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

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5 Secrets Revealed in Silent Heroes. The Military Chain of Command

Political secrets revealed in Silent Heroes

Books that reveal stories shared in a whisper, confidential political decisions with a major global impact, or secrets in the military chain of command always excite me. As a reader, I tend to pick them from the shelf; as a writer, I create them. My first novel including such hush-hushed military secrecy is Silent Heroes.

The rules of engagement and why they are a hush-hushed secret

5 serets hidden in Silent Heroes, secrets-military-chain-command
Silent Heroes: secrets in the military chain of command

Few civilians are aware of what a chain in command entails in a war situation. While researching various details of the War in Afghanistan, from its history to the various political fractions involved, from the origins of nation-building to real-life scenarios, I learned about the rules of engagement. These are “the internal rules or directives among military forces that define the circumstances, conditions, degree, and manner in which the use of force, or actions which might be construed as provocative, may be applied” (Wikipedia).

The War in Afghanistan enters its 18th year. Those who were born when it started can now legally fight in it, as soldiers. During these near two decades, just as the means of fighting a war have changed, so have the rule of engagement.

Did you know that what sets aside a Taliban soldier from an Afghan civilian is only the weapon a Taliban carries? Once he sets the weapon down he instantly becomes a civilian and no allied soldier can shoot him, such are the rules of engagement nowadays.

The secret holes of the military chain of command

Silent Heroes: When Love and Values Are Worth Fighting for
Silent Heroes: When Love and Values Are Worth Fighting for – New Contemporary Fiction by Patricia Furstenberg

The second piece of secret information I discovered was the hols in the military chain of command that has to be followed in certain war situations.

As collateral damage is a big concern for U.S. Military and U.S. politicians (and with understandable reasons). For this reason, if Taliban fighters shoot from mosques, ignoring their holy ground symbolism, the U.S. soldiers and their allies have to pass an entire chain in command, ask for permission to shoot back and even wait for clearance before they can defend themselves and answer to fire with fire.

‘Marcos remembered the time a huge wave caught him by surprise and it took him with, rolling him over and over until he felt each bone in his body crushed while the roaring of an express train resonated through his ears. Then all was dead quiet. When he opened his eyes he was lying down at the feet of a minaret. He was sure he’d seen a Taliban fighter at its top, yet he knew he can’t just open fire; he had to call up the chain of command and request authorization to fire back, since that was a mosque. The Taliban fighter was looking down at him laughing, and Marcos couldn’t do anything about it, he had to wait for the chain of command to clear him. He knew he will probably become another casualty while lying there, waiting for permission to shoot, so he tried to get up and run for cover. But he couldn’t, his shoulders were glued to the ground and the forest was growing all around him while he was still waiting for clearance to shoot.’

Silent Heroes (Quote on secrets of the military chain of command)

Waiting for clearance from the chain of command, no matter how it endangers the life of a U.S. or allied soldier, is the real-life situation of the War in Afghanistan, yet how many of us are aware of these secret holes in the military chain of command?

In Silent Heroes I piled such real-life situations on top of my U.S. Marines and their British allies too. They will have to improvise to save their skin. How? And will they make it out unharmed?

News update

Lately, the US involvement in Afghanistan made the news’ headlines.
First was the publishing of the Afghanistan Papers, both “a revelation and a confirmation” – for “many who served in the Afghanistan war” revealing “years of deception by senior U.S. officials, who assured the public that progress was being made — when it wasn’t.”
I admit, I was not surprised by this as, during my research, I came across such information – and revealed it in my book, Silent Heroes.

‘Our friends didn’t have to die’ (said a US soldier who served in Helmans province in 2010)

as quoted by The Washington Post

Then there was an opinion piece in The Guardian, The Afghanistan war is more than a $1 trillion mistake, by Ben Armbruster, underlining what the Afghanistan Papers already revealed, that “a lot of people were killed, injured and subject to years, if not lifetimes, of psychological trauma and financial hardship because a bunch of men – yes, mostly men – in Washington didn’t want to admit publicly what they knew privately all along.”

A tragic aspect of the war in Afghanistan, emotionally and respectfully detailed in Silent Heroes.

And then there was the opinion piece in Al Jazeera, The Afghan war: A failure made in the USA written by Ahsan I Butt, Associate Professor at the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University: “the US-made mess in Afghanistan has much to do with its failed policies and shoot-first-ask-questions-later attitude.”
This is incredible to read, as it is exactly the result of my research on the war in Afghanistan, and you can read all about it in my contemporary fiction book Silent Heroes.

Silent HeroesSilent Heroes, When Love and Values Are Worth Fighting for

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Have you read yet 5 Secrets Revealed in Silent Heroes. A Mysterious Underground Fortress? And there are three more secrets to be revealed. You can subscribe to my blog and never miss a post.

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