'My Husband and I Fell in Love After Insurgents Stormed Our Camp in Afghanistan'

I had been in a long term relationship before I joined the military in 2011. I signed up to get away from my life really. I had been feeling a little bit trapped and like I had no purpose, so joining the military was to give me direction. I completed all my training and as soon as I got posted to my first unit, RAF Henlow in England, I entered pre-deployment training and soon after was deployed to what was then called Camp Bastion in Helmand Province, Afghanistan.

I worked for the Royal Air Force Police, who were the force protection on Camp Bastion— now known as Camp Shorabak—one of the main hubs for British Armed Forces at the time. We were in charge of force protection, which included maintaining checkpoints and work within the camp and the community outside.

As I was new in, I didn't have much time to think about any risks. We all got into the flow of getting up, going to work, going to the gym, coming back and showering. There was the odd coffee with friends, but we didn't get a lot of downtime.

Chris was on a different rotation to me, he had been deployed earlier and had actually returned to the U.K. He then flew back out to Afghanistan to take over from someone who was ill and was moved into our accommodation, which was tented pods with kitchens and separate bedrooms and bathrooms for men and women. You're in the accommodation together for six months so you become like family and are very used to seeing each other in towels, for example.

But I remember noticing Chris the first time I saw him walking to the showers in his towel and wondering who he was. We weren't working on the same section at the time so we only really saw each other outside of working hours back at the accommodation. I started tagging along if his team went for a coffee, and talking to him when I could. Then, I moved from working on the eastern checkpoint to the main checkpoint, where Chris was, and we ended up working together for perhaps three or four weeks—we just clicked.

I definitely fancied Chris straight away but I don't know if the feeling was mutual to begin with. It was very difficult to spend a lot of alone time together, so we'd go out for coffee with a few other people from our section and then we'd always end up talking, just the two of us, after everyone else had gone to bed.

On September 14, 2012, Chris was scheduled to fly home to the U.K. We had said we would keep in touch but I wasn't really sure if it would go anywhere. I knew I liked him, but people go home and then have their own lives.

Then, that night, the camp was attacked. Dressed in military uniform, 15 Taliban insurgents infiltrated Camp Bastion and managed to open fire on the airfield. It was quite late at night so I was in my accommodation, going to bed and was put in lockdown and told to wait for information. All that I knew was that we were under attack, and that Chris was on an aircraft at the airfield ready to take off. He had been so happy to be going home because it had been a long few months for him.

wedding, couple, Afghanistan, Valentine's Day, love
Dee Featherstone at Camp Bastion in the Helmund Province, Afghanistan, during her deployment there. Courtesy of Dee Featherstone

Although we could hear the attack, I had no idea whether Chris had taken off or whether he was safe. He has since told me that an announcement came over the airplane tannoy telling them to get their bodies down to the floor of the aircraft, as there was an attack underway. He wasn't sure what was happening until the pilot came on to the tannoy to tell them it wasn't a drill. Chris could hear gunfire and looking through the aircraft window was able to see tracer ammunition amidst the gunfire itself.

I remember opening up the entrance to the tent I was in and seeing that the sky was orange from gunfire and explosions. The fighting did go on for quite a few hours into the following morning before I remember hearing a Boeing AH-64 Apache helicopter go up and open fire. It's a really distinctive sound and shortly after that it was all over. Luckily all of the insurgents were killed or captured, and they didn't get too far into camp. But tragically, U.S. Marine Corps Lieutenant Colonel Christopher Raible and Sergeant Bradley Atwell were killed, and there were a number of people injured as well as aircraft destroyed.

Back at the accommodation, we didn't immediately know how many fatalities there had been, so my initial thought was: what if something has happened to Chris? I had no idea if he was safe. That's when I started thinking that there was more to it than just attraction.

It wasn't until later the next day that I saw Chris walk up to the accommodation tents. I had never felt so happy; I was so relieved just to know that he was safe and alive. The following night I asked him if he wanted to watch a movie together, and we shared our first kiss. I already knew I loved him by then, even though we'd only known each each other for about six weeks.

Chris then flew back to the U.K. later in September and I didn't return until early November, but we'd spoken every single day and had already made the decision that we were going to meet up as soon as we could. We'd booked hotels to stay in together which was quite forward considering we'd only really just met. But after what had happened, we just wanted to go for it.

Chris met my family very quickly and by the end of November we had said that we loved each other. Chris took his time in proposing though! He asked me to marry him in 2016, our wedding was in 2017 and we now have a little boy now who is two and a half years old.

wedding, couple, Afghanistan, Valentine's Day, love
Dee Featherstone and her husband Chris, on their wedding day in 2017. Courtesy of Dee Featherstone

I think our story would have been different if Camp Bastion hadn't been attacked that night. Chris would have gone home and I wouldn't have been brave and forward like I was on that night in asking him if he wanted to watch a movie.

Chris is such a genuinely sweet, kind hearted person. He has shown me real happiness. It is a strange way to have met someone though. I didn't go to Afghanistan thinking I was going to meet the man that I would end up marrying.

Dee Featherstone lives in Peterborough, England with her husband Chris and their two- year-old son, Alfie. Dee founded The Little Sensory Box in 2019 which offers a wide range of sensory and early years toys and resources for babies and small children. She finished serving in the Royal Air Force in 2020. You can follow her on Instagram @thelittlesensorybox and on Facebook at The Little Sensory Box.

All views expressed in this article are the author's own.

As told to Jenny Haward.