Rafik’s Journey in Silent Heroes. At Camp Bastion

Silent Heroes Camp Bastion

Rafik, the eight years old character from my latest novel, Silent Heroes, continues his journey to Camp Bastion, forced to leave his home village of Nauzad with its fragile security.

What brings him to Camp Bastion? I will leave this for you to discover in Silent Heroes, When Love and Values Are worth Fighting for.

Perhaps it was my medical training, but I enjoyed learning about Camp Bastion (later Camp Shorabak), British Army Base and state of the art medical facility and the largest military camp built overseas after World War II. The camp started in 2005 with just a few tents as a Tactical Landing Zone set up by two Royal Air Force Traffic Controllers. They were looking for a safe place to fly supplies for the troops who were to be sent to the southern province of Helmand, Afghanistan.

Rafik journey Camp Bastion - source BBC
Camp Bastion. Source BBC – covering an area the size of the UK town of Reading

The camp’s first runway, operational in 2007, was capable of landing C-17’s direct from the United Kingdom. In 2011, the camp’s airfield and heliport handled up to 600 fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft movements every day for combat, medical and logistics flights. A helicopter from Bastion could reach an injured soldier in less than 19 minutes. The most serious cases could be sent to the UK in less than 24 hours.

‘By the MEDEVAC helicopter, two figures in commando uniform strode towards the four Marines clustered around Tommy, carrying a collapsible stretcher. The MEDEVAC medic introduces herself as Corporal Bethany Welsh with the Camp Bastion’s Joint Forces Medical Group.’

Silent Heroes by Patricia Furstenberg

Camp Bastion housed 30 000 people and it even had its own Pizza Hut. The US Marines were housed in the area called Camp Leatherneck. Afghan security forces had their own compound, Camp Shorabak.

True to the historical facts, even Prince Harry makes a blitz apparition in Silent Heroes.

Prince Harry. Camp Bastion. Photo credit should read JOHN STILLWELL/AFP/GettyImages
Britain’s Prince Harry at Camp Bastion in Helmand Province, Afghanistan on September 7, 2012 (Photo credit JOHN STILLWELL/AFP/GettyImages)

Camp Bastion’s Hospital (operational until 22 September 2014) was operated by (are you ready?) personnel of the British Army, Royal Navy, and Royal Air Force of the Joint Force Medical Group and medical assets from the US Army. Their medical staff included Orthopaedic Surgeons, General Surgeons, Anaesthetists, Nurses and Medics. At Camp Bation’s Hospital were brought all the wounded military personnel from the British, US and other Nato-led security missions, ISAF, fighting in Helmand Province. This was the main place for treatment; from here they were further evacuated to the Royal Centre for Defence Medicine at Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham. Of course, Afghan nationals were also treated at Camp Bastion’s Hospital, including the victims of accidental injuries and road traffic collisions – simply because Afghan state hospital had very little (if any) supplies and medics.

It is here that Rafik arrives in his journey through Silent Heroes, at Camp Bastion. Was he scared? Was he hurt? Will he make it further?

‘It was during this time that the British Army, part of IASF, built the first tents of what was to become Camp Bastion, Field Hospital, and MTF, Medical Treatment Facility, Helmand Territory, Southern Afghanistan. The first medical outpost was a tented construction, much like a scene out of M.A.S.H., minus Captain Benjamin “Hawkeye” Pierce mixing his very, very dry martinis, plus plenty of military and civilian casualties. It soon morphed into the most famous and busiest trauma hospital in the world. Nearly thirty thousand people, Marines, British soldiers, medical personnel and contractors were confined to an eight square miles area, a world completely separated from the country around them.’

Silent Heroes by Patricia Furstenberg
Image of scene at Camp Bastion, the principal British base in Helmand Province, Afghanistan during Operation Herrick XVIII (H18). Taken during a visit by members of the War Story project team. Emergency Department, Role 3 Hospital, Camp Bastion.
WAR STORY: STUDIES OF CAMP BASTION, Copyright: © IWM

‘The room went on and on as the boy began to glide. His entire village could fit inside this colossal building, Rafik thought, his eyes darting around, his ears pounding with the beats of his own heart. The air had an acidic undertone and it soon made his nose dry, his tongue sticking to his cheeks. Along the walls, he noticed pictures with signs and lots of words. The largest one, green like the grass with four big bold white letters and the picture of a man running, he could read that one. His stomach fluttered. It said “exit”. That was the only sign he could read. Here and there paper pictures of smiling people and beautiful gardens. And light, lots of light inside, pouring through long rectangle-shaped windows in the ceiling.’

Silent Heroes by Patricia Furstenberg

To see the real life behind Camp Bastion, have a look at Robert Wilson’s photos.

Rafik will journey further through Silent Heroes, past Camp Bastion. Where will the war carry him next, a child of only eight years old, like a leaf caught in a desert sandstorm? Come back to find out. Soon…

Silent Heroes: When Love and Values Are Worth Fighting for, 5 stars reviews
Silent Heroes: When Love and Values Are Worth Fighting for, 5 stars reviews

You can BUY Silent Heroes from Amazon UK, Amazon US, Amazon Australia, Amazon Canada, or Amazon Worldwide: link here to your preferred Amazon website.

5 Facts About The Baby’s Brain Parents Must Know via @PatFurstenberg

5 Facts About The Baby’s Brain Parents Must Know

A baby’s arrival is welcomed with excitement and apprehension. We prepare for it by buying tiny clothes, a mountain of nappies, furniture to fill an entire room and the boot of our cars — and this is just the beginning. Between antenatal classes and parenting books, no wonder there isn’t any time left for extra information.

Neuroscientists, with the aid of brain-imaging tools, can study the changes that take place in the human brain when we think, read or learn. Their findings shine a new light on how the human brain actually works and how parents can help enhance their children’s educational experiences and life achievements.

Baby Brain Fact #1: First Three Month Of Life Are Crucial For The Baby’s Brain

Full-term babies

The brain of a newborn baby birthed at full term is only a quarter of the total size of an adult brain. Therefore specialists consider the first three months of life as the fourth trimester of pregnancy. It is during these first three months of the newborn’s life that his brain develops enough for the baby to become mature enough to adapt to his surroundings and to begin to socialise.

When infants are born before full term

Inductions were regarded as highly fashionable between the Eighties and until the end of the 20th century. As soon as a pregnancy reached its 37th week (with 40 weeks being full term), it was considered “close enough” and inductions and C-sections were being scheduled. It was the increased number of babies in the neonatal intensive care unit (ICU) that made obstetricians reconsider the meaning of “term pregnancy“.

Researchers noted that the brains of the infants born at 37 weeks were 5 percent smaller than the average. By the third months of life, the difference between the preterm babies and the full-term babies became smaller, but the preterm babies hadn’t fully caught up — their brain size remaining “2 percent smaller than the average” a neurology study showed.

Newborn baby MRI

Image above: The brain scan on the left is taken from a newborn, and the one on the right is taken 90 days later. Credit: Dominic Holland et al., University of California, San Diego School of Medicine

Baby Brain Fact #2: Talking To A Baby Stimulates Its Brain

Talking to babies and even reading to them helps boost their brain power, researchers say, and the differences begin to show as early as two years of age. Chatting with infants helps them pick up the rhythm and the rules of language, and repetition helps them learn vocabulary.

The same principles apply to using facial expressions to communicate with an infant, as this will help them decipher and understand human emotions. At such a young age the prefrontal cortex (implicated in behaviour and personality expression) is not fully developed, so the fear of “spoiling” an infant by giving them too much attention is unjustified.

Baby Brain Fact #3: The Brain Develops During Our Entire Life

The first birthday is an important milestone for the toddler’s brain as well, as it would have reached 60 percent of its adult size. The circumference of the human head will reach 90 percent of its adult size by the age of six, yet the brain will only be fully matured at the age of 25.

Neuroscientists have discovered that the human brain continues to develop — forming new neural pathways and pruning old, weak ones throughout our lives. Also, due to the brain’s plasticity, if an area of the human brain is lost the remaining brain area will, in time, develop to compensate for the missing sector.

Our genetic package provides the basic blueprint for brain development, but the stimulation an infant and child experiences provide the foundation for future learning.

Baby Brain Fact #4: Lantern vs Flashlight Awareness

Although a baby’s brain has many more neural connections compared to the adult brain, to protect them in a harsh world their brain has less inhibitory neurotransmitters.

As a result, they perceive the main picture, but focus less on details, just like a lantern that illuminates the entire room in a diffuse way. By comparison, the adult brain will focus on details, very much like a flashlight that focuses its light on specific details.

Baby Brain Fact #5: DVDs Out, Experiences In

From birth, babies respond to some stimuli and ignore others. DVDs, flashcards — these leave baby unresponsive. What babies love is human interaction, and later on, first-hand experiences.

Keep in mind that babies get bored quickly, as they have a short attention span, so parents need to vary the games. Also, too much stimulation will soon tire the baby.

Interesting to notice is that babies don’t hear as well as we do, which explains why crying is not bothering them!

Also, babies can’t distinguish voices from background noise as well as adults do — so if you want your infant to pay attention to you, it is advised to switch off the TV.

And music? Yes, babies do love music, but this should be approached as an activity, limited by time and cued to baby’s attention span.

* The information in this article is NOT intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified healthcare professional and is not intended as medical advice.

This article was initially published on Huffington Post SA on 9 May 2018

You might also like to read:

5 Medical Symptoms Named After Literary Characters

5 Simple Steps to Turn Your Boys into Bookworms

Living At The Cultural And Technological Crossroad