Posts Tagged ‘friends’

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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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.

Pipedreams. Everyone has them. Some of them are more wild than others, some of them practical and some not. Some are achievable and some are most definitely not achievable. But I guess that is kind of the point of a Pipedream – it is something that is personnel to all of us, a dream of who we want to be and where we want to be. Our very own personnel vision of the future where everything turns out just how we planned. Your very own ‘happily ever after…’.

One of my favourite Pipedreams is probably one of my more achievable ones. It’s one that involves my very own little corner of the world where I can forget about everything and just be at peace with myself and my family. I’m not really sure where this dream came from as the location is somewhere that I have maybe only been to twice and one of them times was just me passing through on my way somewhere else. Most of my knowledge of this vision of tranquillity comes from photographs, publications and television programs and I am guessing that between my brief visits and these other sources of information that something has appealed to my subconscious self and caught my imagination. The Lake District is that Pipedream. When I need to relax or I just need to get away from this place for a while I can sit myself down in my pod, close my eyes and imagine everything. It’s perfect for me and I wouldn’t change a thing. We live in a stone built cottage with a thatched roof that dates back a few hundred years that is set in acres of it’s own land. Surrounded by rolling green hills that are broken up by small copses of woodland and with the shores of a lake only a short walk from the front door it is everything that I have dreamed of owning. We have more dogs than what we once had now that we have the space and land for them that roam freely. Alongside them we have chickens and geese and more than likely have a cat lurking around somewhere. Our days are spent wandering and exploring the surrounding areas and in the evenings we sit back on the decking that I have built and share a bottle of wine while listening to some music and watching the lake shimmer in the moonlight. At weekends we are joined by family and friends who I cook for on the BBQ and as dusk comes we all sit around on the forever expanding decking drinking and chatting until the early hours. Our daughters visit with their families and we spend the days wandering around and just enjoying time together. In the evening we all sit around the open fire with me supping on a good whiskey enjoying listening to all the talk and laughter coming from my girls and their little families. Even though the cottage is secluded enough that we can feel like we are the only people in the world at times if ever I feel the need I can just put a pack on and disappear into the hills to wander to my hearts content safe in the knowledge that this is my own little corner of the world and that no-one can hurt me or mine here. My perfect Pipedream.

Of course I’m not naive and I know that nothing is ever perfect in reality. The Geese would always be chasing the dogs. The cat would probably eat the chickens. I have no idea how to build decking and even if I did the good old British weather would probably put a stop to us using it too often. A thatched cottage of that age would be so expensive to maintain that instead of spending my days wandering and exploring I would spend them working to keep up with the bills and no matter how secluded you are there would always be some tourist, with their map held upside down, turning up at your door lost. But what’s the point in having a dream if it can’t be perfect at least in your head. And like I said at the beginning this is my more achievable and practical one. The one that involves me being the first human to step foot onto the surface of Mars and promptly bump into little green men or the one where I find an ancient artefact that gives me super human powers can wait until another day.

“Pipe dreams are good, they don’t have to be practical and they often change. Its just nice to have some distant dream to think about when things get tough.”

A Wise Old Friend

‘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

When working in this industry in a hostile country there is only so much for a man of my trade to do in his spare time. Once the tasks are complete, the meetings done and the reports finished then there really isn’t a lot for us to do. It isn’t like we can just nip out down to our local pub for a pint or pop into the town for a wander and a spot of lunch. Once the work is done we are confined to our 50×50 compound to sit, think and find ways to pass the time.

For me, passing the time consists of various things – working my way through one of the many books that I have on my Kindle or maybe kicking back with the latest releases from the UK cinema’s that have been recorded with a shaky hand on low quality camcorder by someone sat at the back of a flea pit of a picture house somewhere in deepest darkest Europe. If the films and books don’t do it for me then the gym will. There is nothing quite like a sweat inducing, vain popping, muscle pumping session in our ‘prison yard’ gym to take away the stresses of everyday life in a war zone. Unless of course I can find someone to play a game of chess with and then I am more than content to sit there in the sun smoking a cigar with a coffee at hand while trying to outdo my opponent in the age old game of skill trying to look like I actually understand the game and can think more than one move ahead.

One other thing that helps me to pass the time over here and keep my mind away from other things is to read Blogs. Not on any particular subjects, just any that, when I first read them, catch my eye and keep me interested and with any luck entertained.  This is what got me thinking about the subject of this entry into my series of Blogs. There is one particular Blog that I have started following where the writer covers a varied amount of subjects and recently published two to do with films – one was to do with their top few horror films of all time and the other was to do with the worst film that they had ever had to sit through to this date. Reading about the authors top horror films of all time managed to get my mind wandering to how films influence us and effect out lives. For instance, thanks to a couple of horror films that I watched from behind a pillow in my younger days I now have an irrational fear of clowns (or Klowns depending on what film you saw), give sewer grates a wide berth and always keep a wary eye on any hedgehogs that I may see shuffling their way across our garden. And it was a hell of a long time after seeing a particular film before I could take a shower comfortably without having to check the locks on the door to the bathroom were securely pushed across and that the windows were shut and that there was no-one squeezed into the bathroom cabinet just waiting to make a appearance once the water started running.

So we all know that films influence us all in one way or another, whether sub-consciously or consciously, to various different degrees. One film that, while I was thinking about this subject, kept springing into my mind as having a huge influence on my life was the Breakfast Club from 1985 written and directed by John Hughes. This film was and still is as far as I am concerned one of the best movies to come out of the 1980’s. For those of you that haven’t seen it the story follows a group of five high school students in the States who are all given a Saturday detention where they are left by the supervising teacher to sit in the school library for the day and given the task of writing an essay about themselves and who they think they are. Each of the five main characters accurately portrays and different stereotype from our school years: the Jock, the Nerd, the Rebel, the popular girl and the plain weird. During the course of the film you watch as they pour their hearts out to each other, find out that they have more in common with each other than they first thought and in the end, for at least the period of the detention, become friends. It’s a heart-warming, funny, touching film and I am sure that every single person who has had the pleasure of watching it could identify with one of the characters when they were back in school. The ‘Rebel’ – Judd Nelson’s character – was who I identified with on some level and it was as a direct result of seeing that film and watching his character at work that my finale few years at school changed for good.

My first year of life in High School was a stressful period of my life. I found it hard. I didn’t fit in to the chaos that is the predecessor to adult life. I was an outcast from my fellow pupils and didn’t fit into any of the before mentioned groups – I was no good at sports so as a rule gave them a wide berth which kept me out of the Jock category. I wasn’t smart enough to be a nerd so they ignored me as well. I was anything but popular and no-where near ‘cool’ enough to be a rebel. And even the ‘weird’ ones amongst us ignored me. Even to this day I am not sure of the reasons for this, maybe it was because I was quiet or even because I was a little shy. Maybe it was because I wore a mix match of clothes as my uniform – a mixture of the cheapest items or second hand shop clothes – who knows. Children can be funny at times and often act without reason. So for the first year of High School I put up with various in-conveniences like being spat on, being pinned against a wall while some of the ‘popular’ girls slapped me in the face just because they could, being pinned to the floor while one of the ‘tough’ guys bit my arm, suffering various digs and jibes at my expense and even being chastised by a couple of teachers on a regular basis for not living up to what my older brother and sister had achieved during their time in that same school – my sister was and is a very smart woman and my brother excels at sports. I am neither smart or excel at sports. Eventually I think that the stress that this must of caused me and the fact that I kept it to myself eventually made me ill and I was diagnosed with ME which led to me having a extended period of time away from school. It was during this time off that I first saw the ‘Breakfast Club’ one late night while sat in my fathers arm chair after he had gone to bed. The film touched me and appealed to me in a way that I couldn’t comprehend. Judd Nelson’s character seemed to spring out of the screen at me and even though I wasn’t a ‘rebel’ something in the character that he portrayed appealed to me. He was an outsider and no-one in particular liked him but he didn’t care. And he let people know that he didn’t care. It was like his character had built himself a defence mechanism against the world and that defence mechanism was to stick two fingers up at anyone, whether it be a person, group of people or the system who upset him and say loud and proud ‘fuck you, fuck you man. I am who I am and if you don’t like me well here I am. Bring it on’. He stood up for himself. In my eyes he was a hero (don’t laugh) and and way above the ‘rebel’ type characters that I knew from my school. And best of all – he got the girl.

Now, I should point out before I continue that in hindsight his character was not the best that I could of been looking up to – he was the way that he was because he had a lot of issues. He had an abusive home life and was a very angry young individual. His actions were very self destructive and in real life could only lead him on a downward path. However, it is what it is and that is the route that I took. Before long I had grown my hair out, changed the way that I dressed and at times was sporting a leather jacket or from time to time a lumber jack style shirt worn over whatever else I had on. I had taken up smoking and was sporting a pretty impressive Zippo lighter. I went back to school but had fallen so far behind with my time off that I gave up on the idea of being able to catch up and instead concentrated on the being the ‘new me’. I walked around with a ‘I don’t give a fuck’ attitude and when in classes would sit there with my feet up on a table and be disruptive or rude if the teachers talked to me. If they tried to discipline me I just left. People who used to take some kind of pleasure in causing me problems now found me standing my ground and even pre-empting them and throwing a series of wild punches. Nine times out of ten this would end with me laying bloodied on the floor but it had the desired effect – they soon started to learn to lay off. Bullies don’t seem to like it when their intended victim fights back. Outside of school I had started to drinking alcohol ‘acquired’ from my parents supplies to add to the already building image. I found myself with a new group of friends – some that I am still good friends with to this day – and girls were showing an interest in me. So life seemed good to me and that’s how I carried on for almost three years. Thank you Breakfast Club.

Looking back though I wish that I had taken a different route – I didn’t pass any exams, in fact I think that I only turned up for maybe two of them. My reports were bad and only a few days before my finale school day I was finally kicked out. My ticket was even taken away from me for the end of High School boat party that had been laid on for us. However, despite that person not being the real me and leading me to a lot of bad places at times it did help to get through my finale years at school, even if it wasn’t a successful end. And when I finally did make it out in to the big bad grown up world and started mixing with non-school kids I calmed down and started to get back on track…..kind off.

“Screws fall out all the time, the world is an imperfect place.”

John Bender, 1985.

“Saturday, March 24,1984. Shermer High School, Shermer, Illinois, 60062. Dear Mr. Vernon, We accept the fact that we had to sacrifice a whole Saturday in detention for whatever it was we did wrong. What we did *was* wrong. But we think you’re crazy to make us write an essay telling you who we think we are. What do you care? You see us as you want to see us – in the simplest terms, in the most convenient definitions. You see us as a brain, an athlete, a basket case, a princess and a criminal. Correct? That’s the way we saw each other at 7:00 this morning. We were brainwashed.”

Brian Johnson, 1985.

Stardust

Posted: April 14, 2012 in Uncategorized
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There is a film named Stardust that I have watched a few times – a modern day fairy tale with a couple of big names in it, a few laughs and a feel good ending. In this film there is an old man that has the job of guarding a portal into another land, a ‘gate keeper’ of sorts I guess. If you’ve seen the film you will know the character that I am talking about. You get the impression that he has been there forever, sat by that portal on his little stool, proudly controlling who comes and goes from this world to the other and visa verse and even if the portal were to close he would probably carry on turning up every day just to sit there and watch the world go by.

There is an Afghan who for some reason reminds me of this character. Every-time that I take my client on a task to the local Police Commanders family compound he is sat there at the entrance of the place sat on a small wooden stool wearing his tatty undersized Police uniform with his rusty rifle leaning up against the wall. More often than not he has a glass of chai placed on the ground beside him and a cigarette in hand. Whenever we see him he is full of smiles and always shakes our hands warmly while saying hello to us and asking if we are well and how are our families in his own language. He is old for someone from this country and his eyes, which are a startling blue, although kind are the eyes of someone who has had a long and hard life. He always struggles to stand up and move to the gate to open it but is quick to give you a warning look if you move to do it yourself. Probably he shouldn’t be doing this job anymore and should instead be sat at home with his family taking care of him while his grandchildren sit around listening as he tells them stories from his youth. He is a proud man though and even if the Police Commander did tell him that he didn’t have a job anymore he would probably turn up every morning anyway to sit on his stool, watch the world go by and wait for someone to come along that he can open the gate for. When we leave he always give us a cheerful wave before settling himself back down and carrying on with his glass of chai.

The three suicide bombers were dropped of 50 metres down the road from him. They were all dressed as local police men and even though he wouldn’t of recognised them he would not have been suspicious as there were always officers that he didn’t know coming and going for meetings with the commander. All three of them were armed with automatic weapons which is the norm for over here in the security forces. As they got closer to him no doubt he would of been getting up to say hello to them and readying himself to open the gate. One of them tossed a grenade at him before diving into cover with the other two. As soon as the blast went off they were moving. As all three moved up to the gate one of them emptied the best part of a magazine into him just to make sure that he was definitely not going to get up and open the door for them. As soon as that was done they opened the gate themselves and moved on into the Police Commanders family compound to finish what they had gone there to do.

The fairy tale was over.

It was just over the half way point of my first tour of this country as a young Rifleman in the British Army that an event happened that would not only change me as a person but it would also change my life and that of everyone else that was there forever. I am not writing this account of my version of the events that followed to gain any kind of sympathy for myself or any of my brothers that were there, or for the loved ones at home that were left behind. I think that I am writing this so that people who read it can get some kind of insight into what drives men like me to become who we are and also that you may gain some kind of understanding of the war that we are in and the effects that it has on the young men and women that fight in it.

In the early days of the war the British Army was mainly based in the north of the country committed to peace keeping operations, stabilisation projects and some anti-insurgency operations. We arrived in country about a year after the initial invasion that had seen the hard line Islamic Government removed from power, with most of their forces fleeing to the south of the country. The city was a bustling hive of activity, a new government was in power and despite the obvious signs or poverty and decades of war it appeared that the place was slowly starting to get itself back on it’s feet and attempt to begin at living again. We were there in a peace keeping capacity, tasked with providing security for our area of the city, support for the local forces and and as reassurance for the local population. Our tour was expected to run smoothly, the main threat was from Improvised Explosive Devices and the Suicide Bomber of which there had been a few incidents with over the past few months but nothing regular as the previous governments forces were still, at that stage, on the back foot and staying put down south. We adopted and non-aggressive posture, we patrolled with berets on as opposed to helmets and when in vehicles we used stripped down Land Rovers with little or no armor. The next few months passed relatively peacefully as we got to know our area of operations. The locals, although wary at times, seemed to appreciate our presence and we soon got to know the local faces and business owners. We would get mobbed by children on patrols, trying to get us to part with sweets or pens while asking us our names and trying to impress us with any English that they had learnt so that we would give them an extra chocolate or two. In some areas of our part of the city people would come up to us and give us small glasses of Chai or a pieces of their home made bread. And I remember being invited into countless homes by people to sit and drink Chai and meet their families. People would shake our hands and say in broken English ‘thank you for coming’. We were made to feel welcome. It felt like we were part of something good that had happened and we were proud to be there.

Just over half way through the tour and things were going good, everyone was still in one piece and we were accomplishing our mission. Morale was high and the platoon that I was in had become close, we had become a family. The winter was coming to an end, the snow was now turning to slush and we were starting to get bouts of sunshine through the snow clouds. This for us was a good sign as the winter had been exceptionally bad that year, snow was deep and everything became iced up. Patrolling in vehicles had become a nightmare because of the fact that they were stripped down and the crew were open to the elements. It wasn’t unusual for patrols to come back with kit frozen solid to the wagons and the crew with thin pieces of ice formed on them. Throughout this jobs carried on as normal, so when things started to clear late in the first month of the year we all breathed a sigh of relief. The only downside to the snow melting and the winter ending that we could see was that it would put an end to snowball fights that had become the norm when on our downtime. But I guess that we couldn’t have it all. Patrols were conducted daily, either on foot or by vehicle. Every time, before heading out we would have a brief which would include an updated intelligence report. Sometimes we would just head out and conduct a reassurance patrol to maintain a presence on the ground, other times we would be given a task by the ops room or by the intelligence cell. These tasks could be anything from; going to get the grid of a specific building, maybe finding out the name of a local mullah or even going to check on some reports of disturbances in certain neighbourhoods. One thing that was always certain to come out in these briefs was a threat warning of some kind. It could be anything from a report of armed men been seen in our area to a possible IED being placed on one of the route that we used. But nine times out of ten it would be a report of a possible suicide bomber driving around in a car looking for a military call sign to hit. We heard these reports everyday, they were two to a dozen and even though we took them all seriously nothing ever came of it. It was enemy propaganda to keep us on our toes, to let us know that they were still out there. Somewhere.

Then our day of days came.

That morning as we were finishing our brews at the end of the briefing and waiting for the patrol commander to tell us to get our arses down to the vehicles and mount up the intelligence officer raced back into out communal room. He said that they had just received a verified report from a trusted source that there was a suicide bomber in our area driving around looking for a British call sign to hit. The source had even gone one better, he knew which road the attack was planned for, what vehicle the bomber was in and what colour it was. The problem with his info was this: the road was the main route through the city, so it was the busiest road and used by military call signs day in and day out. The vehicle was a Toyota and for some un-known reason to me, eight out of ten cars (even to this day) in this country are Toyota. Last of all he had told us that the car was painted yellow and white to look like a taxi. Every car in this city at that time, if owned by a local, was painted yellow and white to look like a taxi due to the previous government banning anyone from owning a car unless it was a taxi. After passing this law the rulers of that time woke up the next morning to find the streets filled with hastily painted yellow and white cars with taxi signs stuck to them. These people aren’t stupid. So, with that information being passed onto us our tasking was changed and we were told to drive out to this particular road and set up a vehicle check point and just wait to see what happens. The intelligence officer had come up with the genius idea of us acting as bait and if his plan worked out, we would see the suicide bomber before he got to us and be able to take him out before he said his finale prayers and took us into the after life with him. Easy for him to say, once we were outside of the base he would head back to his comfy office with a hot drink and the latest copy of FHM and wait out to hear what happens. The Boss thanked him for the update, we finished our brews and headed out into the now overcast day as the first bits of sleet started to fall from the sky.

A Vehicle Check Point was something that we could set up by positioning our vehicles on a road so that we created a ‘bay’ that we could direct a civilian vehicle into to be searched and their occupants questioned. The purpose for these VCPs’, for us, was to try and keep the enemy on their toes. With any luck we would hidden weapons in the vehicle, maybe narcotics or even components used to make the IED’s. The reason that we didn’t have permanent check points and used our vehicles instead was to give us a slight edge in these taskings – because we were mobile no-one knew where we would be setting up and therefor couldn’t plan in advance to take a different route around us. The other important thing about the VCP’s was timings. We never stayed in a spot for longer than 10 minutes. This is a golden rule. One reason is that there is no point in being there any longer as no doubt if anyone was heading your way they would of received a phone call by then letting them know that the Infidels were conducting vehicle stops on that route and that they should find another way round. The other reason, the main reason for us, was that if there was a young brainwashed man out there driving around in a giant explosive device on four wheels he would of had a call telling him about us and unlike the other guy that gets a phone call he will be heading our way on a mission from God. So we move every ten minutes to be on the safe side. On this particular day we were told to stay in the same spot until we were given permission by the ops room to wrap it up and head back.

We hit the road and set up our check point. It was the busiest part of the day for this road – try to imagine the M25 on a bad day and then add some. Everywhere we looked there were vehicles, and a majority of them were Toyota’s and most of them were painted in the colours of taxi’s. We put ourselves into our positions and set to work. Any vehicles that had more than one persons in them we would allow to pass and any vehicle with one person in, depending on various factors, we would direct into our improvised bay and start a very cautious search. It’s nerve racking work for all those involved. Some of us watch the traffic, trying to spot that one person that could give of a signal that says he has a date with 40 virgins in a few minutes time if he is lucky. Others watch the guys searching the vehicle and passenger. The guys searching the vehicle watch nothing but the vehicle and its passenger. The passenger watches us. Everyone watches someone or something. The vehicles get searched, the id of the driver checked and as long as he hasn’t gone bang and killed the searchers and probably injured everyone else he is sent on his way. The we start the process again. Ten minutes comes and goes and we swap around roles to give the searchers a break. We keep this up for 45 minutes. The Golden rule has conveniently gone out of the window for the guys back in their cosy offices. The weather is cold and the sleet is now coming down hard. Despite this we are all hot and sweaty and tempers are starting to fray. This is fucking stupid, even if the intelligence was wrong we have been here too long now. If there wasn’t a suicide bomber there will be one now. Fuck it, there probably an army of the bastards on the way. We need to move. Now. The patrol commander gets hold of the ops room and says that we need to move. They say wait out. We’re not even searching vehicles now, we have just taken up defensive positions and are waiting. Cars drive past us, everyone now looking like a suicide bomber, the passengers staring out at us as they go by wondering what the infidels are doing stood out in this weather just staring at vehicles. We get the call. The intelligence is wrong and we are to return to base. We all curse under our breaths about the shit int and what we would like to do to the officer that tasked us and his informer and then mount up. We move of quickly and head back.

We rock up to the vehicle bays in our base to find another section from our platoon waiting to head out on task. They are heading out on an escort tasking and are going to use our vehicles as they are warmed up. That suits us as we don’t have to close them down and clean them out. They start mounting up almost straight away. They have a medic with them, not one of ours, a Navy guy from the med centre. His Boss has told him that he has to go out on at least one patrol before his tour ends and as he is due to go home in a couple of weeks he is to go on this one. He actually doesn’t want to go out, his job isn’t to be out on the ground and even though he knows not much has happened he doesn’t want to temp fate. He Boss doesn’t give him a choice and makes him go. It will be good for him apparently and give him something to tell the folks back home. One of the drivers heading out is moaning about the fact that he has been up all night ill with a bad stomach and can’t believe that they can’t find another driver. He says that if he shits himself while driving no-one better take the piss. He is a well liked individual, a bear of a man with a heart of gold and a passion for engines. He isn’t one to moan and as such we know that if he has actually spoke up about being ill then he must be feeling fairly bad. One of our drivers, a young guy who I have known since training steps up and offers to take his place. The gesture is half heartily refused and it takes another offer before he gives in and heads of at a quick pace for the nearest toilet block. His replacement is well liked by everyone in our platoon and joined the Army during break from university as he wanted a challenge and to gain some kind of life experience that he didn’t feel that he’d get from the civilian side of life. He wasn’t a career soldier, this was something that he felt he would gain from before he went back to finish his education, once his time was done that would be him. I remember he once said that he was looking forward to this tour, not for the same reasons as the rest of us which was to carry out our peace keeping task with the hope that we would get to test ourselves and all that we learnt throughout training against the enemy at some point , but because he wanted to experience another culture, meet new people and hopefully be able to play a small part in helping the people of this country get back on their feet. He didn’t want to kill the enemy, he wanted to help the people of this land. This is something that he was proud off. He was a quiet man, who in the evenings would lay on his bed reading a book while the rest of us shot the shit, watched films and smoked cigarettes. He always had a smile on his face, talked fondly of his family and would give you the clothes of his back if you needed them. That’s why that morning he offered, despite how tired and weary he was from the previous task, to take over as driver for the other guy. Five minutes later they were in the vehicles and out the gate. The rest of us heading up to our rooms to sort our kit our before getting the brews on.

The patrol was out for about 30 minutes or so before we heard the blast. It was close enough to shake our doors and windows. They had gone to another location to pick up a truck that needed an escort and when they were hit they were passing the base about 500 metres away. The car was a yellow and white Toyota taxi and was been driven by a young man with a British passport. He drove straight into the drivers side of my friends wagon before detonating. The medic who didn’t want to join them lost the best part of an arm and suffered shrapnel wounds. He got to go back to the UK early and had that story to tell folks that his Boss had wanted for him. Another friend of ours had his eardrums burst and is now permanently deaf. The other soldier in the back suffered shrapnel wounds to the head, lost the use of one arm and was in a coma for a while. The vehicle commander lost an eye. My friend, one of my best friends, that I had trained with for months, drunk with, laughed with, a soldier that the entire platoon loved took the brunt of the blast on his exposed upper body. His wounds were traumatic and even though the medic from the Quick Reaction Force that arrived on scene tried to keep him with us it was hopeless. He was gone.

The intelligence had been right.

The aftermath of this involved a huge clean up operation. Body parts had to be collected, bagged and tagged, as well as our guys some civilians (including children) had been caught in the blast. One of my friends tells me that he walked over to what he thought was some kind of animal laying on the floor and moved it with is foot. It turned out to be the top of the suicide bombers head. Another fella had to pick teeth out of the soles of his boots that had got stuck there as he walked the scene. The wagon had to be bought back to base and once looked over washed clean of blood and anything else our friends had left in there. The medic that tried to keep our friend alive came to us and just kept apologising for not keeping our man alive. The original driver with the bad stomach was in bits. Myself and two others were, the following day, given the task of cleaning three weapons that had been recovered and were apparently still serviceable. I was given my dead friends weapon and spent the next few hours trying to make it sparkle by cleaning out what my friend had left all over it for me.

A couple of days after that we said our goodbyes to him as he lay in his coffin waiting to go home. The day after that he was repatriated to the sounds of bagpipes as units from a score of different countries formed up to see him off. The day was beautiful, the sun was out and it was clear blue skies. Everyone there saw the Eagle that appeared to glide over the procession of coffin bearers until he was carried onto the ramp of the plane and into the darkness. A month or so after getting home we all went as a unit to his grave to pay our finale respects. And then we all went back to our lives.

That day changed every single one of us and affected us all in different ways. I have completed a number of tours and now work as a contractor over here. Other people from that platoon got out of the Army after that. Others stayed in and still serve. And a few do what I do. The injured get by the best they can. We all come together for a few drinks every now and then to toast, shoot the shit and remember the friend that we left behind. Since that day I have lost another good friend and seen many others lost or injured. And I am sure that there will be more. They say that the scars that people can not see are sometimes the worst ones.  Some of the lads that I know drink too much to deal with whatever demons that they have, some fight, some give up and some carry on. Me, I keep on coming over here and can only hope that one day I find the strength to come away and go back to my family.

Apparently only the dead have seen the end of the war. This may be true.