WHEN Highlander Graeme Carolan, 22, was pulled off a checkpoint in Helmand province in the middle of the night and told to pack his bags, he initially had no idea why.
But an officer then broke the news to him that his sister was seriously ill in hospital and he was being rushed home on compassionate leave.
The army machine ran swiftly and smoothly as he departed Afghanistan. He recalls: “It was 1.50 in the morning that I found out and I was told that there was a helicopter picking me up in 25 minutes from the main patrol base, so I had to jump in a vehicle to the helicopter landing site. It turned out the helicopter had been rescheduled to pick me up.
“They had a TriStar and they’d held it back at Camp Bastion for an hour-and-a-half waiting for me. When I went through the passenger handling facility they all knew who I was. They took my rifle off me, my body armour, gave me my passport and my phone.”
He was flown initially to RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus, where he boarded a second TriStar which was rerouted from Brize Norton to Edinburgh Airport specially for him.
“At that stage I just had no idea, I didn’t know what to expect when I got there. That was probably the worst bit, so you’re worrying about all sorts of things,” he says.
But there were more anxious moments to come, when the flaps on the wings which slow the plane for landing jammed.
“We were over the Firth of Forth and coming in for the landing, then we turned and every ten minutes we’d see the same spot below. The pilot came back to speak to me first. He said: ‘We’ve got a problem, the flaps won’t come down. Edinburgh is a really short runway so we don’t know if we’re going to be able to land’.
“The whole of Task Force Helmand seemed to come to a halt to get me home. We’d been circling for about 30 minutes and he came back and said: ‘We’re still doing the calculations, but it looks like we will be able to land’.
“He said: ‘The airport fire service will be waiting on the runway for us because it’s going to be a fast landing. I’m going to hit the wheel brakes so hard that they’re probably going to catch fire’.”
The pilot brought the plane down without incident, however, and Graeme dashed straight to the Western General, arriving at Louise’s bedside still in the combats he had been wearing on the front line just 17 hours earlier.