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Spanish army
Ministry of Defence
Spanish army

Ejército de Tierra

It won’t be long until it’s four o’clock

Soldier Idoia Rodríguez Buján

29th Infantry Regiment ‘Isabel la Católica’

 

The convoy is formed by five vehicles from the Bommel Quick Response Force. They’re heading to a mission to provide safety in the Shindand area, not far from the Harut river. It’s February, and the cold is noticeable in the shivering of the dry, small hawthorns that still survive in the winter anchored to the ground. She knows that winter and movement aren’t good friends. The time it takes to cross the valley hints at this idea, leaving strokes on the mud, wrapped in the dust cloud made by the vehicles.

Idoia is driving one of the armoured cars, and as she looks at the harsh landscape and remembers so many days spent in Afghanistan, she thinks that even though she dreamt about becoming a soldier since she was a little girl, it had never occurred to her that one day she would be patrolling Zirku valley. On 27th September 2004, when she joined the 8th course of Training Centre no. 1 as a student, she could have never imagined that three years later she would be having experiences very few people have. She chose Light Infantry. Three years later, she’s well used to the sound of shots in a mission, and she’s able to make the difference between distance and weapon.

It won’t be long until it’s four o’clock

It’s the crack of dawn, and Torito, as they named the armoured ambulance that became their radio station during the months of mission, goes penultimate in the convoy. They’ve just had a brief coffee, and several minutes afterwards, at around 4 am, the convoy chief gives the order to initiate movement. They soon leave Herat airport behind. Only the convoy chief is heard on the radio, and although it’s February, the weather is good. It’s stopped raining and the wind has taken a rest.

It’s February 2007, and Idoia has asked to stay longer in Afghanistan. Also, today it’s 21st, precisely the day when she had to fly back to Spain, to Galicia. However, her request has been accepted and she’ll stay in Afghanistan until the last rotation, until the last moment. That’s what she wishes to do.

They have been told that today’s mission, 21st February, won’t last long. Just a few hours. They’re going to support an Italian unit, no far from Shindand airport. The armoured vehicle driven by Idoia marches fourth. A fifth vehicle protects the rear. Her eyes had already seen this wild area, and other people will keep seeing it after today. In her armoured ambulance, that has also helped civilians—children, women and men from villages in the area—lieutenant medical María Dolores Muñoz, second lieutenant medical assistant César Muñoz Pantoja, corporal Jorge Laiño and Idoia Rodríguez Buján. After all the days spent in Afghanistan, she has confirmed what they were told before leaving Pontevedra: «Afghanistan is the most demanding mission for the Spanish Army». Time will tell. They weren’t mistaken.

 

«Afghanistan is the most demanding mission

for the Spanish Army»

Time will tell. They weren’t mistaken.

 

 

After several hours travelling, they reach the starting position, where they deploy. Idoia normally gets out using the trap door above her seat, but this time she uses the rear ramp. The sun is shining and the temperature is good this morning. As they wait for new orders, the four passengers of the vehicle remember how quickly the mission has passed, and the amount of incredible experiences they’ve had. They remember the first days when, after cleaning the armoured vehicle, they hung a couple of air fresheners in it to get rid of the smell it had. ‘We’re going to combat, but in perfect conditions’, the soldier says. Idoia is exclusively in charge of the vehicle’s maintenance. She doesn’t need anyone to help her.

It won’t be long until it’s four o’clock

Despite her young age, she has a strong personality. She’s proud, and she knows the vehicle is her responsibility. It was like that until the last day. Her vehicle was the BMR ambulance. Many lives depended on it. Not only was she the driver, but also the doctor. She was where the mission needed her to be. She fought for saving lives since she arrived until she left. The four members in the medical team, as thy wait for new orders, remember the afternoon when a "suicide" car bomb crashed into one of the BMR in the convoy, hurting several Coalition soldiers, and how they helped them. It was the first time they faced such a situation. Idoia treated them so kindly that it seemed she had been doing it for her whole life.

 

the medical team, remember the afternoon

when a "suicide" car bomb crashed

into one of the BMR in the convoy

 

It won’t be long until it’s four o’clock

Then, they hear on the radio the order to start moving.

‘We go back to the base’. So they get ready to move again. The ground is rigorous with the movement. The insurgents don’t rest. Nor does Idoia, who remains alert as the convoy moves along a parallel way to 515 road. When they reach Shindand airport, they take an alternative route, the road that links 515 with the airport. She feels like she’s the first woman who’s ever stepped on this ground. In fact she is, since this land changes every day, festering new war stories every hour and filling the air with different silences every dawn. Their mission is to ensure the movement of the vehicle and to reach the combat area as soon as possible in order to help the wounded and get him out of the death zone. It won’t be long until it’s four o’clock in Zirku valley.

It won’t be long until it’s four o’clock. They’ll soon reach the point where they’ll be attacked, The enemy is hidden underground. Sometimes they’re hidden under blankets, so they can’t be recognised. Sometimes they hide improvised explosive devices under the ground, and they adapt them according to how the Spanish forces react.

 

The explosion echoes all over the valley.

Idoia will say it’s no big deal;

since her three other partners have also been wounded

 

Now, her flight is on the way to Spain, but she’s where she wants to be, and that’s what she’s requested to do. She’s where she must be, with the QRF Bommel company, not far from Harut river, in the Wyconda operation. She doesn’t know it already, because they still haven’t reached the fateful coordinates, but she’ll become the first Spanish solder in falling to an insurgent attack in a mission abroad.

It won’t be long until it’s four o’clock

The explosion echoes all over the valley. Idoia will say it’s no big deal. She feels pain isn’t lonely, since her three other partners have also been wounded. María Dolores has several bruises, César doesn’t seem to be very seriously injured, and Jorge presents a strong throracic contusion that will require surgery. Inside the vehicle, the noise still resounds, now as a strange whistling, as a high-pitched sigh in the fog. María Dolores (Lola) has heard César, and she knows he’s badly wounded. She approaches Jorge and sees that he’s breathing and has pulse. When she reaches Idoia, she sees there’s not much she can do for her. She’s lying on the wheel, with a smile on her face. She knows she hasn’t had the time to suffer, and thinks that her smile is the satisfaction of the work done and duty fulfilled.

It smells of smoke and fire. Idoia would say it’s no big deal. She would say she wanted to stay due to that impulse that guides you to do more things than you’re asked to. She asked to stay in Afghanistan for longer. Permission was granted. Now, her flight is on its way to Spain.

Looking at the size of the crater on the paved ground, one metre diameter and 25 centimetre depth, and the place where the armoured vehicle’s front wheel was found, it could be an anti-tank mine activated by pressure plate, with high-power explosives. Only a high-power explosive would have led to Idoia’s taking her hands off her vehicle’s wheel. She knew her mission was to ensure the vehicle’s movement and get to the combat area as soon as possible, to help the injured people and get them out of the death area. It won’t be long until it’s four o’clock in Zirku valley.