Day 27: Under her wings

Our one hour flight from Bahrain to Dubai turning into an 11 hour endurance test. After spending most of the night in the air waiting for the freak cyclone to ease and in the Bahrain transit lounge, we finally made it back to AMAB (Al Minhad Air Base) safely.

Rain is rare in the Middle East, but it has rained in every place we have visited. We seem to be taking it with us. I wonder if it will be raining in Canberra when we finally get home.

After doing a ‘brown bear’ (see Day 8), I interviewed the Wing Commander who is in charge of the Combat Support Unit (CSU) at AMAB. She has about 115 airforce personnel under her wings. This is a group drawn from across Australia who have not worked together before. They do a diverse range of tasks from providing firefighters at the airfield and security guards at the gates to the base, to organising visas for people coming in and out of AMAB. If someone needs to be evacuated from Afghanistan for urgent medical treatment, someone from her medical team will be there. They also provide chaplaincy and health services, and organise social events for the base. CSU run the┬ápopular gym, including providing a Personnel Training Instructor (PTI) to make sure that the blokes injury themselves in their desire to look like Rambo.┬áThis is the sort of behind the scenes work that makes a military base more comfortable.

Tigger and a purple monkey cling to the medical flagpole at AMAB

Tigger and a purple monkey cling to the medical flagpole at AMAB

One of her most important tasks is host nation liaison. Australia is allowed to have a base at AMAB because it has a good relationship with the UAE (United Arab Emirates). If anyone on the base does anything that offends the host nation, they could easily kick us out. AMAB is Australia’s gateway to Afghanistan.

Not all small, soft, furry creatures are benign - warning sign provided by CSU

Not all small, soft, furry creatures are benign – warning sign provided by CSU

The airfield is the link “into country” and CSU provide 24/7 support to the aircrew to make sure the airfield is always operational. They load and unload all ADF aircraft at AMAB and at two airfields in Afghanistan – and believe me, soldiers do not travel light! An airfield is much more than a runway and a wind sock. CSU do logistics and keep a supply of spare parts for generators, forklifts, powercarts and vehicles.

As well as having 115 staff to look after, the Wing Commander also has two young boys at home. She was away for her son’s third birthday and will miss her 15 month old learning to talk. This is her first deployment since having kids. It’s hard to explain to young children why Mummy has to go away for six and a half months. She has decided not to talk to them while she is away and to hear about them through her husband. Perhaps she doesn’t want her children growing up thinking that she “lives inside a computer”, which is what one young child said after interacting with her deployed father via skype. Nevertheless, I got the feeling that she was carrying a lot of pain.

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Day 9: Beefcake

The military is full of gym junkies. PT (personal training) is an integral part of their daily routine. Not having to buy groceries, cook food, wash dishes, clean the house, mow the lawn, or do the laundry or any other domestic duties means you have plenty of spare time. And the commute to the gym is a three minute walk at most. I used to scoff at the blokes’ desire to be buff until I tried to get up off the ground quickly after a “hit the deck” drill wearing my body armour and couldn’t. You need to be fit and strong to run with up to 50kg of kit.

There are two air-conditioned gyms at AMAB open 24/7. Most people use the one which has been nicknamed “Fernwood”, because it provides pink towels to wipe up the sweat. I’ve been going there to pump baby weights (a toddler would be heavier than the barbells I can lift) and conquer the stair master. However, because “chicks can’t see cardio”, some males prefer the “big boy gym” near the airfield (a five minute walk). It’s little wonder we can’t see cardio, when we are surrounded by such huge chests.

big boys (and girls) gym AMAB

Protein supplements are popular. The ones available in the UAE can contain substances that are banned in Australia and show up in drug tests. We’ve been warned that we will be sent home in disgrace if tested positive. I think I’ll stick to “angry birds” (see previous post).

protein supplements