Yesterday was a great day.
I woke up early and headed out to Kandahar Airfield solo for 9:00 a.m. where I met with the PAO (Public Affairs Officer).
After sitting in on the Force Protection briefing, I hurried back to my media tent to wait. And I waited. And waited…
Just when I was about to leave for lunch, the base was attacked by rockets, and I was confined to my tent before being given the all-clear.
After a press conference and a quick bite, I literally had to run to my tent, put on my WES vest, frag vest, helmet, ballistic eyewear and gloves, grab my camera, mic and tripod, and rush to the Tactical Operations Centre to meet my ride before they left.
The mission this day was to visit the Dahla Dam, which in real life is a $50-million Canadian project. I was travelling with a VIP, a DFAIT advisor going to inspect the dam’s gates and the projects progress.
So my dozens of pounds of equipment and I loaded into the van with two huge military bodyguards and the dignitary. We drove a couple of minutes up to the airfield, and waiting for our other ride: A Griffon helicopter.
After an hour of waiting and a quick safety brief, nine of us crammed into the chopper.
It was a tight fit, with two pilots, two guards, an officer, two gunners – one hanging out of either side of the heli – and the two “civilians.”
We flew over to the dam, and hopped out. We were met with several tanks and soldiers for further protection, and eventually by the local workers.
The scenario was being played out as though there was going to be an IED (improvised explosive device) or a suicide bomber, so everyone was on their toes, tense. I got my own soldier bodyguard who let me roam around where I wanted, trying to manage my vests, tripod and camera all at once. He was also close behind.
As conversations between the VIP and workers grew bitter, the inspection was cut short and we were told to leave immediately.
Just like in the movies, we stood with a tank to our backs, facing the Griffon that landed in the middle of the road maybe 50 metres away, with several soldiers surrounding us.
We got the all-clear, and someone shouted “Go! Go! Go!” and we ran, crouching down to avoid being decapitated by the propellor. We scrambled in, and took off.
Heading back, the pilot took what I assume was a bit of a detour.
We went through this valley, flying extremely close to the ground, zooming up and down and swerving around hills at 45 degree angles so that you could see what was directly below you. It was like something out of national geographic (minus the machine guns) as we zig-zagged across a winding river.
It was a long day, but it was completely worth it. Not many people can say they flew around Wainwright-istan in a military chopper, and that goes for the soldiers too: Some of the people I’ve met have been in the army for years and have never flown. I guess I’m just lucky!