Turkish Airlines Flight 304 from Istanbul began its slow descent to Erbil, the main airport for the Kurdish Regional Government in northern Iraq. Looking down below, I could see the strange contrast of the region’s snowcapped hills and the evergreen valleys. It was not the only thing about the area that was incongruous: While it all appeared peaceful down below, only about 50 kilometers away to the south was the frontline of the battle between the Kurdish Peshmerga and the Islamic State.
So here I was, finally on my way to making the documentary that would eventually become “Big Phil’s War.” It had taken weeks to get here. A combination of false starts, television bureaucracy, and the lack of availability of key personnel meant too much time had been wasted. Like all journalists, we had a deadline to meet, and that meant that the amount of time we could spend in country was less than we had planned for.
Journalist. It was still sinking in. Here I was, Trooper Campion, one-time member of Her Majesty’s armed forces, now transferred to Her Majesty’s press corps! It felt very strange indeed.
Sky had given me my journalist’s accreditation—a laminated plastic press card complete with a picture of my internationally famous handsome features. Even though I was very proud of the new addition to the collection of Campion ID tags, I could not escape one nagging feeling: I was about to enter a war zone, facing the most honking, motivated death cult on God’s earth, and the only thing I was armed with was a plastic ID card!
As the plane started its final descent, I took a quick look around at the three others who would be with me over the next month or so. Over on the other side, peering out of the window as though he was mentally framing up shots, was the cameraman. Rob was the ideal man for the job. A former 42 Commando weapons instructor, he knew this part of the world inside out. After all, he had been deployed here during the Second Gulf War and had gotten up close and personal with Saddam’s mob.
He was an expert mountaineer, supremely fit, and one of the very best cameramen that Sky had—the go-to geezer if you were ever headed anywhere that might boot off. He was, on top of all that, a top bloke to spend time with. We were very lucky to have him.