What a day !  I feel almost lost for words!  My pulse rate is almost back to normal after the excitement of this afternoon, and the shower has removed another kilo of dust, but nothing will erase the memory of being that close to a Royal Navy Sea King helicopter in action on the White Horse!The day started well – I was up in time and ready to meet the Cadets of A Company at the foot (or should I say feet?) of the Horse.   These cadets mostly come from West Dorset, but on this day included a contingent from the Channel Islands. They seemed pretty fit as they climbed to the body of the horse and after their briefing from the Major, this is where most of them worked. A small team, however, dismantled the unsuccessful chute and carried the scaffolding planks down to a van.

We steadily shoveled and raked the gravel down, but I knew we had a big task ahead – and that was to load the already bagged gravel into fresh bags on the special carrying nets for the helicopter.  The layman (including me this morning) might wonder why this was necessary, but it became crystal clear later as the bags made their journey by Sea King.  These guys are the professionals and they only do it one way – the right way!

So teams of cadets, under the guidance of Sgt. Major Cowburn from Chickerell Training Camp, collected and unfolded the heavy-duty nets and we shoveled and bucketed the gravel across.  Everybody joined in, as we were working to a deadline, and the Navy ground crew arrived to finalise and check the arrangement for each one ton bag.  By lunchtime, there were nine netted bags safe and ready for collection.

I headed home to collect my large camera (most of my photos are with a tiny Sony WX1), ready for the large scale action, and after brief refreshment headed back up via the bridle path. I was feeling rather proud of my new-found fitness when my knee started to complain painfully. I hobbled for a while and then the sight of a helicopter, forty minutes early, made me forget this problem and charge on upwards. In fact it turned out that it was an RAF Puma, nothing to do with us, but it cured my knee problem instantly!

Michael (the web-master who seems to have tamed the paragraph-maniac elements of this software) had kindly brought me a pasty for my lunch so I became the sole interest for the Sgt. Major’s black Labrador Sam. I gathered that he had already lunched well so had to resist any generous inclinations!

The Royal Navy Sea King arrived bang on time and after a few preliminaries, got down to the task.  This was serious training for them, but it was a real godsend for those cleaning up the White Horse.  We had to stay well back as they hooked up the first bag, near the top of the hill and then we did wonder why they too a circuitous route to the drop off point – giving a great view to the residents of Osmington and Sutton Poyntz.  (This is apparently due to the dynamics of a heavy load needing smooth direction changes to be delivered safely). At one stage as they flew over my house, I did wonder whether it would be convenient for them to deliver some……….

We were able to get a little closer for the next pick-ups, which was a mixed blessing. Better photography, but doing that in a cross between a sand-storm and a tropical hurricane had to be experienced to be believed! Eyes closed, ears deafened, camera being sand-blasted (will it work tomorrow?) – it got the adrenalin going for us, but for the loader in the middle of it was a serious task.  One of the guys later assured me that Afghanistan is MUCH worse…….

The drop-off point at White Horse Farm was no picnic either – the rotors kicked up billowing clouds of dust as if someone had just lit a massive bonfire.  But in spite of the dust, the slope and the need for careful routing, the nine bags were smoothly delivered to their new home.  I really think that Major Ian Drummond, the CO of Chickerell Training Camp and Sgt. Major Cowburn were as pleased as we all were. They and the ACF team had delivered a fantastic training exercise for the Dorset Cadets, in this their 150th Anniversary year.  The cadets had enjoyed working with one of the finest views on the planet. The Navy guys had been able to hone their training with a precision delivery in less than easy circumstances, and our own White Horse had shed nine tons of weight in just over an hour!

A fantastic achievement for the whole team involved – and this is just the start.

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