In September 2000, a group of British soldiers serving with the UN peacekeeping force in war-torn Sierra Leone took a wrong turn and were captured by a rebel militia called the West Side Boys. It was a full-scale crisis that became the number-one priority for Prime Minister Tony Blair. His solution: Send in the SAS.

The SAS, or “The Regiment” is comprised of four separate units, A, B, D and G. I was in D Squadron, and we were the ones who got the shout to deploy to West Africa from our headquarters in Hereford. Ironically, we had only just arrived back from Africa where we had been on mountain and jungle training exercise on the east coast.

A few days earlier I had been relaxing in a beautiful tourist lodge on a game reserve, preparing for a full-out assault on Mt. Kenya. My only concern was whether I was going to make it up the mountain in all the heat carrying well over 100 pounds of kit. My Bergen, weighed down with all the climbing ropes, weighed about the same as a medium-sized SUV. I was at the peak of my physical fitness, but still….

And then we received the call to deploy urgently back to the British Army base at Nanyuki and await further instructions.

We flew back to the UK on the first available charter. Although everything we do is supposed to be surrounded in secrecy, the stewardesses knew exactly who we were and kept the drinks flowing throughout the flight. We were completely cut up about losing our mates and knocked it back solidly from takeoff to touchdown. But with the memory of what had just happened, there was an air of revenge hanging heavy in the air.

Back home, Marty and Adey were buried with full military honors at St Martin’s Church in Hereford. We then went and mourned their departure with the mother of all drink-ups in the mess. And it was then the regimental sergeant major announced that he needed volunteers for an advanced deployment. All we knew was that the job involved hostages.

We got kitted out at HQ and then hopped on the Hercules transporter that took us to Dakar in Senegal. Set aside for us outside the airport was a great big aircraft hangar where we set up our advanced base and waited for the rest of the squadron.

It was here that we began to receive the first of many intelligence reports and intel about what was happening a few hundred miles down the coast in Sierra Leone.

Please standby for Part II.