Archive for the ‘Military’ Category

So as another year ends and a fresh one begins I got to thinking about this Blog and decided to start sharing some pictures from my time away to break up the writing side of things.

Afghanistan is a huge part of my life and has been for the best part of a decade now, I have spent so long over there and also in Iraq that I feel more at home in these places than I do in my birth country. Despite all of the bad bad things that have happened while away, the good memories vastly out weigh the bad ones. It is hard to explain Afghanistan to someone that has not been there and actually stood among its people and breathed in its culture: the country is so full of history, life and rich in colour that it’s easy to loose yourself for a time and forget that it is a harsh country, that has been plagued by War for so long now that a lot of Afghani’s can’t even remember a way of life before the one that is now filled with violence and uncertainty. The place is a mixture of landscapes; from the mountains in the North to the Deserts in the South, the rolling plains, fertile farming lands and wooded valleys. You can immerse yourself in the history of a country that was once known as the Orient of the West and was a regular stopping point on the ‘Hippy Trail’, I have stood in the remains of fortifications built by the Khan’s, walked in the footsteps of my forefathers from the British Army, been privileged to have visited the Kings Tomb and have literally walked in History. The people are a hard, versatile people that have lived through the harshest of times, who have a deep rooted pride in the country, their culture and their ties to their ancestors. During times of trouble they are the hardest and most resilient of Warriors who will fight against all of the odds to the last man to protect what is theirs and their way of life, while on the other hand they can be the most hospitable, humblest people that will give you their last bit of food and the shirt of their backs should you need it.

In short I think what I am trying to say is that Afghanistan is a stunning, beautiful looking country with a rich history and an amazing vibrant people and culture which I am hoping that I will be able to portray to you in some photographs that have been taken over the years. Enjoy.

A ‘Tut-Tut’ on the outskirts of Kabul in 2003, a common vehicle to see as they are cheap and easy to maintain.

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Musaqala, Helmand Provence. The location of some of the fiercest fighting in the most recent conflict but also a place of stunning
scenery and the home to a huge bustling bazaar.

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This was taken in Helmand Provence where the Education system is almost non-existent and children are largely left to their own devices during the day while the fathers work and the mothers cook.

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A father protectively hold onto his child while listening to a local Governance speech about health care and Education.

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A British patrol being over taken by a local boy racer back in 2003. In the background you can see the remains of a British Fort that used to overlook the city of Kabul.

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A young lad taking a cheeky peak over the wall to see what goes on inside of a Forward Operating Base and also hoping to scrounge some chocolates from us on the inside.

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So that’s all for now but I will add more photo’s as time goes on and may even throw some shots of Iraq in as well. Enjoy everyone and Happy New Year.

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I’m not sure what happened, or maybe I am but I’m not sure how it got to that point. Too many things going on in my head, too many things happening all at once, a total feeling of helplessness and of being lost mixed with a whole load of beer, the best part of a bottle of Rum and a whole load of self loathing at what has happened and what I perceive myself to have become. That’s probably what happened and how I got to that stage, that’s probably how I reached the point where I hit rock bottom and found myself sat at my newly bought kitchen table during the early hours of the morning with an almost finished bottle of wine sat in front of me, an ash tray full of dog-ends and a knife from my Jamie Oliver kitchen knife set placed beside the glass tumbler staring up at me with a promise to an end to all that has been plaguing me for so long now. One small movement, one moment of pain and then maybe I could find the peace that I fucking crave so much.

As it happens it turns out that I am a total failure when it comes to committing suicide and after some attempts to cut into myself, which have led to some telling scars on my wrist, I found myself sat at the table in a total state of confusion with a blood stained knife laying in front of me and a series of bloody cuts on my arm. It was somewhere during them moments of total shame, between the spates of anger and the tears, that I realised that I couldn’t deal with this anymore on my own. I think that I already knew this, which is the reason that I have slowly but surly been letting a few people that I know and trust see what lies behind my game face. The thing is that even though more people know about my problems I have still maintained that this is something I can manage and deal with myself, it took this event, this moment of madness and me stepping over the mark and hitting an all time low to realise that I’m not as strong as I’d like to make out and that perhaps I do need someones shoulders to lean on when things get too much and to help me find my way through this darkness.

So now I find myself back at work, my wrist is healing well and easy enough to hide from my colleagues and despite the normal frustrations of this job I find myself more relaxed and more together than I ever am back in the ‘real world’. Everything here makes sense to me and I have a sense of purpose, this work defines me and who I am. I find it hard to comprehend the two different ‘me’s’ and wish that the person that I am here could be the person that I am at home. As I have said before, I am not stupid, I know that I am messed up and have lost my way somewhere along the line and that the end game for me is not where I take my own life but where I find my life again and I can take control of my problems and not have them control me. That’s the end game and I am determined to get there no matter what the cost, it just seems so fucking hard and at times it seems like I am fighting a loosing battle but I am sure that with the love and support of those around me that this is something that I will beat eventually or at the very least I am going to go down fighting.

A couple of things that we are taught in the Armed Forces are; no plan, no matter how good, survives first contact and that no battle is ever straight forward or easy. I guess that now, more than ever, I need to take note of them two bits of wisdom that I have heard said countless times over the years.

My life has been a kind of a roller-coaster of events, a mixture of highs and lows, times of excitement and lulls of nothingness. I have struggled with despair and at other times have felt the kind of happiness that only a truly content man could feel. I’ve known love as well as hate, have risen to the top and have also felt the pain of being at the bottom. Sometimes I feel as though my whole life has been one constant battle and always will be and that any moments of peace that I experience are just lulls in that battle letting me catch my breathe before the next fight begins. Recently I have been pulling my way through a huge life changing experience, something that has a profound affect on my life and all of those involved and that has led to some hard decisions being made and also the self realisation of the kind of man that I am and in all reality will always be. I have had to open my eyes to a lot of things and also take stock of my past, my actions and the routes that have led to to this place that I now find that I am in. My life has been turned upside down and I have felt chinks in my armours starting to appear allowing things that I had pushed to the back of my mind to start seeping out and I have no real idea of how I am supposed to deal with this. So with that in mind I have decided to start writing again as a way of acknowledging certain events that I think maybe define me as a person and may give you and idea of what drives me, who I am and why I am the man that I am. I have no actual idea if you even read this anymore or even if you really care, but that is by and by as this is not for you – it is for me. What will follow will be a series of events in no particular order that have affected me in one way or another throughout my years, some good and some not. It will be an apology, an explanation, a story, a pouring out of my heart, a confession, a ride and most of all a look into my life that not many get to see.

So I was just reading a friends Blog that they sent me a link to and I found that I had an account and had already posted two Blogs some time back, something that I had totally forgotten about. So with the aid of the good old copy and paste here they are:

‘First Timer’

‘Well..this should be interesting….a bored British soldier stuck in Afghanistan(actually in the UK at the moment coming to the end of my leave…..another two days and then I will be that bored British soldier stuck in Afghanistan again!!)……writing a blog for whoever to read.I’ve never done this before but don’t hold that against me and I’m not even sure if anyone out there would be interested in hearing about the day to day life of a British squaddie on tour…but fuck it….I’m writing this so that I’ve got a way to take my mind of the horrors of war(which at the moment mainly comes in the form of marauding bands of killer flies,camel shit and the food in our cookhouse!!)….anyway,that will do as a brief intro to my blog…I’ve got to go and help a friend to drink some Guiness now…until the next time,bye.’

‘Welcome to Crap Air’

‘I’m supposed to be in Afghanistan…….I’m stuck at a RAF base because of fucking delays…..I got here yesterday and right up to the minute that I arrived here I was on the phone confirming that my flight would be on time…everytime I rang they said ‘yup,your leaving on time’…I get here only to be told the flight is delayed untill further notice….!!!!!!!If they had told me that before I got here I could of gone back home and spent more time with my family and then just rang up on a daily basis till they said I was flying…..now I’m here I’m not allowed to leave…..It sucks,we don’t get enough time with our familys as it is,I lost three days of my leave due to delays……fuck it,if I’m still here tomorrow I’ll drop another blog……’

I have no idea why I didn’t carry on with writing these Blogs and can only guess that it was due to having more important things to worry about while on tour or even just a lack of Internet access. However, I have found them and they are here now. Short and not that interesting but they are my first ever entries into the world of Blogging.

And as a side note the term ‘Crap Air’ is a phrase used by the Army to describe our sister service, the RAF.

That’s all for now folks.

So it has been a while since I have been here to leave a Blog and during that time a lot has happened. Old friendships have been rekindled, a new job started, a couple of life’s realities faced and accepted and more importantly a ‘new’ me has immerged from my time out. There is too much to talk about in one session on here so I think for now that I am going to concentrate on what has led me to use ‘A Restoration Of Faith’ as the title of this entry.

My time in Afghanistan, although not continuous, spanned almost a decade of my life. During that time it became my life defining who I was and becoming an obsession that took over everything in my life. I lived and breathed it day and night whether I was there or back in the real world. I dreamed about the place and during waking hours could see it in my mind. Smells, noises, a word spoken or a song heard could take me back there in an instant. It wasn’t just me that became affected by this place and my experiences. My family and close friends became affected by it, albeit in a different kind of way, as over the years they saw the effect my time away and experiences had were affecting me as a person. Through highs and lows they watched me, supported me and most importantly I think – kept on loving me. During my highest moments when the darkness receded and I could think about better times, remember the good things that had come out of my time there, appreciate what I have and push the bad times to one side for a short period they were there laughing and enjoying life with me. During my other periods when I was so full of rage, hate, anger and sadness that all I could do was cause pain they were still there, stood beside me, supporting me and helping me find my way back into the light. Without the love of family and friends, someone’s comfy arm chair, some witty and ‘intellectual’ conversation, a very understanding couple who patiently and without complaint listened to me during the early hours of the morning when I was so lost that I thought there was no turning back and a wife who through everything stays with me and is often my voice of reason I have no idea where I would be now. But what I do know is that where I am is better than there. It’s not perfect, nothing ever is, and I have a long way to go still but I am at least now tabbing in the right direction and the road looks good from where I stand. 

You see, what I am getting at I think is this: I lost faith in myself and to an extent everything else in my life. I couldn’t see a way out and was almost consumed by what was happening to me. I knew what was going on or at the very least I had a good idea of what was happening to me and it scared me. In fact for a long time I was terrified. I didn’t have faith in my own ability to deal with what was happening to me or feel that I had the strength to fight the battle that was being fought inside my head. Only a few months back, less than that even, I thought I had lost the fight but due to the reasons that I mention above I seem to have gained faith in myself again and through that the strength to fight and hopefully win this battle. I am restoring myself and like all decent restorations it will take some time and a lot of patience. No doubt there will be some setbacks as no job like this is ever straight forward and to get ahead I will need to face a few demons, some from a life before the Army, and beat them or at least find a way to lock them in their cage. I am a determined man and can rise to a challenge. And a challenge this is.

It is worth pointing out before I sign off that writing also appears to be helping me. I seem to be able to express how I feel and talk about what is happening in my life a lot easier like this than I do through talking face to face with someone. So it doesn’t bother me if anyone is reading this or not as I think that it is just a case of me finding an outlet through here to ‘verbalise’ everything that is going on inside of me. I need this. But if you are reading then thank-you for taking an interest.

And that is it – the reason behind the title.

‘It’s a new dawn. It’s a new day. It’s a new life For me’

Nina Simone.

 

Spending as long as I have in this country serving alongside it’s local nationals there is one thing that I have come to learn about them and that is that they love a good story.

Here are a couple of my favourites:

The Invisible Man

One of our interpreters once told us about his uncle that had the amazing ability of being able to turn himself invisible at will. This wasn’t just some cheap party trick used to entertain kids or some un-proven claim – it was an amazing and un-explainable feat that no doctor, scientist or even religious scholar would be able to explain. It was a superhuman power, the next step in our species evolution, that all of the family had witnessed including our interpreter. Intrigued by his claims and more than a little excited at the prospect of our very own X-Files story un-folding before us we made some brews, pulled up some chairs and encouraged our man to tell us everything about this now almost God like person to us that we had never met.

He explained that whenever the whole family gets together for some event and the festivities start to slow down a bit or the meetings start to drag that they  can rely on his uncle to perk everyone up with a display of his powers. Apparently the man will sit everyone in a room on some rows of chairs facing towards the end of the room where there is a closed door that leads to his sleeping quarters. Once everyone is settled down in their seats the music starts to play and the magic begins. The uncle performs a series of dance moves that are essential to him being able to get his mind onto the correct level of enlightenment that will allow him to fade into nothing. The excitement and tension in the room grows at the thought of what is about to happen – it doesn’t matter how many times that they have seen this miracle they will always be amazed by it and feel like they did the first time that they saw it. As the music begins to fade and his intricate dance moves come to an end the crowd holds it breathe in anticipation of what they know is about to happen. With a clap of his hands and a smile at the audience the uncle twirls his way through the door to his sleeping quarters and shuts the door behind him. They all sit there in silence waiting for it. All of a sudden they hear his voice from behind the closed door and he tells them that he has done it again, that he is invisible and that no-one can see him. The crowd goes wild, cheering and clapping as once again they realise that they have been present for a modern day miracle.

Our interpreter, part of the young breed of men and women that will hopefully be integral in leading this country forward when we finally pull out, finishes his story with a slight fanatical look over his face and sheen of sweat on his forehead. After a moments silence where we all sit there and contemplate the amazing story that we have just been told and the privilege that we should all be feeling at being allowed to know about it our section commander speaks to the story teller. He asks if our man genuinely believes that his uncle turns invisible behind that closed door and suggests that maybe this is some kind of party trick – and not the best one at that. The terp smiles and says that he is often asked this after telling this story especially by Westerners. What is so hard to believe about it? His uncle is a respected man in the community and has no reason to lie. He turns himself invisible behind a closed door because the finale process of making himself disappear would be too much for their minds to handle if they saw it. Our commander asks then why once his uncle is invisible does he not come out of the room so that they can all see that he is not there? Our man sighs and looking at our commander talks slowly and patiently as if talking to a child and says that this is because of the same reason that we do not see him turn invisible. Should he come out of his room and talk to us our minds would not be able to cope with hearing his voice but not being able to see him. He stays in his room to protect us until he become whole again.

We all finish our brews, put our chairs back and carry on with our previous task of getting ready for a patrol – all thoughts of super hero’s gone from our minds.

 

It’s a Wind Problem

Breaking wind. We all do it. You, me, everyone. Even those  that say they don’t do it. It’s natural thing for our bodies to do and we shouldn’t be embarrassed by it – we should embrace it and it’s humorous powers. Toilet humour (excuse the pun) has it’s merits and a well timed fart at the most inappropriate of times has caused huge amounts of laughs throughout time. And it was a well timed breaking of wind moment by one of my men that led to the next story and bit of insight into the culture of the people of this country.

At the end of a rather long and arduous patrol one of our interpreters approached myself and another commander to ask for a private chat with the two of us. It turned out that during the patrol, where the terp spends most of his time stuck in the back of a vehicle, he had come under repeated gas attack from one of the soldiers stuck in the back of the wagon with him who was suffering from a slight wind problem. Time and time again throughout the journey his sense of smell had been exposed to some of the worst smells known to man which had caused him some distress and a lot of offence to say the least and now he wanted to make a complaint and also to explain to us why he was so offended by the actions of this man.

The action of breaking wind in this country is not just offensive but it is almost sinful. It is accepted that people do break wind but it is something that must be done discreetly and far away from anyone else and is never talked about or done in jest. The worst things imaginable can and have happened to people who have made the unfortunate mistake of letting one slip in the presence of other people. When asked to elaborate in that claim he went on to explain about the recorded (no-one can verify where this is recorded) case of the son and father who both suffered because of one moment of craziness where one of them forgot themselves for a minute and accidently let a silent but deadly one slip. It happened in a village in the south of the country some years back during a shura that was taking place. Apparently toward the end of the proceedings the young son of the man, without thinking, let slip a small explosion of gas that he has been trying to hold in for the most of the meeting. The uproar that was caused from the resulting smell is the kind of thing that has been known to start wars and destroy communities. A second shura was called for the next day where the offence would be discussed and a suitable punishment decided upon. The father in his shame and embarrassment at what his young son had done sat himself down on the ground and immediately turned to stone adding fuel to the already burning feeling of anger that was rolling through the village. The boy was in trouble now. Not only had he shamed himself and his father in front of everyone but his father had turned to stone from that very same shame. There was no need for a second shura now and the son was banished from the village on the spot and told never to return. To give you an idea of how deep the fear of trapped gas goes over here the boy apparently returned to the village some year later, knowing that the Elders that banished him would of passed on by now and hoping that all would be forgiven and he would be allowed back into the community. He was met at the boundary of the village and stones were thrown at him until he left again and until his dying days he will be left to wander the desert by himself with the knowledge that his one little slip of wind caused this. If only he could of held on for a little bit longer.

With the story finished the other commander apologised as he broke wind and left the tent to go and talk to the lads about cultural awareness and the dangers of dropping one in the presence of locals which left me to sit there and contemplate what lessons could be learnt from this tale.

And that’s it in regards to the stories. There are many more and at some point I will write about them for you to read.

While lazing about in our compound today catching some sun we could hear some music being played in our interpreters room to which he was singing along to. When the song had finished we called him out to us to find out where the music originated from as the vocalist in it was a female and it’s unusual for a woman of this country to have her voice recorded for people to hear outside of her family. Most music that includes a female singing comes from outside of this place from one of the neighbouring countries. Our interpreter told us that she was in fact from this country and that she had a large following and was his favourite singer and is an inspiration to all of his fellow countrymen that listen to her songs. He then proceeded to tell us the following story of how she came to be a singer:

Apparently during that last Civil War that rocked this country the young woman was living as a housewife with her new husband in the second biggest city outside of the capital while her husband tried to earn a wage. It was during a trip to the local Bazaar that she somehow caught the eye of the local military commander of that district. The commander seeing this young beautiful woman and full of the bravado that a War seems to install in all young fighting men approached her and made some advances that would be considered inappropriate anywhere but more so in this extremely religious country. The commander had about one hundred men under his command and had earnt himself a reputation as being a ruthless and hard man. When she refused his advances, not least because she was married, he had her arrested by some of his men for embarrassing him in public and also for not showing him the due amount of respect that his rank and role demands from the people under him. That evening at his barracks he decided to show her the error of her ways by allowing all of his off duty soldiers to share her for the entire night. The following morning the young girl was told she was being released and that in future she should think before she refuses a man such as he. The distraught singer collapsed to the floor pulling at her hair and scratching her face while sobbing. Despite all that had happened to her over the previous hours she was now worried about her husband and the ‘shame’ that this would bring upon him when the community found out what had happened to his new wife. At the very least she would end up out on the streets and live the rest of her live as a beggar and at the very worst she would be stoned to death for her ‘adultery’. The commander said that he sympathised and understood her concerns and that because he was a caring and lenient man he would do something to try and make things better for her. With that he sent some of his men out to collect the wife’s husband and bring him back to the barracks. Sometime later the confused husband was escorted into the barracks by a group of armed men and led to the commanders office. It was explained to him exactly what had happened the day before and how it was that his wife had ended up ‘entertaining’ all of the off duty soldiers that were stationed there. The husband was distraught and could not believe the shame that his new wife had bought upon him and their family, he was besides himself and disgusted with her. How could she have done this to them. The whore. The commander though, good to his word, explained to the husband that this was not her fault – she was young and naive and easily led astray and also because of her in-experience how was she to have known where her insulting behaviour from the day before in the Bazaar could have led to. He promised to make things right and said that before they left the barracks that day that the husband would no longer feel that his wife had shamed him. In fact he would by the end of the day be closer to his wife than he ever had been and have a much better understanding of what had happened. The soldiers present were then given orders to take the young newly weds back to their quarters and that the wife was to be tied to a chair and forced to watch as her young husband ‘entertained’ all of the off duty soldiers. Now they were shamed together and the only people that they would be able to rely on after this would be each other just as it should be for married couples. Once the husband was finished servicing the soldiers they were both to be released and sent on their way. That night the couple left the barracks and headed back to their compound. Shortly after that the husband took his own life and the wife was forced out onto the streets to fend for herself because of the shame that she had bought upon her family by not being a good enough wife for her husband which must of surly led to him killing himself. For years she moved from place to place begging for a living and suffering more and more abuses. During this time she would compose songs in her head and sing them to herself to try and take away some of the misery. Eventually she found her way into a fledgling refuge for woman such as herself that had been set up by an Non-Government Organization that had recently arrived in country. Through this organization she met many other women like herself and together they gave each other the support that they needed to learn to cope with their abuses and to help each other start again. Together they learnt new life skills and with the support of the Organization they started to make lives for themselves. The Newly Wed found that she had a talent in song writing and singing and with a lot of help and support started to pen songs which have gradually found their way onto the newly formed music market of this country and that apparently is where the real story starts.

The singer has released and number of songs now and has gained quite a substantial following. She says that during her years on the streets it was the music that she created in her head that kept her alive and now it is the music that she is creating for other people to listen to that keeps her going and gives her faith. With her music she hopes to educate people on the rights of women and young people and to also promote peace in this War torn country.

“I think people who truly can live a life in music are telling the world, ‘You can have my love, you can have my smiles. Forget the bad parts, you don’t need them. Just take the music, the goodness, because it’s the very best, and it’s the part I give most willingly'”

George Harrison.