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Last Updated: Wednesday, 30 April 2008, 06:55 GMT 07:55 UK
Afghanistan diary: day four
Newsbeat's Tulip Mazumdar and Andy Brownstone are in Afghanistan for a special series of programmes looking at life on the front line for British soldiers and seeing how things have changed for the ordinary people of Afghanistan. In the fourth instalment of their diary, Andy gets to fly in a Chinook helicopter and fire a machine gun.

2 Para practice their firing skills on the range
2 Para practise their firing skills on the range

Today is boy's day.

We fly out from Camp Bastion to one of the Forward Operating Bases (FOBs) in a Chinook helicopter. The noise, heat and wind generated by the rotor blades as you approach the rear entrance is unbelievable.

They cram as many men and kit in as possible. It's no secret that there aren't enough helicopters or pilots, so every inch of space is vital.

Body armour and helmets are mandatory because daytime flights like this can attract unwanted attention from the Taleban.

I get to sit in the cockpit with two very cool-looking Flight Lieutenants.

Look out at FOB Robinson
Troops at FOB Robinson keep a 24-hour lookout for Taleban activity
Their sun visors remind me of the ones the X-wing pilots wear in Star Wars.

The Chinook they command is an awesome machine. One minute we are on the ground, the next we are screaming across the desert at a phenomenal speed.

For the first few kilometres we stay very close to the ground and fly from side to side to make it hard for any threat below to aim at us.

As we fly over the heart of Helmand Province I realise what a beautiful place it really is.

The River Helmand creates a lush green belt either side of its banks where the local people grow poppies, wheat and maize.

It's poppy harvest, which means you see can the beautiful white and pink blooms from the air.

It also means things are a bit quieter on the battle front because many of the Taleban are involved in running the opium and heroin trade.

We land at FOB Robinson where around 150 British troops are based.

Troops from 2 Para
Troops from 2 Para amuse themselves growing moustaches
Most of them have arrived in the last six weeks to take over from previous battalions.

Pretty much the first thing the boys from 2 Para do is take me for a go on the firing range.

I'm able to shout "git sum" as I let off a few rounds on a GPMG (General Purpose Machine Gun) and a 50 Calibre HMG (Heavy Machine Gun).

And after years of practice on Time Crisis, yes, I do hit the targets with both.

Then it's a chance to watch some serious explosives in action.

They use a bar mine, which looks like a short plank of wood.

It's wedged against the wall of a compound, the fuse is lit, and we all stand well back.

I've seen plenty of Hollywood explosions in my time but this was something else.

You can feel the blast force 40m away where I'm standing.

There's a huge burst of flame, then we can't see anything for a few minutes because of the immense cloud of dust.

When it settles there's a hole through the wall easily big enough for a man to run through.

It's all good fun but even just firing off a few rounds from the back of a Wimik (a Land Rover with mounted weapons), and I'm soaked in sweat.

We're still in body armour, there isn't a cloud in the sky, and the temperature is in the high 30s.

Back at FOB Rob and there's no power showers like at Camp Bastion.

There's one solar shower per two men. You fill it up and leave it in the sun to warm.

Then you hang the bag above your head, flick the valve on and hey presto.

You get about five minutes per bag, divided by both of you.

As the sun sets over the poppy fields, with the lazy, winding river on one side and the jagged mountains on the other, I feel like I'm in one of the most peaceful places on earth.

It seems too easy to forget the reason we're here is because it's actually one of the most dangerous.

In pictures: FOB Robinson Helmand
Tuesday, 29 April 2008, 16:56 GMT |  Newsbeat
Afghanistan diary: day one
Monday, 28 April 2008, 05:11 GMT |  Newsbeat
Afghanistan diary: day two
Monday, 28 April 2008, 05:11 GMT |  Newsbeat
Afghanistan diary: day three
Monday, 28 April 2008, 17:16 GMT |  Newsbeat
British forces 'treat injured Taleban'
Monday, 28 April 2008, 05:11 GMT |  Newsbeat
The dogs taking on the Taleban
Monday, 28 April 2008, 15:39 GMT |  Newsbeat

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