In the week when the bodies of six brave soldiers were repatriated from Afghanistan, I'm a bit nervous about posting this blog, but here goes......
I have a long held view that our brave guys in Iraq and Afghanistan actually quite like being out there and my view is based on the fact that as regular soldiers they’d rather be fighting an enemy than sitting in their barracks polishing their rifles, and toiling in the parade ground doing drills all day. I know this is a bit of a generalization, but bear with me.
Many of today’s soldiers, sailors and airmen have joined the forces knowing that Britain has been at war for the last 40 years in some way or another (Irish troubles included), and that there would be a strong chance they would be sent to one of the current conflict zones.
And in fairness to the Forces themselves, their TV adverts don’t shy away from showing life in a conflict zone, so anybody joining up thinking they’re going to swan around some of the ‘old colonies’ soaking up the sun and helping the locals build new huts, is deluding him or herself.
In a blog posting a few weeks ago (http://tomsfrenchblog.blogspot.com/2009/09/book-about-home.html), I highlighted a video shot by some soldiers hunting the Taliban, and the camaraderie and sense of purpose, as well as their bravery was quite clear.
Despite this, I still felt a bit uneasy about my position (that the ‘boys’ like being at war) so I was quite heartened today when I read a Sky News Blog, part of which I reproduce below:
A couple of months ago I met up with a mentoring team of 10 British soldiers who had been held up in their base for months. Firefights every day and supplied by helicopter drops for weeks on end. They controlled no more than a few hundred yards of dusty road outside their front door. They were attacked night after night.
They were led by a very nice posh officer lad and a classic gruff sergeant . As a unit, they were the happiest blokes I have ever met.
“It was f****** great mate. The lads f****** loved it. Thank f*** we didn’t lose anyone but we f****** twatted them – every time we went out. We knew where it would start, we knew what they would do and we just went out and tried to f*** them up. F****** brilliant.” That was the sergeant talking.
The officer: “The lads did a great professional job. I think they relished the opportunity to engage with the enemy and implement the changes we and the other forces have been tasked with achieving. The goals are difficult and achievements will sometimes be difficult to quantify but we feel we achieved a fair, if modest, degree of success.”
After spending another long night on the floor of a dusty tent, with no air conditioning in the day and freezing cold at night, eating awful MRE’s (meals ready to eat) when it was clear there could be a cook (in the unit), I took it upon myself to ask the commanding officer why his men lived in such terrible conditions when it was pointless.
“ I don’t ask much of my men,” the colonel told me. “But I do ask them this: ‘Men, we will take that town tomorrow and we will prevail whatever the cost to you or your comrades.’
I am telling them to roll out of bed and kill people and risk being killed. That is why they live like animals, because I want them to behave like animals. It is war.”They probably love it.