Chapter 4 – Army Air Corps

Prior to the Army, my life was going around in circles, living in temporary accommodation whilst doing dead-end jobs, with no direction.  People join the Army to travel and see the world, some to get away from home and some loved action.  While others myself included needed some structure and discipline in their lives, or in my dad’s words, a kick up the backside!

I was supposed to start basic training in April 1996, but I dislocated my right thumb playing football.  I was now put back to the July intakes. Before starting basic training at Winchester barracks, I had to complete a 24hr selection at Pirbright barracks and then travel to the Army careers HQ in London to swear allegiance to the Queen.  On looking through my CV, the colonel commented on how I had gone to that boarding school and said, “Congratulations that I had survived!  Well done old boy”.  That lifted a huge weight off my shoulder.  This was my first witness to having overcome bullying.

Prior to starting basic training, my dad gave me some advice “Just imagine that it will be like living your worst nightmare”.  It worked a treat because after a few days I loved it!  

BASIC TRAINING

On arrival to Winchester, the men & women were put into their sections and introduced to their NCO section commanders, who hardly spoke.  If they wanted to communicate, they shouted!  Our first port of call was the dreaded POW haircut.  In the platoon, four men were always being shouted at, they were all in my section and yes, I was one of them.  Admin was not my forte and with all the shouting it was difficult to remember everything. 

As a punishment for being the last outside I would normally have to complete a combination of running to landmarks in the distance with press-ups on my return.  I made history by being the first recruit to lose the firing pin of my rifle whilst on exercise Halfway!  I had to carry my rifle above my head whilst running to a landmark on the horizon.  This is the trouble when you are too honest with your efforts.  I would always come third in the mile and a half run, so my corporal knew my strengths.  Basic training is where you are broken so you can be remoulded into a disciplined soldier.  Ages ranged from 17-25 and I was right in the middle, being 21 and women made up a quarter of the recruits.

The humour was quite dark, where one of the other recruits sweated a lot.  He was told every day that “he sweated like a paedophile in a playground”, whilst pushing his mattress & bedding out the window on inspections.  It was frustrating, as we often helped each other get ready for room inspection, but he would always fidget with his layout just before our corporal arrived.  In the end we just let him get on with it and look forward to the fireworks. 

It was a hot day and we were dug into our harbour.  We were not allowed to drink any of the water in jerry cans, frustratingly positioned next to the DS.  This is where I was weak, and I did not hide the fact that I needed a drink.  Before I could even swallow what was in my mouth, I was given a pickaxe and commanded to start pulling myself around the perimeter of our harbour, until told otherwise.  We were also shown how to use our rifle as a machine gun.  Whilst cleaning my rifle I made the mistake of not switching the shooting mode back to single shot.  I only realized when the sound of continuous fire came from my muzzle and then I was told to make my weapon safe before all the DS continued to kick the stuffing out of me.  I thought this was hilarious, but wisdom had me play along and cover my head and ribs, whilst pretending to be in pain.

 As I was tall & slim, my upper body needed work. Thankfully, I had the support of other men who also struggled with chin ups to practice on the branch of a tree.  The BFT required us to complete six bar heaves on top of the 1 and a half mile run in less than then 10 mins and 30 secs and sit-ups for two minutes.  The run & sit-ups were a breeze, but I was struggling with just five bar heaves, so on the day of final testing, I had mixed emotions.  The DS were proper wind-up merchants, especially when it came to counting the number of completed bar heaves. I knew in my heart that I had completed six bar heaves, but the DS only acknowledged five. They let me and a few of the other recruits sweat it out for 20mins before they let truth be known. 

I was not aware that there was a bar on camp until the Passing Out Parade celebrations.  Apparently, some of the men used to meet regularly in the NAAFI for a few pints with other women on camp so they could have sex and return in time for reveille.  Thankfully I did not have that distraction because as it was, completing basic training had squeezed out all I had!  We were told to meet in the NAAFI for a quick drink, and from here we awaited our chariots into Winchester.  In town, I was amazed at my new confidence to talk with a woman, albeit she had a lisp.  Rumour had it that I allegedly had sex with a girl in a wheelchair.

The next day was just finishing touches to our kit before spending time with our invited guests.  I was on cloud nine for changing the direction that my life was heading.  I was honoured to have General Sir Michael Walker (SAS) give me some encouraging words.  His command of the infantry units was responsible for the Falklands war being a success.  It felt so good to have my parents and sister make a fuss over me with words of affirmation.  This was quite a milestone and a therapeutic reward for facing the demons from school.  I was not bitter, only glad that my traumatic childhood now had closure.

GROUND CREWMAN TRAINING

As an Army Air Corps Ground crewman, one of my jobs would be driving fuel bowsers, 4-ton trucks and Land Rovers, so I would need my HGV licence.  The driving school is located at DST Leconfield in Yorkshire and was our first rendezvous since passing Basic and here we joined the rest of the Army.  Sometimes l would cross paths with fellow Air Corps recruits on a night out.

I was amazed at the enormity of the school and its facilities.  I still did not have much confidence with chatting up women.  Another soldier sharing the same dormitory introduced me to poppers, where I had to lie down with my head spinning.  I felt like I was raving as the music sounded so clear, noticing certain sounds not recognized before.  Flippin Heck Laing!  Years later I learnt that poppers were popular with the gay community for loosening up their rectums.  All I remembered was that he wore a black beret and he kept smiling at me.  Sometimes I did feel lonely.  It is possible that l visited the NAAFI bar and had a cuppa with a matron type person, which would have reminded me of my school Junior house.  I encourage any soldiers using the driving school to use their welfare services, as weekend’s on camp can be quite lonely.  I was glad to leave as it reminded me of boarding school, with the frequent times of loneliness and boredom.  I was lucky to complete my HGV, as I had some distractions along the way and had to repeat various tests.

In early 1997 I had been enlisted on a B3 Ground Crewman course.  I arrived at the guardroom in a taxi and spent the next few hours looking over my shoulder, until I had everything squared away.  I was paranoid that an NCO might be waiting for me, but thankfully to no avail.  The reception I received at 2 Regt was much more palatable than Basic.  Middle Wallop is the HQ for the Army Air Corps, where soldiers learn their trades and treated with respect, until the day someone forgets their place and screamed back into reality.  Even though I was tall and skinny, the OC still picked me to represent the Trg Sqn in obstacle races as I excelled at endurance events.  The Trg staff were particularly good at their job and yes, the Trg Sgt predominately shouted at you.

I used to get excited whilst walking away from any chinook helicopters turning and burning.  The down draft from the blades would sometimes lift me off the ground, especially when hooking up 4-ton Bedford trucks as extra torque was needed.  There was also so much to learn when you consider the location for the links on the net, the dimensions of the HLS, the weather and if the ground was firm enough.  There were folders full of instructions which were heavily relied upon.  We spent much of our time using the Lynx MK7 Aircraft on Salisbury Plain, performing refuel and re-arm duties, with the annual under-slug load training.  It was also a cool taxi ride to strategic points on the plain.

Once I was instructed to drive down Andover High street.  On approaching our rendezvous, I thought it would be hilarious to ditch my vehicle and launch my comrade onto the pavement, where he used his face cheek as a landing pad.  Moments later a WPC asked him if he wanted to press charges against me for assault as his face now displayed a war wound.  We both laughed as he replied you are sound as we picked up my trolley of a vehicle.

I had my first tattoo with some of the other recruits to commemorate becoming an Air Trooper.  As Tiger was my nickname from my mini rugby days, it was appropriate to have a tiger’s head on my shoulder.  I was part of a posting of 21 soldiers to 1 Regt AAC Gutersloh Germany and everyone was looking forward to life overseas.

GERMANY

My time in MT (Motor Transport) 651sqn was the most fun I have had in my life so far and I thank my Sergeant and my comrades for making that possible.  We had some of the best characters in the whole of the Corps, let alone the Regt. My Sgt was a bit of a Jekyll & Hyde, who would sometimes look at you with a fake smile and raised eyebrows.  Experience eventually taught me to be on my guard as he was up to no good.  For the troop it would be much fun & laughter to follow, but not for the victim, as this Sgt would often be downright anti-social. 

However, I must not forget to mention my professional, intelligent and funny Sgt from Signals Troop, who was my first contact with the Regiment.  Bless his heart, he still made me feel welcome, even though I used to be an Admin Vortex!  I am thankful for the amazing comrades I worked with in both troops as they were all switched on and 20 years later, I still have contact with some via social media. 

Again, the same could be said for my last posting at 1 Regt AAC, in Hq Sqn, who attracted the elite signals personnel in the Regt.  Not forgetting the popular deviant who helped run the stores, who was also committed in all his endeavours.

We had the ‘Spice Boys’ on PRB, who were hansom and knew it.  They personified the Air Corps motto of ‘make love not war’ and were all part of the regimental football team.  Any hint of nice weather they would frequently have a BBQ with a football, bottle of beer and Indie music blaring out in the background. 

In Germany everything was much cheaper than the UK and we even got paid an extra £150 per month for the privilege of being based in Germany, so even though there were lots of opportunities, we frequently abused alcohol.  The Spice Boys all worked in Hq Sqn, except one man who was in 652 sqn who was the exception as he too was a pretty boy but was also well hung.  What on earth am I doing looking at his penis!  It’s hard not to miss when the ‘Spice Boys’ are playing football, naked!  Hq sqn had a large spacious building for single accommodation with a large grass playing area out the front where the fun n frolics would be had.  I am positive that my dad never experienced this kind of Army lifestyle, mind you, wonders will never cease.  As he is a hansom chap, he may have been one of the ‘Beach Boys’.

I will not forget another rugby player from my section in Basic.  He started playing on our arrival at PRB Gutersloh in July 1997 whilst I was still adjusting.  Looking at my slim frame I was always judged as being weak.  He would repeatedly tell me that l would not get the flanker position as so and so plays there, which just stoked the fire in my belly!  What I lacked in stature, I made up for with aggression and often I would suffer concussion.

On the camp we had a bar and a disco which was called the BOP, which most soldiers on the camp would use and I rarely had trouble with the RLC Royal Logistical Corps.  Only once did I fight in there!  We had been drinking and a man from the RLC did not appreciate my humour and gave me a black eye.  I sobered up instantly and he now had my attention and switched into stealth mode!  Whilst keeping my eyes on the target, I moved around to my zone of attack on the edge of the dancefloor.  He had his back to me, so I got his attention by pouring my pint over his head.  On his turning around I flew at him with a flying head-butt to the face, which sent him crashing, allowing me a few free punches before security carried me away.  Outside I had three of his mates wanting to have a pop at me.  I then had to run Forest run.

Sometimes we would catch a train into a town centre, just to sit outside a café and letch.  We would also visit the sex shop on the high street.  Inside were cubicles each containing a comfy chair with a TV and a side table with kitchen roll, which showed that the Germans are a liberal bunch and too accommodating!

Within three weeks of arriving at PRB I got lucky and was put on an Adventurous training at Paderborn Aerodrome.  Parachuting had always been a dream and now the Army were paying for me to do it.  I struggled to progress from static line, where a paratrooper easily progressed to 60 seconds free fall. 

I will never forget the plane door being opened at 3,500 ft, a mix of terror and excitement at the same time.  I felt sorry for the females as they were always the first to leave the plane, which must have been psychological.   In the evening I got friendly with another soldier from 1 Regt.  Just imagine the streets of Paderborn being in pristine condition with no litter in sight and the strict police and my walking back to the camp in Paderborn with my comrade.  I had gut pains and my bowels were moving, so I needed to act fast and curled out a turd between the curb and two parked cars.  This was possibly therapeutic or maybe I enjoyed the consequences of getting pissed. 

The PRB cookhouse was amazing!  The best fry up every morning with fried bread, and there was also a van that used to drive to the squadron by 10.30, which was a popular option for breakfast or a snack.  We were spoilt we had a large choice also for lunch and dinner and if till hungry after that, you could buy more snacks from the NAAFI bar/shop and we also had a Regimental bar on camp. 

I had a reputation for opening my mouth before thinking, which labelled me as a joker.  I was now enjoying this new season of my life where I was having fun no matter what, even if others were mocking me. 

Irony had placed three elder boys from the same senior house at school on PRB at the same time as me.  I experienced my second witness that I had overcome bullying when one such civilian guard said ‘Alex, you are the last person I expected to see join the Army’, to which I could only grin, but deep inside I was being healed and a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders.

Sometimes drunk NIG’s (new in Germany) were found with cigarette ash written all over their face and if the deviant was about, he tended to smear his own pooh on their face, by using their finger as a paint brush.   

FIRST JOLLY BOYS OUTING

I used to knock about with three other lads, Cockney and V from Basic Training and Taff from the previous intake of new soldiers.  We all loved dancing, drinking and having a laugh.  Out of all the places we could have visited, we chose Amsterdam.

This is one night we will never forget!  We could not get into any nightclubs because we were British.  Unfortunately, our predecessors had a reputation for fighting.  After the umpteenth time of refusal, we just went into the next bar.  Three of us had a bottle of tequila, whilst V had Pernod and lemonade.  We might have behaved a bit daft when we were drunk, but we were never violent. 

These friends were just what the doctor ordered as my broken heart has been massaged better from the many laughs we had.

Eventually we were refused alcohol!  On exiting we were thrown back by the cold weather and then a lorry drove past and fell victim to our humour.  Somebody managed to grab onto the side and then the lorry pulled over.  A monster of a man got out of the cab and he shouted something in the local dialect, we burst into laughter and then he shook his head and fist at us in disbelief before driving off.  

Here is where it gets a bit hazy.  I went off with V and the other two went AWOL.  V went into a grocery store and when he came out, I was missing.  However, he did notice people walking around an obstruction and on closer inspection, it was me!  He called my name and pulled me to my feet.

I then woke up whilst sat on the toilet.  I walked into the bedroom and realized that I was in somebody else’s room.  We had rented a room with 4 single beds and here was a double bed with a couple in it.  WOW!  Was I confused and just wanted to get out of there ASAP.  I went upstairs to our room and found my friends asleep outside.  I checked my pocket and woke them up stating that I had lost the room key.  V then woke up and said that he had the key.

Cockney made us all laugh by sharing his woes of how he had been robbed and beaten up.  Taff on the other hand, gleefully told us how he found himself surrounded by junkies in the train station and only survived by pretending to be insane.  As we were settling down, Cockney asked me for the time, and I replied No l do not have my watch.  He said check your wallet Al.  Flippin Heck!  I had also been robbed. 

A few years ago, I was reminded of how I had been saved by a lamp post.  After V had pulled me to my feet, we stumbled along the canal where we crossed paths with some local opportunists, where I had been much more generous.  I had been robbed whereas V was able to keep his wallet.  He was then approached by the police and here is where my miracle happened.  As they were talking, I went missing.  The police then put a call out for me on the radio.  I was found hanging onto a lamp post with my feet together using an invisible hula hoop, within feet of the canal edge with no barrier to stop me falling in.  C’est la vie!

MAGALUF

The best way to prepare for a war zone was for five of your comrades to join you in Magaluf for a week and my stepbrother got us a lovely apartment and location.  Here we all abused our bodies with the excess alcohol and late nights of dancing the night away, where some of us got lucky.  I met a friendly Northern lass and we became pen pals.  I will say that her letters served a purpose by stroking my ego and kept my sanity whilst in Bosnia, fortnightly.  She had a heart of gold, but I was not ready for marriage. 

AIR DOOR GUNNERS COURSE

In preparation for Bosnia, I applied to be an ADG.  I made a flying start by being the only person on the course to achieve 100% on the theory test, but the practical was to come.  The ADG has got to be the coolest course I have ever attended.  My fondest memory has got to be firing tracer bullets down below at night and standing with one foot on the skid of the MK7 Lynx, doing manoeuvres and firing the GPMG (General Purpose Machine Gun) at static targets on the ground, whilst screaming “Get some”.  It was a very demanding course, where we had to concentrate intently whilst using the aircraft radios and then dismount from the Lynx aircraft.  Orders were to move quickly over marsh ground whilst carrying a GPMG and then respond with covering fire to scenarios given by the DS nearby.  As radio coms was not my forte, I did not swap the fun of MT Troop for the prestigious Aircrew.

BOSNIA

The first and last memories of Bosnia, were the cold temperature whilst sat in the back of the aircraft, whenever at high altitude.  We arrived in Bosnia in extreme humid heat, which was going to test our fitness.  On arrival at camp we smiled on witnessing half naked comrades jumping into the makeshift pool (6×6 hole with plastic sheeting) made from the fire-fighting water storage.  I was mindful that men still wearing their uniform were also being thrown into the pool, officers included.

Collecting stores and provisions from the NATO base at Split in Croatia was one of the most important jobs on the camp in Gornji vakuf in Bosnia.  Only the Air Corps could get away with not wearing their beret or issued combat tops whilst driving, using the nature of our job.  We had to follow rigid health & safety working with helicopters, on top of the poor road conditions to navigate the corners with no crash barrier on the cliff edge.  We would sometimes see vehicles spread out below. 

Once I got bored whilst commanding the lead vehicle of a convoy of three trucks, so I sprayed a civilian road worker on passing with my spare water.  Only on arrival back at camp did I learn that the second vehicle had been attacked when the water victim threw a stone at their windscreen.  Laing you Plonker! 

As the drive to Split in Croatia took 3-4 hrs, it was deemed necessary for the drivers to stay overnight on the NATO camp.  Party Time!  Stop overs included going out for a meal with other soldiers from 25Flt, and camp and this was washed down with wine for the pilots and beer for us groundies & REME.  Next stop, a bar which sold the tastiest alcoholic Banana milkshake ever.  Then we played games until taxi back to camp, which was located next to a small lake, often swimming with loud jovial British soldiers, self-included. 

On one such occasion my friend Si Bentley fell victim to my humour, where he thought he was being clever by folding his designer clothes and Lacoste shoes into a neat pile by the side of the lake.  He obviously did not see me nearby!  We’ve had a few adventures, like the time we went to Honduras and arrived at a littered beach, yet the travel brochure displayed idyllic beaches.  We somehow orchestrated a ride in the back of the only vehicle in sight.  It was a pickup truck and had a few beers with the driver en route to our destination.  I believe that he was an angel as we were also in the middle of nowhere.  He was also positioned two male strangers in the back of his truck with his three young children. 

In Bosnia, the Mafia strategically placed the CD stores near our camps, so they could guarantee the soldiers custom selling CD’s at a fraction of the price.  There were always pretty women serving us, but only years later as a civilian did I realise that they were victims of human trafficking.  I am shocked how the Serbian soldiers brutally raped the Bosnian Muslim women during the first war in Bosnia.  This holocaust must also never be forgotten.

BRAC  

This island is known for its pleasant climate, nice views and beautiful beaches located in between Croatia and Italy.  As an AAC soldier I got to chill here for three nights on the Army yacht and have it called adventurous training, whilst in a war zone.  I think only six soldiers could use the yacht at any one time.  It was surreal to dive off a yacht into clear waters, as seen in the James Bond movies, whilst checking out the local talent.  Now this was the Army lifestyle I could get used to.

VALIKA KLADUSA

I have fond memories of working here, where the other AAC soldier taught me a few chords on his bass guitar.  This was the cushiest posting in Bosnia.  All we had to do was flush the fuel bowser through for 20 minutes every morning, do a test for the fuel sediment and wait for any visiting aircraft.  In the cabin opposite were the Czech Air force and we would frequently refuel their Hip helicopters and only occasionally refuel our own Lynx Mk7 helicopters.  I had an easy routine of using the gym 3 times a week, renting out the latest movies from the library, enjoying the cookhouse facilities which also had a 24hr canteen attached.  I looked forward to the strawberry & banana omelette for breakfast and the staff were the locals.  I was in heaven, because they were predominately gorgeous women and I become friendly with one, but to no avail as I was still wearing my L plates. 

Timing is everything!  The reason this tour of Bosnia was so cushy was because I worked with MT Troop 651 sqn and it was during SFOR (Stabilization force).  If it had been three years earlier, it would have IFOR (Implementation force), where I may have been ducking bullets.  

The lazy would soldiers would mock the door gunners for having to carry the pilot’s baggage, but we all must start somewhere.  Action mixed with belief is needed, whilst focusing on the destination.  I am encouraged to hear that some of the door gunners did eventually become pilots. 

POLAND EXERCISE

During the first exercise post Bosnia I could not believe my eyes when a woman suddenly appeared, just wearing her underwear.  She started dancing on a platform and even gave a private dance to the youngest soldier.  651 Sqn would sometimes exercise with the Polish Air Force, and I will always remember our invitation to the officers’ mess.  It was organized chaos! 

The Polish officers would look at you until eye contact was made and then you were trapped!  Like it or not your shot glass was filled up, say cheers and then down the head blowing vodka.  This caused mayhem, where a soldier went AWOL in the woods surrounding the mess.  Another soldier with a reputation of being violent, met his match, by virtue of him now owning two black eyes. 

Our next exercise shared the same location as the Americans.  I only discovered this as a vehicle commander at night, whilst passing a convey of Abrams tanks.  On night convey you must put your trust in the vehicle in front, because the only source of light is a 50p sized light pointing at its differential lock on the rear chassis and follow.  I did shit myself as I was sat on the left where the tanks passed by, what with their horrendous noise, and even my chest vibrated. In a petrified state I gradually edged my driver away to the right, when all of a sudden our 8 tonne truck rolled over a few times to the right.  Yeeha!  I loved it!  My driver did not see the funny side of it, but they did make the most of this scenario.  The immediate response was for everyone to put on their headlights, then immediately assist us.  My driver was semi-conscious, which guaranteed a taxi ride to fly away from exercise to hospital.

25FLT AAC – BELIZE

My six-month tour of Belize was the best experience I had in the Army Air Corps and I have my Sgt to thank for sending me there.  Ironically, I was the last person that he wanted to go!  Amazingly I was the only option, by virtue of me being in signals troop prior and gaining my B2 radio operator qualification.  I was also the only soldier in MT that was brave/stupid enough to have the last word with him, often getting the loudest laugh from the lads than he did.  Anyhow, it was kind of counterproductive as this man wrote my career reports.

The AAC was the casualty evacuation for the infantry units that trained in the jungle for anything up to six weeks at a time.  All new AAC arrivals were given a taste of the jungle for a few nights and I was in awe of the procedures involved for catching, killing, gutting and cooking a jungle pig and I still remember how good it tasted.  I was intrigued how the rocks held their heat for so long after placing them in a bonfire before placing them in a pit of an oven.  The instructor then brought out a prepared tray of pig meat that had already been cooking for a few hours.

The timing for my time in Belize was perfect as 25 Flt. The REME produced the majority of the Adventurous training instructors to allow us to make the most of our posting.  I learnt how to scuba dive and navigate the most idyllic dives over a wknd.  We could also attempt jet skiing, and another led numerous caving expeditions into Guatemala, once with a stopover at San Ignacio on the border with Belize. 

We arrived the same night as a party of American female students and WOW!  Did we have a party!  I imagine that there would not have been a student who was not hosted by a soldier, especially as we were all wearing our beer goggles.  I thought I had done my bit for the Corps when she asked me if I felt the earth move.  No! I replied with a big grin on my face, which was quickly removed by her stating that there had been an earthquake in the night.  We did laugh!  This was one of my first experiences of being humbled by Mother Nature.

TEXAS  

For R&R we got two weeks holiday, but I managed to get an extra day by having three separate five-day holidays. One of my holidays was spent in Houston, Texas with the women above.  The first day she took me to the Johnson Space centre and that evening I went for a meal with her and friends in a trendy part of the Latin quarter.  She also took me to an American football game, where I was perplexed at the constant interruptions aka timeouts, where all the fans raised fingers depicting a horn as if they were at a pagan festival.  The icing on the cake for my R&R was the surprise pair of tickets to see Lenny Kravitz at Southpark Meadows in Houston.

WOW!  This woman must have loved me!  Here is the thing.  We had both been drinking and she was not happy with the idea of driving, so I took control and moments later we pulled over into a parking lot to the side of the highway and got Fresh!

Moments after pulling out of the parking lot we were pulled over by a highway patrol man.  By virtue of me being a British soldier on vacation, I was now his best friend and vice versa!  Whatever the results of the breathalyser, he still gave me a pass.  Quite possibly he cheerfully observed our pit stop.  I believe that she came from a wealthy family and that she was also a kind person and helped keep my sanity whilst stationed in the middle of nowhere.

I was fortunate enough to join another soldier to walk up Mount Antigua in Guatemala, which had the most idyllic landscapes with the inactive volcano in the background.  Antigua had cobbled streets, with a cafe with an English student serving strong local coffee and tasty local food.  We joined a party of women to walk up the mountain, passing wild white horses and it was a miracle that no one fell into any of the volcano vents as visibility was cut off by the ash cloud and the ground was so loose that your feet would disappear.  That evening we both went to a bar in Guatemala, where I met a local lady next to the dance floor.  Even though we struggled to communicate, I still got her phone number.  The following day I took a bus to Guatemala City, and she was good for her word.  Meeting her was the icing on the cake of my wknd away.

CAYE CAULKER

I spent the wknd here with my GF above, a tropical island a boat ride from Belize City.  After our initial meeting, the only way we could successfully communicate was via a fax to 25Flt AAC.  It was quite funny as her pet name for me was ‘sweet Pinocchio’ and once a REME soldier made me laugh by fabricating a fax saying that she had met somebody else and that she no longer wanted to see me again.  That was quite clever and moral boosting for 25Flt AAC.                             

Caye Caulker was popular with the squaddies as we were given discount, and everywhere you looked were XL American men.  This island was popular with scuba diving, but we went snorkelling instead as the reef went out a reasonable distance.   Soldiers were banned from Belize City in the evening for our own safety, as this is when all the drug dealers and other undesirables come out.  During the day, the Amish community congregated around their store, which was always an attraction as the men and the women always wore the same clothes, no matter what the weather.  

 I had dinner with a women I met climbing Mount Antigua.  Afterwards I should have been joyful as I had been given the honour to be her first, but for this plonker it was one of frustration as I had never faced this obstacle and fell over at the first hurdle.

PLAYA DE CARMEN                              

This was a much-needed pit stop when travelling to the nightlife of Cancun.  I stopped off here twice by myself and my experience at Fawlty Towers was the best, when you consider that I arrived at Thanksgiving and ate like a king!  I did get friendly with a local girl, but again nothing materialised.  The beaches here were so idyllic, so one day l would like to return with my wife.

NEW ORLEANS

I thought I was going away with just another AAC soldier from 25 Flt, but another man attached to the permanent staff, invited himself at the last minute.    Once we arrived at our hotel, I was rightly not comfortable when this thug shared a lift with me alone.  As soon as the elevator door shut, he started to use my gut as a punchbag and then punched me in the face.  I then spent the rest of the long wknd in New Orleans alone with a black eye.  This was probably one of my most uncomfortable experiences ever as I still had to share the same apartment.  However, I did get to try the tasty famous gumbo dish and visited a tarot card reader.  I never did press charges against him, but I am confident he has reaped what he has sowed and that he no longer has peace.

GUATEMALA CITY

I went to stay with my GF and even visited her family.  The highlight of my holiday was doing a bungee jump off a bridge at night.  We had intended to jump in the afternoon, but indecisive equipment set-up by the organiser, delayed us and then I was asked if I wanted to jump first.  You must be having a laugh, so I agreed to go after the guinea pig.  I opted for two jumps for better value.  The first jump I was tense from the adrenalin, especially as I could no longer see the river below and then I felt so much relief once the bungee cord started to retract.  The second jump felt like I’d already had the stuffing knocked out of me, from my previous jump.  Instead of jumping I just flopped off like a heavy weight and just went through the motions.  In a nutshell, the second jump was a waste!

I had a dilemma as it was approaching the end of my tour of Belize and did not plan to see this woman again.  We went out for a meal and I was not my usual self that evening.  During the middle of the night at her home, I projectile vomited everywhere.  All I remember was that I was mixed emotions as I puked all over her shoe stand and open wardrobe, which I thought was hilarious, but was in too much pain to show it from the food poisoning.  This was an excellent distraction to leave her and prepare for my return to my base camp in Germany.

SUMMER 2000

I It was the summer and I had 2wks leave to use ASAP.  I had initially tried to get away with some of the lads, but to no avail, so out of frustration I took action.  I read somewhere that Reykjavik, Iceland was one of the best places for nightclubbing and that was now my destination.  The next day I took a flight from the nearest airport in North Germany to Reykjavik by myself without a plan.  I spent my first night in a B&B which cost more than I had budgeted for, but I went into a bar and met some other travellers, who stood out like me as we were not as glamorous as the locals.  It was a comfort to be able to talk with other people in a town that were not friendly, and the locals often fought in the streets.  I did go into a nightclub, but this too was not very welcoming!

I now had to look for a budget hostel and found the Salvation Army.  This was ideal as it was cheap, and I was also able to make companions with other travellers.  I organized a coach trip to main tourist attractions and was pleasantly surprised by the geothermal activity.  At the reception, I met a charming gent from Canada.  I later knocked on his door, only to be greeted by a group of girls from Sweden.  I was in heaven!

We spent the next few days together and by the end of my trip to Iceland my poignant memories were the waterfalls, the geysers and the company of the Swedish girls.  Next time I want to copy the organized travellers, who rented 4×4’s, which allowed them to spend more time to experience the best nature had to offer, than the allotted 30 mins we had on our tour bus.  I did check into the Blue Lagoon, which was high on the list of attractions with its naturally heated outdoor pools, which is another holiday for the wife and me. 

BERLIN LOVE PARADE

I only had a few days rest before I was off again, but this time I was going to the biggest rave in Europe and I was so excited!  I took my Army sleeping bag and a 5ltr bottle of water.  As the train got closer to Berlin, more party goers were joining the train wearing big grins in anticipation of our destination.  On exiting the train, I followed the party goers and after approximately 20 mins I was at Brandenburg Gate where the procession of lorries pulled floats up and down the Gate.  I found people raving to the side with space to dance.

After half an hour of raving hardcore style of using my pent-up excitement, I calmed down taking notice of my surroundings, especially the Euro Babe looking my way!  My interpretation of her look was “Hello you fine looking thing, come here and dance with me’”.  It would have been rude for me not to and did just that for the next 24hrs.  I was in Rave Heaven!  My favourite techno tunes were pumping out with the bass reverb bouncing off my chest, whilst dancing like an excitable schoolboy with a gorgeous woman who spoke little English but knew how to dance.

AUSTRALIA

I first heard about this gem of a trip whilst in Belize.  One of the pilots was also a hockey player for the Regt and knew of my sporting attributes in the Regt.  I had my work cut out to get into the squad within 6 months to go down under, but somehow l did it.  Thankfully, I used to play in the reserve school team and my fitness was in the top half.  I just had to stop barging into the opposition.  The hockey trip was open to all regiments on the camp and I had a surreal experience meeting two non AAC players, who also went to the same school as me, but never bothered me.  We arrived in July, in their winter, otherwise our defeats would have been more obvious.

They had many quality players, including an international.  I even managed to get an award for the most improved player, as I had mastered the art of closing their wingers without fouling them.  We even got to do some cool tourism.  However, at the end of the tour we were given a long weekend’s R&R.  Some of the lads went along the beaches on the Gold Coast and I made a humdinger choosing scuba diving a reef 2-3 hours away alone from Queensland.  I say mistake because the sea was rough which made everyone projectile puke and shit all over the toilet cabin on board.  I could only scuba dive for 20mins max before the pain got the better of my pride.  Coming back, I was exhausted and just wanted my bed.

GERMANY

The only way I could see any light in my Army career was to transfer to the REME to be an Air Tech, where the wages and promotion prospects were much better.  I got the ball rolling by speaking with the REME OC, who was also part of the Rugby squad and kind to me.  Now was just a waiting game for my transfer exam papers to be served. 

Around the same time, I saw something which stopped me in my tracks.  I saw the name of the boy that took advantage of me.  His surname was on the back of a pilot’s uniform and I had to look twice to see if it was him.  I must have been 100-200 yards away, but I knew that I did not want to find out.  I was transfixed!  It was most probably his younger brother as he was much taller than the perv in question.  The fact that I was able to control myself, showed me that this was my third witness that I had overcome bullying. 

NORWAY

In Sep/Oct 2000 I overheard some lads in the bar talk about spending 3 months partying, whilst skiing around Europe.  Sign me up mate!  My fitness was not an issue, as I was already in the Regt team for rugby and hockey and had some ski experience from a 651 Sqn ski trip to Bavaria the year previous.  All I had to do was contact the Regt ski rep, whose reason for being was found on the ski slope.  A Captain from organized everything, delegating the team to take turns driving towards Norway.

I love travelling and the excitement of not knowing what or who is coming around the corner.  We were looking forward to the Norwegian ladies we were going to be meeting after we had consumed copious jars of the local ale.  We arrived with no dramas, just as it was starting to get dark.  That first night we just went to a local bar near our accommodation, and after a few beers I noticed one of the senior lads had been very generous and bought the rounds of beer each time.  There was also a gorgeous blonde barmaid, who he later become friends with.

The next day was our first day of skiing and I wiped-out.  That evening at dinner I was presented with a leopard’s skin chef’s hat for the best crash.  Whenever I have had a night out with senior soldiers, our first port of call is always a nice restaurant to help prepare for the evening’s festivities by lining the stomach.  On exiting the restaurant, our mission was to follow the flashing sky lights and the beating of a drum.  On finding our sanctuary of a club, we made a bee line for the dance floor and then I walked around the club looking for like-minded ladies who would reciprocate my advances.   Amazingly I shared a taxi home with a pretty lady, who not long after stepping over the threshold of my cabin, became restless: either a) the cold air had sobered her up, b) she received a silent vibrating text message to come home immediately or c) I was fidgeting as I also had sobered up and frustratingly I didn’t have a plan of action.

The next day on 2nd November 2000 I lost control whilst experiencing some airtime skiing downhill over the brow of a hill, which resulted in losing my balance & catapulting down the hill at high speed whilst banging my head repeatedly.  The textbook posture was to lean forward in a tucked-up position, thus having a lower centre of gravity on landing.   

I admit responsibility for not wearing a helmet, even though the officer in charge of the ski team was the only team member to have his own helmet.  This was an opportunity for my comrades to put their training into practice and it must have paid off, as I am able to tell my story!  I was informed that my team had pulled covering underneath me and on top as I was displaying signs of hyperthermia.  I look at the actions of my team as being lifesaving, but also that my Guardian Angel assisted them.  Somehow, on that momentous day I survived.

My most outrageous experience in my Army career was whilst detailed as the Regt duty driver.  I had taken over from someone who had worse admin than me.  All I was told was that he did not have time to refuel the land rover.  Minutes later I was detailed to collect an officer from a camp in the next town for a court martial back on PRB.  I got to my destination ok and collected the officer and then entered the autobahn.  He was excellent!  Calmly pointing out that we were heading in the opposite direction.  Wake up Laing!  I apologized whilst sweating bucket loads and then my worst nightmare happened.  The vehicle ran out of fuel!  Only an empty jerrycan was found!

This officer must have been an angel as he then proceeded to run over the horizon to an unseen destination and within 10 mins, run back with a jerrycan full of fuel.  The least I could do was offer to refuel the vehicle and sheepishly drive back to the court martial.  For the life of me, the aftermath is very much a blur.  All I know is that I never got charged. 

I was often called a “Jammy Git”, where ‘Git’ is frequently used in conjunction with another word to achieve a more specific meaning; a “Jammy Git” is defined as a person with undeserved luck, aka God’s Amazing Grace.  It is plausible that God had me join the Army to improve morale.

One thought on “Chapter 4 – Army Air Corps

  1. Al x I loved reading this story of your adventures and conquests some good times in Germany we were very fortunate to have been there so proud to call you my friend you achieved and over fame a lot you have and always will be my friend and brother take care and make sure you take your wife to all these places

    Spike 661sqn (the drinking sqn)

    Like

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