A 40-minute helicopter flight and my rather sober world of desert sand and military rations is transformed.

A mirage of familiar faces, hot showers and second-helpings of ice cream … my infrequent visits to the Provincial Reconstruction Team in Helmand’s capital of Lashkar Gah are a welcome chance to reconnect and recharge.

The PRT Helicopter Landing Zone at twilight

For a stabilisation adviser – particularly one deployed to the far reaches of the province – the PRT is a home away from home. And like any homecoming, it is the familiar rituals that offer respite from the pressures of the ‘out-stations’. A casual cuppa outside the coffee shop, the obligatory evening volleyball, a well worn movie in the Brown Lounge and chance catch-ups with old friends and fellow stabads on their own way through.

Part of its appeal is the casual interaction of people that transcends rank, culture and institution. It is common for British officers to work alongside US marines and civilians from the UK Foreign Office, Ministry of Defence or US State Department. Institutionally, it’s impossibly complex, but somehow it works.

There’s usually a frenetic hum of activity and a throng of nationalities; British, Danish, American, Australian and of course Afghan… bringing together an impressive array of expertise in all manner of areas; health, education, governance, intelligence, counter-narcotics, the rule of law.

The PRT flags at sunset

To any outsider the idiom is impenetrable; the names of organisations are freely interwoven with the acronyms of any number of programmes – USAID, FCO, USDA, DANIDA, DFID, AVIPA, HMEP, RAMPUP, SWSS, ACEP… the landscape is fascinating and ever-changing.

A visit also presents the chance to pick up some of the rudiments of life in Musa Qal’eh – a thick wedge of Afghan banknotes, a box of ‘wag-bags’, printer cartridges, soap and a large supply of chocolate (the golden rule of any PRT stopover is never to return to the districts empty handed).

Such visits are essential for District Stabilisation Teams. We cannot operate in a vacuum; and this is where the PRT serves as more than a retreat – it is our lifeline; for resolving complex dilemmas, shaping new policies, lobbying distant governments in Kabul, London and Washington, or galvanising institutional support. And the ice cream is excellent.