Posts Tagged ‘ptsd’

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.

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 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.

‘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

If I close my eyes and think back I can still remember the first time that I saw my wife. It was way back, almost 13 years ago that she walked into my life and me into hers. It has never been a relationship made in heaven and most definitely is no fairy tale. Like all relationships that last the test of time it has been an up and down thing, some would say even stormy at times. There was a period where we didn’t talk to each other and an even longer period where we were just friends and now here we are, still not perfect but happy, married and mapping out the rest of our lives together.

When I first laid eyes upon my future wife I was working behind the bar of what was then the newest and trendiest place to be seen on a night out in the small seaside resort that we live in. I was stood behind the bar that was located at the back of the building, probably cleaning or thinking about bringing some stock up for the fridges ready for the early evening rush to begin. At the front of the pub a few off duty staff were sat around one of the bay windows enjoying a few drinks before moving onto where ever the night led them. It was while I was stood there watching them and wishing that I could join them that I saw her: in she walked, my very own songbird. The sun that was coming through the bay windows made her shine and her long blonde hair glowed in the light that it produced. Even from where I was stood I could see her smile as she approached my colleagues and that smile blew me away. Her figure took my breath away and her eyes were the most amazing eyes that I had ever seen. Everything about her was perfect. Everything about her is perfect. I remember she turned to look at me and that look said it all as I tried not to drop the glass that I was holding from the embarrassment of being caught in the act of standing there, staring at her with my mouth open and a slightly dazed ‘I’m in love’ look about me while trying to look cool at the same time. It’s never a good look but at least I wasn’t drooling which is something I guess. And that was it as far as our first encounter went. Just after she caught me looking I was distracted by two other beautiful young ladies that had made their way to the bar intent on winning me over and getting me to part with my hard earned cash to buy them peanuts and drinks – but that’s a story for another day, one that can wait for now.

A few years after that, years that had bought us together and at one stage taken us away from each other there I was again, stood by myself, nervous and apprehensive at what was about to take place. A Beatles number was being played in the background by a fella with a guitar sat on a stool in the corner of the room. Behind me, seated in the pews, were some close family and friends who had travelled from near and far to be part of this day. My stomach was in knots and a sheen of sweat covered my hands as the doors at the back of the church opened and I turned to see my almost wife walk gracefully into the building. Every eye in the house was on her as she walked down the aisle towards me, our eyes locked together while the guitar continued it’s song in the background. Nothing could of prepared me for this – I didn’t believe that she could ever be more beautiful than what she already was – she was amazing, beautiful, stunning, elegant, everything that she already is and more. Here was my very own princess walking towards me with silent promises to make this commitment with me and of spending the rest of our days together. And there I was again, just like the first time that I ever laid eyes on her, standing there with my mouth slightly open and a ‘I’m in love’ look on my face. She reached me, we kissed, took each others hands and turned to face the Vicar so that she could start the ceremony. All knots had gone, my nervousness had disappeared and my apprehension had disappeared. This was our future and I couldn’t be happier.

So life carries on and almost four years later we are still married. Life hasn’t been easy and as we all know it never is. But what’s important is that we never give up on each other – marriage isn’t supposed to be easy, you always have to work at it because if you stop working at it that is when it stops. I never quite understand why my wife is with me or what it is that she see’s in me – she is kind, beautiful, intelligent, witty and sophisticated. I am a drinker, slightly scarred, a fighter at times, angry, have an odd sense of humour, no education and spend most of my time away from home. Our relationship kind of reminds me of the one that Princess Leia and Han Solo have in the StarWars films – the two characters come from totally different backgrounds,  have a lot not in common and at first you think that it shouldn’t work but as the films go on you realise that it should work and that they are perfect for each other. That’s how it is with us. Geeky I know.

Now the thing about these two memories that I have shared with you is this – as anyone who has read my previous Blogs will know I have a few issues that I am trying to work through, the main one being my Incredible Hulk impersonations that come out of me from time to time. A good friend of mine, a brother if you like, suggested to me recently that when I feel myself heading into that bad place and starting too lose control I need to try and picture in my head a memory that brings me nothing but joy and hang onto that thought almost as if my life depends on it. I need to use that thought to keep me from where I am heading and to hold me firm on the ground where I am now. The idea is that these thoughts, these amazing memories, will be strong enough to keep the darkness at bay. The two memories that I try to picture are the ones that I have mentioned above. The one of my wedding day is my happiest and has, just recently, worked as my friend said that it would. I think of it as being like my own personnel piece of the ‘force’ from the StarWars universe. That geekiness is showing through again.

My wife doesn’t read my blogs so she wont actually see this. But this is my way of saying thank you to her for all of her support and love that she has and continues to show me. She has no idea how many times over the years that she has saved me. I’m a lucky man. She is my rock.

“Love is like a flower, give it time and it will grow”

John Lennon.

Red Mist. It’s my term for what comes over me when I loose control. It’s a state that I go into, often without any obvious reason or warning, where I become a different person. My very own ‘Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’ story.

It’s a part of me that I am deeply ashamed off and something that I wish with all of my heart that I could use a knife to cut out of my body. It’s almost destroyed my marriage and has at times left those that are the closest to me in fear for their own safety and terrified of my actions. As I write this I am doing so with swollen and damaged knuckles from a flurry of bone breaking punches that I unleashed on an unsuspecting wall in my home. The laptop that I am using is a replacement for the one that I threw across my bedroom while my wife cried in bed listening to my bellows and shouts of rage that had materialised from no-where. As I am typing my insides churn as my mind tries to come to terms with the idea of what I am and where my actions will eventually lead me to if carry on down this path.

More recently my bouts of rage have been broken up by bouts of crying and feelings of self loathing. Someone that has spent the past few months trying to help me through the mess that is inside of my head claims that the fact that I now cry is a good thing and that they would be more concerned if I wasn’t able to cry. The tears are my body and minds way of releasing something from inside of me in a way that will not cause any physical harm to myself or more importantly to anyone un-lucky enough to be in my vicinity when Mr Hyde shows his ugly head.

There is no easy way to explain what happens or the feelings that it produces. When the Mist takes over my body I am a prisoner within my own head. Something takes the part of me that is not hate full, angry, vengeful or violent and locks it away in a cage within my head for it to look out from behind the bars, un-able to do a thing, as the other part of me that is all of the above and more takes over. Inside of my mind this part of me is screaming for the monster that has been un-leashed to stop as it ply’s it’s trade of destruction and this part of me also cries as it listens and watches helplessly as the monster stands over my family, fists clenched and spittle flying while verbally abusing these beautiful women that have done nothing but show me love and understanding. Finally I just collapse to the floor of my cage waiting for it to all be over so that I can be released to pick up the pieces of my slowly disintegrating life. More often than not it is over as suddenly as it began.

I’ll come out of the darkness and back into the light exhausted and with feelings of guilt and shame that will stay with me for hours, days and sometimes I think forever. This is no way to live and yet there is no way to stop it – there is no knife than can cut deep enough to rid me of this other ‘me’. I’ve lost the trust of my wife and my daughters tip toe around me. There are only so many times someone can say sorry and tell you that they love you before these gestures become nothing but just meaningless words said to try and make up for the pain caused. I distance myself from friends and other family members – the monster that I have become doesn’t deserve their companionship and I am afraid of what will happen when I finally loose any control that I may have over it and it finally throws away the key to the cage that awaits me in my mind and takes over my life completely. A few months ago I thought that I had found a way out with the help of some really good people. I spent a few days with them and through them found, what I thought, was away to control myself and lock the monster away in that cage for good. They helped me find myself again and bought me back into the light. I felt alive for the first time in years and it was almost like been re-born. I told everyone that would listen what had happened and how things were going to be different. I had hope. And then without warning the Darkness found a chink in my armor and before I could stop it it came flooding back into me with such a force that I almost had a breakdown. And now I have no hope. Ahead of me all I see is darkness and pain. Even people who have helped me before coming to spend time with me have had no effect, my head is clouded and I am struggling to keep control. I put a smile on my face for people and tell them that I am fine, it was just a blip, all is good so as not to worry them. Inside though there is no smile, I am terrified and just want to gain control again but am not sure if I have the energy to do it anymore and am on the verge of losing this battle.

So now I am back at work, back in this shithole of a country that when I stop and think about it has a lot to do with how I have become and what is happening to me. I am not naive though, I have always had a quick temper and for the Darkness to control me as it does there must of been something of it there in me in the first place – it was just there waiting in the background for the perfect opportunity to grow and control and this place gave it that opportunity. The strange thing is that when I am in this place I can control it better. I have a handle on it. I think that is because I live and work in a violent place, somewhere that it’s acceptable to an extent to be that angry, aggressive man. I can channel all of my rage into something out here that is actually a asset as opposed to a hindrance. I feel safe out here. Over here there is some kind of hope for me. Not the kind of hope that I need but at least I can use that monster while here and also while here I am able to keep it away from those that I love and hold dearest to me. It’s not an answer but it is all that I have and that has got to be better than the alternative.

Before I left my home in the real world to start the long journey back to this home my daughters both hugged me and told me that they loved me. My wife told me that she didn’t want me to come back here, that this place was affecting my health, both physical and mental and that she wanted me home. She wants to help me to get better and to find that side of me that she remembers from so long ago. She wants me to be able to live. I don’t deserve their love but I have it and because of that I will stay here and do all that I can to control this and keep it away from them. It’s all that I can do.

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.