From Castlebar - County Mayo -

Kevin McDonald
Western Sahara - Close to Six Weeks
By Kevin Mc Donald
15, Sep 2012 - 14:30

I am close to finishing six weeks now and the patrolling tempo has increased as our strength has dropped even further due to leave and personnel rotating to other team sites. One day merges with the next and at times it is a bit of a blur, the only constant is the heat and it is incessant. Consuming huge quantities of water is compulsory and each vehicle would have a minimum of 20 litres spare in case of breakdowns. The heat seems to suck the energy from you each time you leave the vehicle and the constant hot wind drives the temperature even further upwards. It has a debilitating effect on our air assets as well, both fixed wing and rotary (helicopters), as neither can fly in temperatures over 45 degrees. This of course has serious implications for medevac and other emergencies.

Berm in Houza

Sand Storm, Smara

Of course I forgot to mention sand storms and as I type, the sky has darkened and the wind had picked up significantly. Looking towards the approaching storm, there is an immense wall of dark red clouds soaring thousands of feet into the air. It seems to stretch for miles and on either side is perfect clear blue skies but this was of sand is heading our way rapidly. In ways it resembles a huge tsunami as it trundles towards our position, and gradually the world around us darkens. Time to head for shelter. Looking outside, the team site is a maelstrom of flying sand and anything not tied down, visibility is less than 10 metres and it is a really impressive show of nature. Nothing will move until the sand storm moves on or at least abates. It took 2 hours for the main part of the storm to pass over us and needless to say everything is covered with sand. Now where was I??

Camp Site in Amgala

Just back from another long two day patrol up into the most Northerly sector in our area of responsibility, and this was a tough one, with over 500 kms of inhospitable terrain to navigate through and over 25 army units to inspect. The weather was intense as the heat built up steadily from the mid 40s at 0900 hrs to well over 52 degrees by midday. The air-conditioning units in the vehicles struggled to provide anything resembling cold air and amazingly the sky was overcast; in fact if it was in Ireland you would be expecting rain although there's not much chance of that here. Although they say that a picture can paint a thousand words, but it is not possible to accurately get across in a picture the debilitating effect of such severe heat. The minute you step out of the vehicle a blast of hot air envelops you instantly and seems to suck the energy from within. A harsh wind multiplies the effect, a little like windchill in reverse, and it is really like standing fully clothed in the hottest and driest sauna, all the while trying to remember your Leaving Cert French and/or basic Arabic to enable you to verify numbers of troops and various items of military hardware on these bases.

Sunken Valley

After a gruelling 12 hours of bumping along this unforgiving terrain, we had to stop, change a flat tyre and eventually decided now was as good a time as any to set up a temporary camp. By the time we were cooking some basic food night fell and we finished out meal in torch light. And so to bed...the reflected heat from the rocky landscape wafted upwards and I sought solace on the roof of the vehicle, thinking that it would be somewhat cooler, not a chance, the hot wind blew steadily all night and I tossed, turned and sweated until around 5am when I drifted into a fitful sleep, dreaming of mediums in Johnnie Mc Hales, but a bit like the line in 'Spancil Hill' I awoke many miles from mediums and was back on patrol before 0700 hrs. We arrived back in Smara, unpacked and cleaned the cars, checked equipment, and showered the African dust from our pores. It's amazing how quickly one rebounds and the following day its off again into the midday sun for another bout in ‘heatsville' Sahara.


On our last patrol we met some nomads and were invited in to their tent to share some camel was a difficult choice whether to smile and say it was lovely, knowing you would only be offered more or to belch appreciatively and pretend you are full. Warm rancid milk in a nomad's tent in 50 degrees would certainly have you wishing for a quiet medium in Johnnies!! Roll on September when I will get a few days off to meet my family who are flying out to Tenerife which is only about a 45 minute flight from Laayoune, the capitol of Western Sahara. I might add it's 45 minutes but a complete world away.

That's all for now bit will update in the future. Come on Mayo in the football!!



Commandant Kevin Mc Donald is a son of Paraic and Bernie Mc Donald of Greenfields, Pontoon Road Castlebar. He has previously served overseas in Lebanon in 1984/85, 1993 and 1996, Israel, Syria and Lebanon from 2005 to 2007 and Chad in 2010 from where he also contributed an article for The Connaught Telegraph.


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