Posts Tagged ‘war’

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.

I haven’t gone ‘soft’ as one of my good friends suggested. I am just saying that people need to take a step back and take check of what it is that they are kicking off about. There is a huge difference between someone who comes from a different culture to ours and follows a belief system that is alien to or not in line with how we live our life and the one that the Extremists who wish to demonize our way of life and do nothing but create hate and cause harm have.

For instance, these subhumans (and I do not use this word lightly – anyone who spends most of their waking moments promoting violence , murder, mutilation and the suffering of those that do not believe in the same thing as they is barley human in my opinion) who we see on the TV and in newspapers standing on their soap boxes promoting violent attacks on UK soil, against its citizens and other Western countries while saying that this is the way of Islam and that anyone faithful to that religion should heed their words – I have nothing but ill feelings towards them. Their so called ‘Islam’ is a very fucked up and warped version of the real Islam which is so far from what they promote it is unbelievable and I can not even begin to fathom how they translate what they read in the Holy Koran into the words that they belch out of their mouths when ‘preaching’ on the streets of the UK. These sad, twisted, misguided, angry, violent poor excuses for ‘men’ have no place in our society – they are, because of the conviction of their words, a very real and dangerous threat to everyone of every faith (including the one that they supposedly fight for) that wishes to live as peacefully as they can in a Democratic society. In fact I would go as far to say that these creatures have no place in the World period as their foul rhetoric’s lead to nothing but pain and violence in the long run, promotes the anti-Islamic feeling that runs deep in Western countries at the moment  and adds to the already extremely volatile and violent World that we live in. However, we are now Governed by the European Courts of Human Rights and the old days of where you could deal with people like this in an appropriate, cost effective manner have long gone and now we have to take into consideration their feelings, health, living conditions, their views and the right that they have to express their opinions on everyone that doesn’t fall into line with the way that they believe we should all be living. Seems fair to me.

Now don’t mistake what I have written above as meaning that I only despise the spreaders of lies and hate from a certain religion and background. I haven’t forgotten about nor do I have any love for our very own British National Party or any of their affiliates. These uneducated, pig headed, weak men and women who look like a bunch of inbred’s in ill fitting suits (when donning their public face) who feed off the fear that is caused by a lack of understanding and lack of seen positive action by our Government against the Extremists are just as bad as those that they claim to stand against. Once upon a time the men and women that made up these groups were the ones making the headlines for the wrong reasons. They were the villains of the time spreading messages of hate, mistrust and instigating acts of violence. Apparently they now represent the British public’s best interests and have our backs. Get to fuck. These creatures don’t have anyone’s back or anyone’s ‘best’ interests at heart except their own. They, like the Islamic Extremist, pray on the weak, vulnerable and uneducated who they then manipulate into their way of thinking so that they can further their own cause. Personally I’d like to see them kicked back into the gutters and back ally’s that they came from which is probable too much to ask for in this current climate.

Back in the day – I’m talking way back – when the whole World was at War (or at the very least a large amount of it was) the Free World was pretty much united in it’s fight against Hitlers Nazi Germany. Now I am not about to give a history lesson and go into the in’s and out’s of  this conflict, we all know the history of it (unless you are American then you have your own version of events) and we’ve seen the movies and read the books. But I have mentioned it for a reason and that is the fact that an entire generation of people fought and gave their lives purely to stop the spread of Nazism which in it’s most basic form was an ideological belief that everyone should be living under one banner, one law, one belief system. It encouraged discrimination, segregation and was enforced through fear, violence and just out right murder. If you didn’t agree with the views of that system or if you fell into a certain ethnic group that didn’t fit into that system you were ridiculed, ostracized from the community and in a lot of cases killed. Plain and simple. And it fucks me of no end that people just seem to have forgotten how many men and women gave up their lives so that we could be free of that kind of oppression.  The British National Party now have seats in Parliament.  Their roots come from the very same ideology that our forefathers fought against and back in the day (I now speak of my younger years and from experience) the men and women that made up the British National Party and their affiliates were those people that we see in some films – shaven headed, Swastika daubed, violent, angry people who’s hatred against anyone not White British knew no bounds. And now because they wear ill fitting suits, have grown their hair out, moved into offices, use big words and sit in Parliament we are supposed to listen to them and respect their views. I say again – get to fuck. The Islamic Extremists are exactly the same as what these men and women were years ago – the only difference is in the way the commit their acts of violence. They religiously believe in something and they will commit extreme acts of violence against anyone who does not fall into place with how they think things should be – whatever your color, race or religious belief. And the fact that these groups are openly stood in front of us all on a daily basis preaching their form of hatred freely mocks everything that has been achieved in the past. It’s a fucking joke and we should be embarrassed by what we have let happen on our very own doorstep and by what we have become.

And what is the solution and who can we blame? I have no idea but I do know that despite everyone’s feelings towards the Government we can not hold them solely responsible. For sure they have misrepresented the people of this country and our needs for a long time now. Through their lack of leadership this country has hit rock bottom, crime has rocketed, we are in a financial crisis and the angry and displaced people are flocking to the cause of the Extremists on both sides. It’s the best recruiting drive that they have ever had. The Public hold a lot of the blame as we are the ones who put the people in power into the positions that they are in and when it all starts going wrong what do we do? We mumble and gesture angrily over a pint in our local, shake our heads in despair as we read the daily rag or ‘tut tut’ loudly during the adverts that break up our evening session of mind numbly shit sitcoms. Basically we do nothing. The only ones who actively do anything are the people and groups that are the very last ones that we should ever be allowing to represent our needs.

The way I see it the Government is there to serve the people and not the other way round. And also the Government of any country is only as strong or as weak as the people that put it in power and right now we are anything but strong.

Fucking hell. Second rant over.

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

War is a man’s game. That’s what I have heard some of the old and bold say from time to time. Sure, women are needed – for things like administrative tasks, cooking, some of the medical jobs but keep them away from the nitty gritty side of things that make a War. Fighting. Violence. Destruction. Death. Leave that to the men.

This is still said despite the fact that more and more service women are serving on the front line of various War’s being fought throughout this world. I myself have served with a number of females and have done so proudly. A persons sex has nothing to do with their ability to soldier and to do their job when put in harms way. A IED doesn’t care what sex you are, male or female it will still rip apart your body with unashamed joy should you step into it’s path. A bullet will still find it’s target and take away your life with no thought as to your gender. All it cares about is doing what it was made for – to kill. All the Enemy see are Infidels that need to be cleansed from the face of this planet in the most horrific possible ways that they can think off. Male or female these foreign fighters are all Devils from the West. So whether or not you wear a pair of boxer shorts or a pair of knickers under your kit, or you have a picture of the biggest boy band of the day up on your pod wall as opposed to a picture of the latest glamour model doesn’t make the slightest difference to the nature of warfare and war fighting. Whatever your gender you will still bleed the same and die the same should your time come.

The men who have this view (I would say ‘out-dated’ view but it has never been an ‘in date’ view) obviously do not know their history. Females have been involved in War fighting for as long as there has been Warfare. Whether it be the women who used to stay back with their villages hundreds of years ago and defend themselves, their children and their livelihoods from marauding warriors who appeared out of the sea mists on their longboats while their men were away fighting somewhere else or the women who more recently proved their worth in clandestine operations of WW2 or the women that fight side by side with their male counterparts in the Israeli Armed Forces. Women have proven themselves time and time again as being more than capable of the same kind of professionalism and heroics as their male counterparts when the time arises. It’s not our sex that makes us what we are, it is what is inside off us that counts when the shit hits the fan. Until that time, until the first round goes down then none of us know how we will react. I have seen men who during quiet times would appear to be the strongest that we have falter and break when the violence commences and I have seen women stand their ground with the best of them.

So I got thinking about this after a female colleague of mine from the US Marine Core took four rounds the other day while out on patrol – one to the hand, one to the arm and two to the legs – out of the other Marines with her on the patrol one of them was hit in the leg and another took one to the face sending him rapidly to the finale RV. Prior to that they had been in a vehicle that got hit by an IED and was knocked onto it’s side. Somehow they all crawled out of the wreckage with nothing but a few bruises between them and took stock of the situation and were probably, until the gunman struck, thinking how lucky they had just been to get out of that ok. The enemy who opened fire on them did so from a field of wheat next to the track where their vehicle had been hit and was more than likely the one who triggered the detonation. He dropped the patrol commander with a hit to the head and then another Marine with a shot to the leg. While other Marines dived for cover this woman, this female, this member of the fairer sex who should be anywhere but on the front line, moved towards the enemy and engaged him with her rifle before being hit herself in a burst of automatic fire. Her actions gave the guys who had dived for cover the essential few seconds that they needed to get a control of themselves and deal with the situation. Milliseconds later the bad guy was dropped with a round to the head from another Marine ending that few seconds of chaos which had ended one life and changed two others forever.

She, along with the other injured Marine and the one that was killed will receive a Purple Heart and a Combat Action Ribbon for their actions and that will be it. Nothing more is needed. They are and were proud to be in the US Marine Core and serve their country and each other. And there will be a few men on that patrol who will be glad of the fact that she wasn’t stuck back at some office doing an admin job, or cooking or anything else that would involve her being kept out of an environment that only men should be in.

“Bravery doesn’t mean you aren’t scared. It means you go anyway”.

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.