A glimpse of life in the UAE military

A television series that begins tonight offers an unprecedented behind-the-scenes look at the Armed Forces and the personnel who guard the security of this country, beginning with Army border patrols. Later the Navy and the Air Force are highlighted, writes James Langton
Stills from the series My Military, which premieres on Abu Dhabi TV on March 5. Courtesy Image Nation
Stills from the series My Military, which premieres on Abu Dhabi TV on March 5. Courtesy Image Nation

It is early morning at the navy base in Abu Dhabi, and the corvette Das has slipped its moorings and is heading out to sea on patrol in the Arabian Gulf.

So begins Hayati Walaskariya or My Military/My Life, a remarkable four-part documentary television series that offers an unprecedented inside look at the men and women of the armed services.

Although the timing is coincidental, the series is a chance for thousands of young Emiratis to learn more about life in the military, ahead of a new law expected to be passed by the end of the year that will make service compulsory for men between 18 and 30, and optional for women.

What they will discover in the coming weeks is a dedicated and skilled group of professionals who dispel many of the misconceptions of service life.

Research carried out on the public’s view of the military before the series was commissioned found that while most people had huge respect for the Armed Forces, they did not feel a deep connection.

Many were also unaware of the career opportunities in the military and did not realise women could serve.

The series, made by Image Nation, a subsidiary of Abu Dhabi Media, which owns and publishes The National, was commissioned to foster the connection between the public and those in uniform.

Episode one, to be shown on Abu Dhabi Al Emarat tonight, also looks at the army patrols that keep the country’s land borders secure.

Viewed through the eyes of the engineers who keep the ships and vehicles moving, it also captures the moment when an intruder climbs a border fence, unknowingly observed by a close circuit camera.

Within seconds, the information is passed from the command centre to the nearest patrol vehicle, equipped to cross even the most difficult terrain.

Shortly after, the intruder has been found, handcuffed and searched, then taken away to the authorities.

Out in the Gulf, the Das conducts a training exercise on a hypothetical hostile intrusion into UAE waters, firing its 76-millimetre gun at the target.

Afterwards, a gunner explains: “Being responsible for protecting my country, my family and my friends gives me a great sense of pride. We took an oath to protect this country under any circumstances on land, sea and air.”

For Mohammed Al Mubarak, chairman of Image Nation, one of the achievements of the documentary is that it shows members of the Armed Forces “are human beings just like us”.

“They live their lives just like us but the underlying effort behind them is to protect this great nation,” Mr Al Mubarak says.

For young people watching who are looking at military service, he said: “It’s a duty we can do when the country calls. We will be ready.”

The second episode focuses on a lesser known area of the military – its medical expertise.

It includes an interview with Dr Moza Al Shehhi, whose family have a tradition of military service and who studied sports medicine in London after qualifying.

“Fitness is an essential element within the armed forces of any country,” she tells the camera.

Dr Al Shehhi is also a three-time UAE chess champion, passing on her skills to young players in her spare time.

The documentary also shows many of those featured out of uniform. Some like to relax with family and friends camping in the desert or training falcons, while others prefer the adrenalin rush of pursuits such as quad-biking or even motorised parachutes.

In the third part of the documentary, the role of the military overseas is highlighted.

It follows the progress of two cadets at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, the elite British officer -training college, then to the UAE skydiving team competing at an international championship in Europe, where the objective is to land on a target the size of a dirham coin.

Some of the most compelling footage comes when the team accompany a UAE patrol on duty as part of a peacekeeping mission in Afghanistan, where they are providing aid support.

The episode shows soldiers training for an operation in a reconstructed Afghan village then being flown in for a foot patrol, with the constant danger of snipers or roadside bombs.

Later the troops support Red Crescent workers as they hand out school supplies and food.

“What I love about my job is the lack of routine,” says one soldier called Mohammed. “Every mission is different and more exciting than the next.”

In the final episode, the documentary focuses on the Air Force, with training aircraft and some of the UAE’s Apache helicopters performing manoeuvres over the desert and mangroves.

But the most spectacular footage features the crack Al Fursan acrobatic team, whose seven aircraft represent the seven emirates.

In a series of breathtaking aerial sequences, the black and gold jets fly directly towards the Burj Khalifa, emerging from the clouds, then swoop over the Palm Jumeirah.

Each stunt is precisely planned, explains Lt Col Nasser Al Obaidli, the team leader.

The footage includes a cockpit view of the crowd-pleasing “solo manoeuvre” in which a lone aircraft rises vertically, then switches off its engine before plunging back to the ground, only to pull up at the last minute.

Lt Col Al Obaidli also reveals that his hobby is chasing thunderstorms.

“The funny thing is that much as I love chasing storms on the ground, as a pilot I do my best to avoid them because they’re so dangerous,” he says.

plangton@thenational.ae

Hayati Walaskariya (My Military/My Life) will be broadcast every Wednesday at 7.30pm on Abu Dhabi Al Emarat beginning tonight.

Published: March 4, 2014 04:00 AM

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