Posts Tagged ‘army’

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.

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‘The Real World’. It’s a phrase that you can hear in almost any modern day war movie and see written down in some books that is in general spoken by a soldier in reference to anywhere outside of the warzone that is perceived as being a civilised place. The context in which it is used could be as follows: “When I get back to the real world…” or “I bet back in the real world they don’t have to put up with this shit…” I use the phrase myself as does just about everyone that I work with out here who is military or comes from a military background. It’s part of our language.

The thing is that despite using this word when in conversation with certain people to refer to my life back home in the UK I have come to realise with some certainty that somewhere along the line the ‘real world’ and this world have become confused for me and have traded places. When I am away from this place and back in your world I find myself feeling apprehensive, nervous, scared, on edge, hyper vigilant, un-able to relax and generally stressed. I am wound up tight, my spring is coiled and I am ready to launch and explode at any given moment. I accept that this is not how I should be feeling and that when back in this strange and foreign land that I no longer understand or fit into that if anything I should be feeling mainly the opposite. I am back there with my family and friends, people who love me and that I love back with more than equal measures and yet no matter how much I want to feel like I belong there I don’t. When my time comes close for me to be starting my journey back home for one of my leave slots I find myself becoming agitated, irate and start to struggle with my emotions. It’s almost like I am fearful of being back in the civilised world. The place has almost become alien to me and I wonder at times if this is because there is no real place for men like myself in your world and that somewhere on a subconscious level I realize this or maybe it is just because I am too damaged to feel anything but the above in the place where in reality I should feel at the very least my safest and most relaxed.

When I am back here, in this war, I still feel a lot of the before mentioned feelings but no-where near on the same scale. When here in my world they are just a quiet noise in the background of my life that are easy to control and stay on that manageable level unless I have need for them. They are natural feelings in this place and have their place in it. For reasons that are beyond me I feel relaxed here and even when in the most dangerous of situations I feel safe. I understand this place and it’s rules and it’s people better than I understand the ‘real world’. I can breathe when here and feel like I am in control of my own body and can function normally. I fit in in here and the thought of not being somewhere like this terrifies me. I will admit that it isn’t all plain sailing though when back in this home away from home and I think the reason for that is that I know that my ‘feelings’ are not how they should be and have become muddled along the line somewhere. Sometimes I will lock myself away in my room and only emerge for work or the gym as my head hurts and my thoughts cloud at the realization of what is or what has happened to me. I’ll sit here at my desk, upset and with feelings of despair for hours at a time as I try and think of ways to turn this around and to get myself back into your world. I may not be the most intelligent of men but I’m not stupid either and I know that this is not the way that things should be and I recognise the effect that this is having on myself and my life in general but I can’t see a way back. This is who I have become.

My wife told me the other day that she thought that I had become acclimatised to this lifestyle and this place and that I enjoyed being here more than I do at home. For certain I’m acclimatised to it but do I enjoy being here more than I enjoy being at home? I enjoy my job and have worked hard to get here but that doesn’t mean that I enjoy the route that it has taken me down. Of course I’d rather be at home with my wife and the rest of my family – I miss her and them. I want to be able to lead a normal life with her or at the very least be able to function like a normal human being when back there. I want to make her happy again. I want to be happy again. But I just don’t know how to be at the moment and need to find myself a compass that can get me back on track again before I become lost forever and can never get back there.

“I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its stupidity.”

General Eisenhower

People have a pretty vivid picture in their heads of what they would expect a man or woman in my profession to be like in person. A kind of  stereotypical Hollywood version of a hired gun would be my best guess of what would come into the average persons mind if you asked them to describe a mercenary. You probably know the kind I’m talking about: The hard-drinking grizzled looking guy stood at the bar of the toughest drinking house in town with a huge cigar stuck in the corner of his mouth. He is covered in ink, drives a muscle car of some description and has a reputation as a womaniser. His favourite reading material is from the top shelve or maybe a muscle car magazine and he listens to rock music. He drinks Tequila for breakfast, cracks shelled peanuts open with his biceps and probably has some kind of attack dog as a pet that he feeds rare T-bone steaks to whenever he makes it back to his bolt hole after the Tequila has run out and he’s dealt with all of the bad guys.

That is near enough how the movies would have you believe that we all are. And if I am being honest with you there probably are a few knocking about somewhere who are pretty much like that and there are definitely more than a few who wish that they were like that. But I’m not like that and neither are the majority of us. I will admit to having some tattoo’s and liking a drink (although not Tequila as that has a peculiar effect on me) but that is about as far as it goes when it comes to the Hollywood version. I’ll now put you straight and give you a more down to earth version for you to stick away in that mind of yours ready to pull out and dazzle them with should someone ever ask you to describe a mercenary. I should point out that the following will be a few facts based on myself and that any similarities between them and any other contractors life is totally coincidental.

Here we go:

  • I do like a drink and when home do have a favourite pub that I like to go to for a drink. But it is nowhere near being the toughest drinking house in town by a long shot. It’s actually a local family pub that has a good mixture of age groups in it, runs a quiz night once a week and on the odd occasion books in a live band. I do stand at the bar but you wont find me stood there with a huge cigar stuck in the corner of my mouth – it’s against the law to smoke in UK pubs and also I find it hard to talk if my mouth has a huge cigar stuck in it. So it’s pointless. And I have never been referred to as being grizzled.
  • I do have some tattoo’s but I don’t drive a muscle car. I drive a popular family saloon, it’s safe and good on the mileage and gets me from A to B. I’m a dedicated family man with a stunning wife and two beautiful daughters and the only woman who I want to be a ‘womaniser’ with is my wife which probably means that in fact, by definition, I am not a womaniser.
  • I have plenty of reading material but none of the top shelve kind. You’ll more than likely find me curled up with the latest Terry Pratchett novel or maybe something by Stephen King. And when the mood take me I’ll read something to do with military history. I also love comic books, mainly 2000 AD but am just as happy with anything that involves super heroes.
  • I am a huge rock fan but at the same time am just as at home with listening to my classical collection or some power ballads. I also have a secret passion for Abba and The Carpenters.
  • I’ve never started the day with a Tequila although once, when a lot younger, me and some friends all cracked open a can of lager first thing in the morning. We probably thought it made us seem cooler when in fact all I remember it actually did was give me a headache. I much prefer a decent coffee and an orange juice first thing followed by a bowel of muesli and a piece of fruit. Once in a while I like to treat myself to a good old-fashioned British fry-up as a treat with extra mushrooms and bread and butter on the side instead of toast.
  • We have dogs. A Pugalier and a Shih Tzu. They are, as you can probably tell from the names, not attack dogs. The only thing that they are likely to attack you with are their tongues as they go nuts trying to say hello to you. And they probably wouldn’t have a clue as to what to do with a rare T-bone steak even if I ever did throw one at them. More than likely the Shih Tzu would just drag it off to a quiet corner and then sit there and stare at it in a slightly confused way and the Pugalier would probably just jump around it excitedly looking at us with her cute bug eyes for some direction as to what to do. So no, they don’t get steaks. The have for dinner instead a slightly over priced dog food that comes in a small white packet and gets mashed up into their colour coordinated dog bowels which they find much easier to deal with. I do eat steak though – blue not rare.
  • The only time that I have ever tried to crack something open with one of my arm muscles I managed to hurt myself.
  • And when I do head home after a few  pints and a couple of rums it’s not a bolt hole that I head back to. It’s my family home.

I guess I  could also tell you about my fascination with fantasy gaming – like Dungeons & Dragons and Warhammer or that I believe in super heroes or even that I wanted a Star Wars themed wedding which my wife, totally unjustly I think, said no too. It would have been awesome. I would have been dressed as Han Solo, my wife as Leia, the daughters as Ewoks, her family as the Dark Side and mine as the Good Side. What could have been better?

So that’s the stereotype blown out of the water.

I guess that if an action movie was to have a ’normal’ person in it as the hero then it just wouldn’t sell. It doesn’t really work if I try to envision Stallone or Arnie driving around in a family saloon singing along to Abba’s greatest hits with a bug-eyed Pugalier waggling it’s tail excitedly in the passenger seat. So I think that from that perspective Hollywood may have got it just right with their version of us.

Nine years. Nine long years. That’s how long I have been coming to this country. That’s how long I have been involved in this war.

This place has changed me beyond recognition from the man who I used to be before 2003. It’s opened up my eyes to a world that many of us will never know outside of a tv show or a book. It’s damaged me more than I care to admit and in other ways it has made me stronger than I could have ever have been in my old life. I look at things differently now and realise how fragile our lives are. For men and women like myself Death is our constant companion and we can only hope that at the end of it all, when our time is done, that it was all worth it.

The patrol base that we had to visit today was only five kilometers north of our location. On a really clear day, if you stand on top of the compound roof you can just make out the radio mast located in the centre of the small base. The ground leading up to it is a mixture of fertile farming land broken up by mud compounds that have stood for generations and copses of blossoming trees. The mountain range in the far distance adds to the picture and you can not help but think what a beautiful country that this is. Another time and another place and this would be somewhere that I would come to get lost in, to just wander around and soak up the history, the people and the culture. But this isn’t another time or another place. It’s right here and right now and if I did let go to that feeling and decide to lose myself and go for a wander it would be a death sentence and no matter how beautiful that I think this place is I am not ready to join my Brothers at the finale RV just yet. That is going to have to wait. The task, on paper, looks simple enough. We are to escort our client to this patrol base five kilometers away so that he may observe a shura being run by the local Government figure-head. The shura is a chance for the representative to showcase the benefits of supporting his government to the local population by talking to them about the importance of education, a working infrastructure, health care and most important of all how they should not support the enemy and what (this is implied) will happen to them if they do.

So the task is no problem. We have the vehicles, we have the kit and we have the manpower. We also have ample supplies of Gator Aid, Pop Tarts and cigarets.

This isn’t the real world though and there is a reason that as we all meet at the vehicle park waiting to mount up in our designated vehicle of the four vehicle move we are chain-smoking, re-checking our weapon systems over and over, making sure that our kit is tight and that we have all of the correct protective gear on (one thing that you do not want to happen out here is to get blown up, lose both your legs and maybe an arm for good measure only for the insurance company to find out that you didn’t have your issue boots or the issue eyewear on. Payout, what payout?). One of my personal things is to make sure that the guys that I am with know where all of my personal med-kit is located. They all have to look in as I systematically point out where my first field dressings and tourniquets are located about my body. It doesn’t occur to me as they patiently stand there and watch me that I have done this so many times with them by now that they probably know where all of my kit is located better than I do. They don’t say a thing and let me get on with it. We all have our OCD side. Time for another couple of smokes and a couple of dirty jokes and then we get the shout to mount up and move out.

The journey takes us approximately 45 minutes from start to finish. The heat is unbearable and the air-con unit is non-functional. There are four of us crammed into the back of this wagon with all of our kit, wedged in between communications kit and ammunition crates like sardines packed into a tin. The driver and commander have the best deal, there was only two sardines in their tin. The route takes us along a dirt track that winds through the compound and cuts across the fields kicking up plume of dust as we move. It only takes us a couple of minutes until we pass the location of the first Improvised Explosive Device that I found in this area on a patrol – a school that has long since closed after the enemy opened fire on a class of children to let them know of their displeasure at the education system coming to their part of the world. We found the IED placed within the school itself – left as a little surprise for anyone who decided to come back and try to carry on with their education. Just about a 100 meters later and the vehicle commander calls back to us to let us know that we are about to pass the location where a vehicle of theirs was taken out of action by a IED the week before and just after that is the spot that the enemy keep on planting anti-tank mines in the hope of hitting a vehicle one of these days and sending a Marine or two back home to their families before their tour is up. If they succeed the Marine gets a fancy medal so it’s not all bad. We sit there and lose ourselves in our own thoughts while waiting for the sudden hot blast of pure violence to hit us. I sip on some water from my now hot bottle. The blast doesn’t come and we carry on with our road trip. We hit the next set of compounds and  immediately we hear the strikes of small arms fire pinging off the side of our vehicle. Everybody tenses inside the vehicle, for us this is the worst situation, stuck inside this mobile tin can unable to see outside and unable to react. There is nothing we can do, we are just passengers on this ride and have to trust in and let the crew do their job. My adrenaline starts to pump through my body, my lips go dry and my stomach goes into knots. I prepare myself mentally for what needs to be done in a dozen scenarios. If the vehicle is immobilized I need to get my client out quick and into cover or another vehicle. He is my priority and he is counting on me to look after him. That’s all I am worried about in that situation. The Marines know that if I become a casualty that they are to leave me get my client to safety and then come back and help me.  If the vehicle gunner gets taken out I have already cleared it with the vehicle commander that I will jump up and take his place on the .50 cal machine gun. If I become a casualty the Marines in the vehicle will get my client through. As long as we get him to his task location in one piece that is all that matters. I wonder if he realises how much we are all putting ourselves all on the line for him, what we are willing to risk on his behalf. These feeling and thoughts are over in milliseconds. And then it clicks in – the gunner is not returning fire and the vic commander is shouting back at us. It’s not gun fire. It is kids, lots of them, throwing rocks and stones at us as we go by. This should be amusing and is I guess except for the fact that the stone throwing, in this magnitude, means that we are not welcome around here. The convoy carries on rolling through this storm of rocks and stones to its finale destination.

After 45 long minutes we arrive at the patrol base. We disembark, saturated in sweat and covered in dust and leave our ‘road warriors’ to look for our shura area while they moan about broken mirrors, smoke and discuss the pro’s and con’s of lighting up the stone throwers – the theory being that if you shoot a couple of them then the rest will get the point. I don’t think that they will get the point myself and if anything the stone throwing will turn to gunfire.

We find the shura area after a short walk. There are about 200 males all sitting down in the middle of a sun-scorched compound. They have no water, no shade and can not leave. The only thing that they have to look forward to is a two-hour lecture from someone who they have never met before and probably will never see again. And just to make them feel more comfortable they are being watched from all sides by a score of armed men in uniform. At the front of the compound, sitting under a sunshade with a crate of bottled water at his feet is the government rep for this area. He reminds me of dictator or emperor of old, fat and over fed, sitting upon his throne looking down at his subjects. He starts his speech while I stand at the back with my client, he watches the man give his speech while I watch the crowd for any kind of sign that may tell me that someone is about to jump up and push a button so that he can finally go and meet his 40 virgins in heaven while sending some of us the opposite direction. I’ll be lucky if I spot him before he goes bang….but it’s always worth looking. The speech goes on and on and on. No-one but the man in the chair talks. This isn’t because he doesn’t give the now slightly dehydrated crowd a chance. It’s because none of them seem to want to talk. They all sit there in silence, every now and then casting nervous glances at the armed men stood around them and at un-seen foes sat amongst them. The problem is that we are stood at a spot on the very edge of the baddest of the badlands. We are at the frontier. This is the modern-day wild west. The O.K. Corral. This base is surrounded on three sides by land controlled by the bad guys. When we leave it will still be controlled by the bad guys. This is not a place where anyone wants to be seen to be talking to a government rep. None of these people would have come to this shura if it was not for the armed government men who walked into their villages and rounded them up like cattle and told them that they had to attend. The future of their country depends on them attending. Their children’s futures depend on them attending. So with a gun at your back you are going to attend. Inshallah. The un-seen foe amongst them is our enemy. They are there, dressed the same as everyone else and un-armed so that the Marines can not do anything about them, in force watching the proceedings and ready to take note of anyone who appears to show any interest in what is being said – if anyone does they can expect a visit from a different group of armed men during the night. The meeting ends and everyone is allowed to leave, on the way out smiling Marines hand out free prayer mats and copies of the Holy Koran as a way of making up for the lack of water. The enemy never give out free prayer mats. Maybe this government isn’t so bad after all.

I stand beside my vehicle grabbing a last smoke before I mount up. As I do so I contemplate the 45 minute journey back and hope that this has all been worth it.