Out here, your world can change in a heartbeat.

Life around you, seemingly calm and within the realms of control can be violently and without warning wrenched from its moorings.

Over the past six weeks plans had been laid for a historic ‘joint-forces’ event – an occasion intended to bring the Afghan Army and Police closer together with their Marine brethren. A morale-boosting, team-building festival of sport. And who better as the centrepiece for such an occasion than the national bodybuilding champion ‘Mr Afghanistan’ himself – flown from Lashkar Gah for a three day celebrity visit.

Mr A, it was decided, would preside over proceedings, award the honours for the newly minted title of ‘Mr Musa Qal’eh Iron Man’, and crown the event with a performance of his own.

An hour into the event, as the sun’s glare waned, and the fervour of the volleyball ‘grudge match’ neared its height, the illusion of calm and control was shattered.

At the far end of the base, unbeknownst to the baying crowd, a detainee had broken free from his cell in a prison block lying adjacent to the camp.

As the match reached its climax, the prisoner overwhelmed his guard, seized a weapon and escaped from the cell-block. He couldn’t have chosen a worse moment, with the celebrity event drawing much of the attention of the security forces.

He was spotted by Ken McGonigle – a tough Northern Irishman and former policemen serving as mentor for the Afghan Police. Ken challenged then fired his pistol at the escaping man, and called desperately for help from nearby marines. As they pursued him the prisoner opened fire, bringing Ken and a marine to the ground.

The ensuing gun battle raged for 45 minutes. By its end, Ken and two marines had died of their wounds. He had acted heroically, raising the alarm and then racing to overpower a suicidal, armed escapee. He saved many lives that day.

Ken had been an adopted member of our team. We had spoken often – of his many years with the Special Branch, of his four children, and of his plans for buying a farm someday. We had played darts together – badly – and over meals of barbequed goat shared our concerns and hopes for this troubled part of the world. Despite the frustrations of his work, he held onto a spark of optimism for the district’s future.

He was a fine mentor, a good man. His memory will be engraved into a plaque mounted in our compound with the words:

“Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.”