Posted by: TheAuthor | 03/08/2011

Two Sides of The Coin

Ever since the end of my tour of duty, nestled among the wadis and poppy fields of Helmand, Afghanistan, I have been asked a great many questions surrounding it:

  • Did you shoot anyone?
  • What was it like?
  • Did any of your friends die?
  • Did you work with Americans?
  • Do you think it is right to be there?

Thinking about it, I have never been asked “How do you feel inside about it, are you alright?” This is not a search for someone to show pity or sorrow, but for someone who cares about the mental state of soldiers serving on the frontlines in theatres [of war] – not including those who never leave safe havens of bases and still talk the big talk. The following may serve as a rant on my part, but I intend to illustrate a point that mental suffering lives deep within the minds of men who have served. The same men who may refer to their time in hell as ‘the worst experience ever’, yet would willingly return if their mates were returning with them.

On the frontlines of Helmand, it is/was common to eat partial ration packs (those available on the link are better than those available in 2007) because once added to all the essentials like ammunition and water, food was expendable. So carrying two ‘boil in the bag’ meals per day, unless needing to conserve due to resupply issues, plus a packet of biscuits, then maybe some chocolate or a stolen American sandwich. That was the daily diet. Once a month or so, a piece of fruit or slice of bread made it through on the chinook resupplies to make life bearable. When returning to the save haven of the central British base for 24 hours or so, a variety of meats, vegetables, fruit, beans, juices, breads and everything else under the sun were offered – I was delirious with pleasure. Until the local residents, who ate there daily, complained about the lack of something on the menu or that you are dirty or noisy in the queue. This is when men who are used to becoming aggressive to preserve their lives have an issue and snap back at them.

On occasions, when a terrible incident occurs Op Minimise is called. All phones and internet systems are down until the next of kin back home have been informed. Local residents would kick up a fuss, “I can’t believe it, I wanted to say good night to my girlfriend!” or “F’s sake, now what am I going to with my evening?!” I remember remarking “I have just returned from 6 weeks on the ground, no communication with home. I am here for the night before I return, do you hear me complaining? What about that guys family, the guy who was killed serving on the frontline and suffering so that you can have a full english breakfast in the morning? Get away from me before I send you to the medics” Now, looking back, that does sound like I may have been a little harsh. But it all goes to strain the mental state of a man, that could one day break.

It still makes my blood boil, even now, that people can be so callous and selfish. ‘Men’ who complain or laugh and joke during a repatriation ceremony for a soldier killed in action – requiring the survivors to parade before the departing Hercules.

The mental state of those who served changes from person to person. Any kind of innocuous event can trigger emotions and unsettle a man who has served overseas. From the onlooker, who doesn’t understand, it is usual to worry or just ignore rather than asking what can be done to help and acknowledging the issue. That is all sufferers want, an acknowledgement of a problem and the ability to know they are being noticed and can overcome the difficulty either alone or together. Many issues arise when prompted by bad questions (see above) or story telling that touches too close to a nerve, or someone on a walk or sports event shouting ‘man down’ as a joke. Something no soldier wants to ever hear. They may set off emotions or perhaps the listener may think adversely of the soldier, “why on earth did he act this way?” That is not a reasonable reaction to that event. Our response is simply “You weren’t there, you don’t know”.

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Responses

  1. I considered that some of this data might have been taken from a feed, it’s scattered across the web and various peoples websites, unless you’re the first author?

    • It may well be on the internet, it is a very hot topic with veterans. My writing, on this particular occasion, is from first hand knowledge, experience and personal suffering. So, I am the first author to write about my personal thoughts and feelings relating to a very wide ranging issue

  2. Considerably, this post is really the sweetest on this notable topic. I harmonise with your conclusions and will thirstily look forward to your incoming updates. Saying thanks will not just be sufficient, for the phenomenal clarity in your writing. I will directly grab your rss feed to stay informed of any updates. Admirable work and much success in your business dealings!  Please excuse my poor English as it is not my first tongue.


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