff, but that is evening meal time for most people, so we have pasta or salad or steak or burgers etc. The choice of food is pretty good, as the choice of eating establishments (around 5 at the last count – hence a meal card so we can eat anywhere). If we are busy, it is: in, eat, out, no messing – a habit I always continue for a while after I get home – speed eating (along with Det tourettes). I usually grab a triple coffee at that point with plenty of sugar, to take away, if its going to be a long night. If we are out all night flying we usually get back after it gets light, so we go from day into night into day, which is a bit of a head fuck until you get used to it. When we land, we de-brief the night and then give the aircraft back to our engineers who fix our trusty steeds, make good all the things that re broken, patch any holes the bad guys have made in them, feed and water them, and get them ready to go out to work again later that night. They are bloody good, our engineers, I like them a lot, they look after us – we need them too.

Once we have popped back into work and shut things down for the night, we usually bimble off for brekkie, sometime a full fry if its been a hard night, sometimes fruit salad, always loads to drink. In fact I seem to drink all night when I am flying, endless bottles of water passed forward to me by my crewman and I never need a piss until after I land – that’s what flying in fire proof gear, sitting in an armoured seat, wearing body armour, a frag vest and survival combat jacket, in a glass cockpit with an outside temperature of 35 degrees C at 3 in the morning, does for you. When we get back to the block, its shower and chill time for a wee while then collapse into the lower bunk of my bunk bed (the top bunk holds my junk) and with a fond look at the pics of my kids above my pillow, I fall asleep. The sleep of the tired and the damned, or maybe, just maybe, sometimes the sleep of the righteous. 14 hours per day, 7 days a week, 10 weeks.

That’s was my day. How was yours?

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Should He Stay Or Should He Go?

I was on BBC Radio Wiltshire this morning talking about the impact of Defence cuts on military families. Should he stay or should he go? Military defence cuts at what price? I forgot to say in the interview that UK plc has invested approx. £3 million on Hagar’s training – cuts now mean they will lose good people, with vital experience that we have invested large sums of tax payer’s cash into. Effectively withdrawing too early on the investment!!

To listen to the interview:

We are feeling lucky that Hagar is part of the Chinook force but cutting any of the manpower means that people will stretched to the limit. The fatigue will eventually show – people are already breaking! It’s not a Defence force to just fight the enemies of Britain – it’s also constantly changing weather patterns. The military are the 4th emergency service the minute a natural disaster strikes. What do you think the impact of Defence cuts will be? At what price is a nation’s security?

A Family Affair

A truly splendid day! RAF Odiham families day was spectacular. My feet hurt but I have that warm, buzzy feeling that you get after a thoroughly spendiferous time. The ethos behind any Families Day is a chance for the military to say thank you to the families, without whose enduring support and sacrifice, the work of those who serve would not be possible.

The highlight was, of course, The Grenade’s and my 20 minute jaunt over Basingstoke, in the magnificent MkIII CH47, aka the Chinook helicopter. I was so excited as we arrived at the station. Unpacking the car, I could hear the ambient thud of the rotors rotating in the distance. As we walked up to the airfield, we were greeted by the marvelous sight of four parked aircraft with their blades turning. These are the same workhorses that are used tirelessly to support UK training, operations and UK based tasking.

The Grenade and I left Hagar with The Menace, and Mrs Vino, The Little Moo and Game Boy (our guests for the day) while we queued for our helicopter adventure. We were ushered into the main briefing room and took our seats.

After about 20 minutes, we were shown a short Health & Safety briefing video.

When it had finished the Flight Lieutenant, who was giving the brief said, “Simple enough. Any questions?”
The Grenade’s hand shot up.
‘Sh*t.’ I thought, ‘what is he going to say?’ He can be very unpredictable. I was checking the exits to see how I could surreptitiously leave without drawing any further attention to ourselves.
“Yes, young man.” said the young officer.
‘Damn!’ I thought.
“I am SO going to get airborne!!” he gleefully declared.
“Yes, you are. Good question,” came the reply.

A huge sense of relief swept over me as we shuffled out of the room to our next queue. Unsurprisingly, the whole thing had been organised with military precision. There were four tents, one for each aircraft. We were allocated to aircraft 4, and were on the second trip of the day. As we were waiting, the first trip was coming in to land.

Inside the holding tent, before embarkation, we were given our helmets.

The beauty of the helmet was that it muffled out all the noise of the rumbling rotors, and also, the witterings of The Grenade, who was asking me a barrage of questions that I couldn’t answer.
“When we go up in the aircraft mummy? Will we not be able to breathe because the air is thinner?” He said.
“No, we won’t be going up that high.”
“How high will we be going?”
“Probably beneath the clouds.”
“But will we go above the clouds, and then the air will get thinner.”
“No! We are not going above the clouds.”
“Is the air thinner below the clouds?”
“No.”
“Why not?”
AAAAARGGHHHH! Silent screaming.
“I know why don’t you ask Daddy these questions, when we get off.” I politely, patiently and calmly suggested. Science was never my one of my strong subjects. Why does he never ask me one on art and literature, or about the plot in Grey’s Anatomy, or why women should be cherished?

A bit more waiting, and then it was time to get onboard. The Grenade was really excited, but also, really cautious. He clung to my arm tightly and weighed it down like a lead weight. As we walked across the dispersal, the noise of the blades thundering round reverberated through my body. Each step brought us closer to the roaring beast, until, as we neared the ramp, we were blasted by hot flushes of air, blown out by the enormous exhausts either side of the cabin. Directed by the crewman, all rigged up in their helmets, flying suits, with winding leads and cable adorning them, we walked up the ramp, took our seats and tightly fastened our seat belts. Once everyone was strapped in, the aircraft lifted like a big, rumbling wobble board. I felt a surge in my stomach. The air was thick and cushioned. I felt sick. The aircraft lunged upwards and the pilot rolled it to the right. We were airborne at last.

The Grenade beamed and was silent. He was silenced by the awe of the magic of flight.

I love the colour pallette of the Chinook’s interior. The contrast of the bright redness of the straps against the hard seats, and the shiny, and yet dull, grey, stitched diamond check of the interior. For 20 minutes, we rumbled, rattled and rolled. I mainly felt sick. I wished I hadn’t skipped breakfast. Note to self; don’t fly in Chinook on empty stomach.

Very soon it was over. We rattled back to base with a big final lunge on the way down.

Then we disembarked, down the ramp, and across the dispersal, back to the tent to hand the helmets back.

Seamlessly executed and exhilarating. It was great. A real treat and something for which we are truly grateful. Thank you so much RAF Odiham.

The Grenade and I joined a very disgruntled Hagar.
“Awright love?” I said.
“SHEeee has been a complete nightmare.” (By SHEeee he means The Menace)
“I can’t take my eyes off her for a second, otherwise she is off, and so I have to chase after her. This happens all the time!”
‘Hmmm’ I think to myself. ‘Sounds fairly par for the course to me.’
” That’s not a nightmare. That’s normal.” I said.
“But it’s really stressful and annoying.” he bleated.
“Honey – it’s called parenting!!” Shaking my head in despair.

The rest of the day involves a balancing act between keeping everybody happy. There is so much to do that it isn’t a problem. There’s free standing aircraft, fairground rides, lots of display stands, an arsenal of military stuff, plus the Mother’s Union are giving out tea, coffee and free cakey buns, and an air display that lasts for the whole afternoon. The kids run riot. We scatter, come back together, catch up with old friends, scatter and come back together again endlessly, all day.

I even managed to slot in a cheeky file and polish, with the lovely lady from Transformations, in the Fountain Mall in Odiham village. I said I would give her a little plug. We had a lovely little chatola. She was telling me that Hart Council are planning to levy a stealth tax of £150 on all hairdressers. It’s an outrage! I told her to go to the papers. She even gave The Menace’s nails a quick lick of paint too. Her beautiful daughter, Paris is offering a cut and blow dry for £20 with a £2.50 of that going towards Help For Heroes. I am sure that she’ll be inundated with lots of singlies wanting to jump at the offer!!

We then headed off the the air display. We were waiting for the RAF Falcons to jump out of Chinook, at a height where the air was probably a snipsy bit thinner, when I felt The Menace tugging at my trousers.

“Ass cream, mama” she said, as she looked lovingly at me with her baby blues.
‘Ay?’ I thought. ‘Surely she’s too young for hemorrhoids, and anyway, how would she know?’
“Ass cream, mama” and points at a little boy eating a Mr Whippy 99.
“Oh!” The penny drops. “You want an ice cream bubba.”

We had a super day, all of us. Here’s Mrs Vino, The Little Moo, Game Boy, The Menace and The Grenade all hanging out in front of static Chinook.

Footnote: You know when you are getting old when…….

you think this bloke’s arse is hanging out of his trousers? Why is this cool? You know what – at a stretch I could forgive him if he had buns of steel and designer grundys, but Diet Coke break he is not.

I just wanted to scream at him…”chum everyone can see your pants. Chum, your pants are showing!”

Seriously…why?