Christmas Day in Afghanistan

28/12/2011 22:15 GMT | Updated 27/02/2012 10:12 GMT

I still remember the thump and deep drone of the rotor blades as my Chinook helicopter departed from our forward operating base in Gereshk.

A sand storm of epic proportions is kicked up into the air as we fly away over the baron landscape of Helmand Province, Afghanistan.

As I look down on the world before me, a patchwork landscape of scarred brown earth, ploughed dirt fields and harsh grey rock is flying past me at 100 miles an hour.

It's Christmas day 2007 and I'm being airlifted to Camp Bastian for briefing on a future operation.

I remember laughing at many times in my life thinking, "how on earth did I end up here doing this?", but never more than on this day.

It's funny - that helicopter ride seemed to last a lifetime. It really was a strange time of reflection for me.

At first my mind wanders to my family. My mum in the kitchen preparing the oversized banquet of turkey, stuffing and pigs in blankets, the way only she knows how.

My younger brother getting into trouble for trying to steal a Yorkshire or two before the dinner is ready, then being shouted at for his annual disappearing act when it's time to clean up.

Sitting around the television and being told by dad that It's a Wonderful Life is the greatest Christmas film ever and that no one will ever create a song as good as Band Aid again.

Suddenly the Chinook banks sharply which breaks my thought process. An alarm sounds very briefly. The helicopter is flying in an evasive style to avoid being hit by any enemy munitions.

After a few minutes the Chinook settles back down into a regular flying pattern and I drift away with my Christmas thoughts once again.

The lads in the pub sporting new Christmas clothes. New trainers, shoes, shirts and jackets, moaning about the selection boxes and assorted socks from distant aunts they haven't seen in years.

The landlord politely reminding us to keep the noise and language down as pint after pint of high strength lager finds its way into our systems.

"A pint of lager" I thought, "I haven't had one for four months now". "It's the little things", I laugh to myself.

"ONE MINUTE", the air crewman breaks my concentration to inform me there's one minute until landing at Camp Bastian.

As we touch down I'm directed off the helicopter by the air crewman and proceed to sign in at the Bastian air terminal.

As I approach the air terminal an injured soldier walks past me and boards the helicopter I had just departed.

His left arm is in a sling and he has slight scaring on the left hand side of his face, probably sustained from an IED or mine strike some days earlier.

I remember thinking and hoping that he was on his way home for what remained of Christmas, away from this place to be with his friends and family.

A strange feeling washed over me. Why did I need to be in a war zone a million miles away from friends, family and home to realise how much I miss them?

Probably for the first time in my life I truly understood what Christmas meant to me.

More than any material gift, Christmas is truly a time for friends, family and loved ones and I realised how lucky I was to have special people in my life.

Next time you receive a present you're not happy with or a sibling causes an argument over the Christmas dinner or you are made to go out of your way for a crazy grandparent, realise how lucky you are to have these things and cherish every Christmas you spend with your family.

Even the most annoying things about Christmas are missed when you don't have them any more.