"By way of introduction, apart from
my role as a member of the House of Commons Defence Select
Committee, I am also a serving member of the Territorial
Army and it was in this latter role that I travelled through
your station on the way back from Kabul on Tuesday 26th
September after an eight week operational tour in
Whilst I have served on several operational tours before, my
motivation for volunteering for service during summer recess
was to see first hand what our troops were gong through and
whilst much of what I experienced was positive, I regret to
say that the service provided by your station was not. If I
may I would like to recite the experience, and whilst I
appreciate the start and end of the journey are not your
responsibility, the majority of it was. My overwhelming
impression was one of a complete lack of service by the RAF
and of what little was provided, was done so merely at the
convenience of the RAF with little or no regard for
I am sure that there was good reason to have to arrive at
Kabul airport at 05:15 for a 09:30 flight, but I would be
delighted to know what it was. Having been given just 15
minutes for breakfast we were told we had to be back in the
departure lounge by 07:30.
The flight finally took off shortly before 10:00 (D+30) and
landed in Cyprus shortly after14:00 local. On landing we
were told to take off all of our hand baggage due to a minor
problem with a widow that was expected to be fixed during
our two hour stay on the ground. (I subsequently discovered
from a member of the crew that the fault with the window was
discovered and reported in Kabul, but the crew were keen to
get to Cyprus rather than stay in Kabul).
On entering the terminal, troops on the front patio were
quickly told to come inside as they were not allowed to
stand outside, no explanation was given. Shortly after
entering a Flt Sgt announced that it would take two days to
fix the Tri-Star and that a Titan Airways 737 had been held
back to fly us home. We subsequently discovered that this
plane 'that had been held back for us' was in fact not due
to take off until 20.00 and was in fact scheduled to take
home elements of 3 PARA post decompression.
The flight was scheduled to go first to Hanover but these
passengers (almost 311 returning for R&R) were informed that
the flight would no longer be going there and that their
onward travel would be 'sorted out' when they arrived at
Brize. Shortly after our arrival all RAF staff disappeared
and no facilities were offered to troops to ring home to let
families know of the delay.
At approximately 17:00 buses were lad on to take troops to
dinner, being on the last bus that left a 17:20 I was told
that I would only have 10 minutes to eat before having to
travel back. Not it turns out due to meal times, hut
apparently due to a shift change, the airmen escorting us
were due to end their shift and keen to go home. I cannot
begin to express the anger that this revelation caused with
the many troops who had been on a six month 'shift' in
Helmand. Having been forced to return to the terminal to
meet your stations shift patterns all RAF staff once again
20:00 came and went with no departure. Approximately 20:10
the duty mover (a Ft
Sgt) came into the terminal to announce that there was a
problem – it turns out the weight of the passengers and bags
were too great for the 737. He was rightly questioned as to
why this hadn't been established 6 hours before when the
Tri-Star first went U/S, he was unable to answer.
At approximately 20.30 the same Flt Sgt rushed in to
announce that passengers had 30 secs to decide whether to
travel tonight with no bags, or wait two days for the
Tri-star to be fixed to travel with the bags.
Understandingly passengers were not happy and when asked
when and how they would pick up their bags he was unable to
answer. Potentially passengers going to Germany on R&R would
have to wait two days at Brize for their bags only then to
be transported by road to Germany and so miss the first 3
days of their R&R.
It was suggested that since the flight would be travelling
to Brize, the Germany passengers bags should be taken off
allowing the remainder to travel to Brize with bags and the
Germany passengers to travel the following day to Germany
with the Tri-Star and avoid a road transfer. Whilst it was
accepted that this was a good idea, we discovered that it
was impossible because all of the bags which had been
carefully segregated in Kabul had been mixed up when
unloading the Tri-Star.
It was interesting that up until this point not a single RAF
officer had been present in the terminal.
The Flt Sgt then apologised for suggesting that passengers
travel without bags as it was clearly a mad idea given the
uncertainty of when the bags would follow. Unfortunately for
him 15 mins later a Flt Lt (the first officer to be seen)
turned up and 'ordered' passengers to get on the plane
without their bags.
I wish my departure from Cyprus was the end of this sorry
saga, I regret it was not. Having arrived at Brize we were
handed pre-printed cards (presumably this debacle is a
regular occurrence) giving a number to ring to find out when
the bags would arrive. Ringing the next day I was told first
that the flight would now be arriving at Stansted and that
my bags would be taken to Colchester. The second time I rang
I was told that my weapon was at Brize but my bags were at
Colchester. Finally at my third attempt, I discovered that
my bags had arrived at Brize only a few hours after me,
obviously the Tri-Star damage was not a serious as was first
Overall it was an appalling experience that gave the
impression of a station being run entirely for the
convenience of the RAF (and particularly the 'shift' system)
with scant if any concern for returning troops from theatre.
You will be aware that the Defence Select Committee are due
to travel to Cyprus as part of an investigation into the
support that the Garrison provides to Operations in Iraq and
Afghanistan and after my experience I intend to focus on the
role played by the RAF.
In the meantime I would gratefu1 if you could provide
answers to the following questions. If you feel unable to do
so I intend to table Parliamentary questions on the 18th Oct
so answers can supplied prior to the Committees visit at the
end of the month..."
Why it is required to arrive at Kabul
4 hours before departure?
When exactly was the broken window was reported?
Why if the broken window was reported in Kabul, was it was
possible to fly to Cyprus? And if so why then not on to
Hanover and Brize Norton?
Why if the window was reported on take off did the flight
not return to Kabul?
Why passengers are prevented from going onto the patio at
the front of the terminal?
What are the shift timings for the station?
‘What are the working hours for the station?
Why were the segregated bags mixed up when unloading the Tn-Star?
Why no officer was present at the terminal until 20:20?
Why no facilities were offered to passengers to ring home to
inform of the delay?
What arrangements were made for the onward passage of
How many days R&R were lost for Germany passengers?
Why the weight limitations of the 737 were not checked once
it became apparent that the Tn-Star was U/S?
When was the Tn-Star fixed and when did it arrive at BZN?"