Life as a civil servant in the Afghanistan war zone

While British troops fighting in Afghanistan are under the intense glare of the media spotlight, there are scores of civilians working behind the scenes in support of the military effort in the country. ANDREW McGILL went to Little Paxton to meet Lynne Pa

While British troops fighting in Afghanistan are under the intense glare of the media spotlight, there are scores of civilians working behind the scenes in support of the military effort in the country. ANDREW McGILL went to Little Paxton to meet Lynne Parker - a woman doing an ordinary job under extraordinary circumstances.

"YOU get used to the guns and the helicopters after a while - it becomes second nature."

Those are the words of Lynne Parker, a civil servant with the Ministry of Defence who has spent the last three months working in Afghanistan.

Lynne, 37, has worked for the MoD since 1993, when she gave up a brief stint as a swimming instructor to take an office job.

Based at RAF Wyton, it was after a road show promoting the chance to work in Afghanistan visited the base last year that Lynne put herself forward.

She said: "I felt like it was an opportunity that I would never get again and a chance to perform at a high level under intense circumstances."

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Based in Kandahar during her time in the Middle East, Lynne acts as project manager for a variety of different logistical operations in support of the armed forces.

She spoke to The Hunts Post during a two-week rest and recuperation period halfway through a six-month tour in the country. She will return to Afghanistan later this month.

"It is a different world out there - like landing on the moon," Lynne said. "There is nothing to remind you of home there. It is horrendously hot - the best I can describe it to people here is that it is like Little Paxton quarry on a hot day.

"We work hand-in-glove with the military. We live, work, eat and sleep together - we act as one cog in a big wheel."

Lynne is in charge of nine other British civil servants, including one man from St Neots, who deal with three distinct areas of work - finance, commercial and claims.

Lynne explained: "Finance simply involves paying the bills - buying everything from fuel and food to barber's clippers. We aim to Afghanise as much as possible by buying things like clothing from local sources.

"The commercial side of things is putting contracts in place to make sure the Government is protected and that we get the goods we pay for."

Lynne added that her team always strive to avoid offending Afghan civilians with talk of contracts - the custom in the country is traditionally to rely on the supplier to deliver the goods and pay up front.

Working in a war zone naturally brings some intense working environments. Lynne said: "You can never forget that you are in a war zone with the things you see. Helicopters and gunfire are everywhere and you cannot think that being inside a compound you are safe."

Lynne said she distinctly recalled one moment when she believed the Chinook helicopter she was travelling in had come under fire.

She said: "I was travelling to Lashkar Gah when the flares were fired from the back of the helicopter [because of the threat of a missile strike] and I thought: 'What am I doing here?'"

Lynne and her colleagues wear the same blue uniforms as United Nations workers and journalists to mark them out as civilians - but Lynne said the 'attractive prospect' of killing a BBC journalist to the Taliban means her team are never off guard.

The final strand of Lynne's team's work is dealing with claims - compensating Afghan civilians for damage caused to property during military activity.

Lynne said: "We have 'claims clinics' where Afghans can come to us and claim for any damage we may have caused. It is a warzone and we do break things."

The claims work also includes compensating Afghan families for any civilian casualties during military operations.

Originally from Leeds, Lynne lived near The Dragoon pub in Brampton from 1993-96 while working at the RAF base in the village.

Following promotion, Lynne worked in Hampshire for five years before moving to Little Paxton in 2001 where she lives with her partner Phil Mabbutt, 43, and his 11-year-old daughter Elise.

Lynne said: "Phil and Elise are extremely supportive - they understand what I am doing and why I am doing it. Phil did 23 years in the air force and is a massive support. He understands what I am talking about."

Lynne insists that has been left no better off financially by opting to work in Afghanistan. She said: "We work from 7.30am in the morning until 10.30pm at night, seven days a week. No-one forces anyone to go, it is a personal choice."

Though glad to be back in England, Lynne insists she is looking forward to completing her tour. She said: "The two things you notice being at home are the greenness of England and amount of moisture in the air but I am ready to go back.

"We are trying to build trust. The locals are educated and articulate but they are very poor. They understand all the politics of what has gone on and they just want to stand on their own two feet.

"I know that there is no way I could get this kind of experience anywhere else."

nLynne works for the Aircraft, Refuelling and Communications Fleets - part of the Defence, Equipment and Support sector of the MoD.