RAFairman's Blog

An RAF Airman's Blog

Hot As Hell…

I know I have blathered on about the heat in a lot of blog posts, but it has to be said that the abiding memory that I will have of Afghanistan will be the heat.

I expected it to be hot, but I had no idea just how hot it would get in the high summer. I remember days in Saudi in the summer there, 40 degree heat, but the time actually spent in the heat was very little. Most of the time there I was in air con’d rooms and cabins doing work. Only rarely were we actually outside in the heat, basically just to go from place to place. We ended up living in a proper, purpose built accommodation block with all the mod cons that you associate with brick buildings (running water, toilets that flush, air conditioning…) and travelling to and from work in air con’d vehicles, and then, as I was working on fibre-optic based equipment that required a dust free environment, we worked in negative pressure cabins which were of course…air conditioned. So, ultimately the time out in the heat was limited to very little. Maybe 2 hours was the longest we would spend out in the sun and the heat, but then we would be in the safety of the airbase in central Saudi Arabia. No body armour. No helmets. No blast-pants needed.

But it is very different out here. In the high summer, which is only just fading now, it got up to similar temperatures as in Saudi – maybe a degree or two higher. The difference here is that there is no escape from it. Or at least very little. The generators that provide the poser for the site couldn’t cope with a load of air conditioners running from it, so we are limited to just one or two dotted about. And they are single units that are not really designed to fight the heat of the sun on the tents – even with a sunshade, the tents get stiflingly hot every day. You can only really stay inside them until about 10am, and then it’s just too hot.

No the only place that is really cool is the chef’s Reefer unit. A refrigeration unit that keeps our limited supply of fresh food chilled for us. But the next coolest place is the Ops Room, which has recently been relocated from a tent to a purpose built ‘Hab’. This is a small hut built of Hesco (wire cages filled with gravel, dust and sand) and then with a steel roof and more hesco on top. It’s also got an aircon unit in which helps to keep the temperature at a steady level. The probem with this is it that it is fairly small and can only really accommodate enough people who NEED to be in there rather than people who want to be in there to cool down.

And then of course the major difference between here and Saudi is the kit. Just padding around camp we are lucky to be able to ‘dress down’ in relaxed rig with shorts, tee shirt and sandals/flip-flops. But of course when we go out on Patrol then the full kit has to be worn. Layers of protective gear go on to make us look like alien soldiers invading from outer space, with goggles, helmet, gloves all hiding away as much skin from the outside world as possible. In reality the only bit of skin on show is the bit of your fore-arms where you’ve folded up the sleeves on your Under Body armour shirt and your chin, cheeks and neck. Everything else is under some form of cover of some sort. And as you start to put on the kit it starts to get heavy, and increases what they call the thermal load. This is the effect that wearing a load of kit has on your ability to work in the heat. How hot you get and how fatigued you feel as a result.

And it’s odd. I can sit on the rower here for 45 minutes and bang out 10Km and feel tired but able to go on, but after 2km of patrolling in the same heat on a different day I can feel like I am ready to die from the exertion.

One day early on in my tour I did ‘go down’ with a heat injury. I had patrolled down to the frontline CP during the morning and felt fine, had some lunch, hydrated and even had a nap there whilst waiting to patrol back up. On the way back, not 1500m out of the CP gates I started to feel tired. I felt heavy and like my feet were lumps of lead. I felt light headed and slightly dizzy. I tried to concentrate on the footsteps of the man in front. At every occasion I took a knee for a rest and panted to get air in me. But it wasn’t helping. I stood up and started to feel really woozy and dizzy and had to take a knee again. I spoke up and said I was struggling and needed a break. The patrol got me across to a tree-line and I undid my body armour and helmet. This difference this made was amazing – just allowing a bit more air to me. I then tried to stand up, and fell again. This was not good. Thankfully we were near a road and I was half walked, half carried down the track to the main road where two Huskeys had been sent to pick me up.

I was taken the further 2km back to the main CP and straight into the med tent. There I was stripped by the medic and his assistant and sprayed with cold water to cool me down. My heart rate was all over the place, and my blood pressure was terribly low – something that is unusual for me as I am on hypertension tablets – and I was asked to describe how I felt. It was really like I was boiling up from inside. Like my internal thermostat had broken and was ramping up off scale. It felt like I was cooking from inside – a horrible feeling. I still felt dizzy and couldn’t stand up.

I was force fed cold water and sprayed with more cool water. Ice packs under my arms, and in my groin soon got my temperature down and I started to feel normal again. Thankfully, I had recognised the symptoms of the heat injury early and had spoken up about it. AND the Huskeys had been close enough to come and get me. Without them I would have had a struggle to get ‘home’.

I felt better and after a couple of days I was back out there again. One of the locals actually said going down in the heat would make me stronger to cope with the heat. What it certainly did was give me a scare and made me realise the signs and symptoms of a heat injury.

But I haven’t been the only one to ‘go down’. We have lost several people to heat injuries on this tour. Certainly more than to IEDs and enemy action. A couple have been in a seriously bad way and had to be med-evac’d out from on the ground by a MERT. One was particularly bad and was in such a state he was mumbling incoherently. He was later med-evc’d home categorized as ‘Very Seriously Ill’. All this is not good.

I have felt tired and fatigued on patrols since then, but thankfully I have not ‘gone down’ again since that day. But it’s a constant danger. If you’ve had a heat injury in the past then you are apparently more likely to get another in the future. And it’s a really scary thing, simply because you can’t do anything about it. You either get it or you don’t. You can be as fit as a butchers dog and still go down. It’s almost like a lottery.

I have never really looked forward to winter. I like the warm weather. But I am OH-SO looking forward to going back to the UK and the Autumnal weather there in October. I’ll miss the knocking about in shorts and flip flops, but I won’t miss heat of 45 degrees in the future at all…

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9 thoughts on “Hot As Hell…

  1. Oof that sounds bad, max respect to you and all the other lads & lasses out there in heat like that doing the needful.

  2. Shona Alford on said:

    Another brilliant blog Alex, well done! Keep your head down and stay safe :0)

  3. Heaven only knows how you put up with that, anything over 20 degrees and I dissolve into a ‘glowing puddle’ and that’s without the bomb pants and the rest of the gear.

    I have only just ‘found’ your Blog via Twitter when I was looking for Leuchars Air Display info for last Saturday, I’m now working my way backwards to see what you have been up to. I’m enjoying my glimpse into your world very much.

    I suppose it would be just mean of me, bearing in mind the heat you are sufferring, to tell you about the 10 minute torrential downpour at the air display, it really threw it down, a deluge of fresh autumnal Scottish rain, so much in fact that the Gripen had to halt it’s display. Yeh, it would be mean to mention it, so I won’t!

    Take Care

  4. You paint such vivid pictures of life out there. I am a poet and am completing a collection about the realities of living with a relative serving in such a difficult war and different environment. Your insight and well expressed accounts have really helped me understand some of the challenges you all face – I shall have to credit you in the book!
    Take great care,

  5. It sounds utterley unbearable.. an extroordinary job.. takes a special person to do the jobs you all do.. keep well & come home safe.. “God bless”

  6. Sgt KS Rao on said:

    the summer there, from the present place of yours to down the Punjab is almost same.Very dusty, hot in summer and bone chill in winter’s. it gives me a glimpse of nostalgia when in hot summer’s there in border(Pakistan), we stayed in tents there and kept cool ourselves by wet towels warping around the neck and head. I remember those frequent incidents when temperatures rose to 45 degrees Celsius, yellow wasps swarm from the distant fields, getting mad due to the rise in temperature, use to invade our tents and attack us, we use to run for our lives, madly jerking the towel around the body. I had my first posting there for six long years(1989-95). Good luck Sarge, these things will make you more strong and gritty.

  7. sallyann brigham on said:

    it proves how very fit you all must be as i imagine most of us ordinary folks would pass out almost immediately if made to wear and carry everything you have to.i live on Lanzarote and quite a few people come over here to practise for charity runs etc. in very hot and inhospitable places.you have not mentioned the hot winds, which here we call, calima’s. i know Afghanistan gets such winds but do not know what they are called there. the most terrible heat imaginable i believe. you are all so unbelievably brave and selfless.All people like myself can hope for is your safety and to let you know that you are thought about often. Have you, or any of your squadron etc. read Eric Newbys “A SHORT WALK IN THE HINDU KUSH”? It is laugh our loud funny, total escapism, and absolutely brilliant. I imagine if you had a copy you would be fighting amongst yourselves as to who reads it next. take care, bless your hearts all. sally.

  8. And I complain to myself about being too hot after a walk about Glasgow at lunchtime!

  9. Peter Cooper on said:

    But surely you just scuttled sideways and hid under a rock? 🙂

    Good luck and get home safe

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