'A Terrifying but Awesome Day': a diary extract from Afghanistan
Me on a patrol. Photo credit to my fellow medic Kim.
The recent news has left some veterans struggling. I believe we feel somewhat betrayed, anxious about a country that took so many lives of our friends and colleagues, a country that we fought so hard for. I think many of us believe we were making a difference, especially when it came to the education and freedoms of women and young girls. For my part, I feel lucky to have come home to my family in one piece, unharmed except perhaps for some unwanted memories that seem to surface every now and again. It is hard for those who have not experienced war to understand what soldiers go through, indeed this seems to be a historical constant. Yet, soldiers perhaps have a unique connection that transcends time. I remember patrolling in Afghanistan, it was February, and I was soaked through by heavy rain that was turning the soil to orange clay. I remember the aching heaviness of my feet as they sank into the mud up to my knees with every step. An odd thought entered my head and I recall thinking ‘ah maybe this is what the soldiers felt like in the mud at the battle of Passchendaele?’. I imagine 100 years ago, a soldier in Passchendaele trudging through the mud and trenches thinking the exact same thing about soldiers on the night before the battle of Waterloo.
Taking a break in the cover of a shallow irrigation ditch, where we found a stray puppy.
Below is an extract from a diary entry from my tour in Afghanistan. It was a day of no casualties which I am very grateful for, it is a snapshot in time, just a small piece of the narrative of a contemporary war, a war many will find difficult to forget.
‘God the CP (Check Point) Sabat day! For the first time in weeks, it was sunny, and my call sign went the furthest east anyone had been in this AO (Area of Operations) in Nadi-Ali South. We patrolled across a bridge and turned right towards some compounds. The guy ten meters in front of me was in cover of the compound and the patrol second in command was maybe ten metres behind me in cover of another compound. I was patrolling the open space between the compounds, it was maybe a farmer’s field and then I heard a “crack, crack”; rounds were flying around me, so I sprinted into the cover of the compound in front of me. I lay in the dead ground by the compound when my patrol commander called me and another soldier to give covering fire while the Vallon man (lead soldier with special detection equipment identifying hidden/buried IED’s) exploited the ground to the next compound. I fired some rounds and took turns to lay down fire with my buddy, then we were up and making a hard sprint out into the open as rounds were whistling around us. We were breathless as we got contacted (fired at) by the Taliban from different firing points. It felt like rounds were everywhere!
Our Vallon man exposing himself to identify an IED buried in the road on our patrol route.
We then extracted back under fire; it was so hard to run with all that kit on. We stayed on task though and went back west and took cover behind another compound where they took well aimed shots at us every few minutes. We called a sniper to our location to see if he could take out the enemy shooting at us. We carried on task and heard another ISAF callsign get heavily contacted to our east. We then conducted a long patrol back into CP Sabat, we were a couple of hundred metres away from the base when I heard a sharp “ping”. I spun around thinking it was a round and saw a grenade had been thrown! We half fell, half dived into the nearby irrigation ditch as it exploded, safely missing us. We were lucky. My patrol then crossed the canal and through some compounds to try and find who had thrown the grenade. We then started back to CP Sabat and were contacted again! There wasn’t much cover as the ground sloped downwards so I crouched in some reeds on the other side of the road as the patrol commander called for us to sprint to the rear of a nearby compound. We stacked up along the side of the compound now in cover as two members of the patrol fired UGL’s (Underslung Grenade Launcher) at the firing point. We then started back to CP Sabat again, tired, hearts racing, sweating and insanely thirsty 6 hours after we had initially set off. We arrived safely. The most terrifying but awesome day!'
Tired soldiers. Waiting at the airport to fly home after six and half months in Afghanistan.
N.B. If you would to help with the situation in Afghanistan and veterans who are struggling during this difficult time, please have a look at the following organisations:
Royal British Legion Combat Stress Women for Afghan Women Children without Borders