Merry Christmas from Afghanistan …

Date: Friday 10th November 2017
Corporal Emma Heelis
Corporal Emma Heelis

AN Eden woman serving as an RAF aircraft technician will be spending Christmas in Afghanistan.

Corporal Emma Heelis, aged 29, who hails from Milburn, near Appleby, will be experiencing a different kind of festive season as she serves in the war-torn country.

The youngest daughter of Guy and Rose Heelis, Emma grew up in Milburn with her sisters, Sarah and Rebecca. Educated at Milburn Primary School and Appleby Grammar School, she joined the Royal Air Force in 2009.

“I decided to join the RAF as I was keen to have an opportunity to learn new skills as well as hopefully visit some interesting places,” she said.

“I enjoy being in the RAF as it involves working in often difficult and challenging conditions as well as offering opportunities to take part in a wide variety of sports and adventurous training.

“I’ve attended several skiing expeditions in Germany and Austria and competed in the RAF tennis championships.”

Emma now works at RAF Benson and has previously been on two detachments to Kenya.

In Afghanistan, she is part of RAF Operation Toral, which is the code name for the British presence within Afghanistan post-2014 as part of Nato’s Resolute Support Mission. It is expected that around 500 troops will be in the country for the training of Afghan National Army personnel.

Emma’s role involves maintaining three Puma helicopters operating in Kabul, the capital. “We work day and night shifts here. Days usually consist of refuelling and general servicing of the aircraft. Night shifts usually involve more in-depth scheduled and rectification maintenance,” she said.

As she is likely to be posted in Afghanistan until January, she will be missing Christmas Day with her family in Milburn, but they are planning on throwing a “second Christmas” on her return.

“Although I will be away for Christmas and away from friends and family, a big Christmas dinner will be put on for us to enjoy. My family were a bit apprehensive about me being here, but I am able to give them regular updates which puts them at ease,” said Emma.

“We are usually able to all get together over the Christmas period, but with me being away we are organising a second Christmas Day for when I get back in mid-January so I don’t miss out on mum’s Christmas dinner,

“I’m not sure exactly what we will be doing on Christmas Day as we are on duty at all times. However, I do know that the chefs will be putting on a big Christmas dinner for us to enjoy.”

Despite being thousands of miles away from home for Christmas, Emma may get a little reminder of home as winter is approaching in Afghanistan and it is getting colder — with snow a possibility for the first leg of her two Christmases.