Welcome to the second of the Guest Blogs. Today’s is a second by a ‘Civvie’; the lovely Blonde_M who’s own blog is very much worth a read and can be found here http://myblondemoment.blogspot.com
Thank you, Blonde, for your contribution, it’s good reading for those in and those outside the military, and reminds us about how being deployed affects those left behind…Anyway, enough of my blurb…Over to Blonde_M…
I’m not from a military family. A grandfather who died before I was born was in the Army during the Second World War, but I’ve never experience the moving around, the Army way of life, the acceptance that war is simply an extension of politics and that danger is part of the job. But, increasingly, I have friends who are in the forces and, things being what they are, serving in places most of us will only ever experience via the media.
About a year ago, I accompanied a school friend, Military Gal, to a party at a smart Army regiment in London. One of her friends, Guards Man, I got on with exceptionally well, to the point that he asked to take me to dinner. Diaries and schedules conspired against us, as we found out in one phone conversation when I suggested we grab dinner after work the following Friday.
“Oh, Blonde. I’m really sorry. I can’t then – I’m in Edinburgh; I’m spending the weekend with my parents.”
“Well, maybe we could do something when you get back to London?”
“Um, I, er, I’m not going to be able to, I’m afraid. I deploy on Monday.”
“Deploy?” I was somewhat taken aback. “To where?”
My heart wavered somewhere in my throat as I heard his answer.
“War Zone. Six months. But I’d love to see you when I get back. You know…” He didn’t finish the sentence.
At the time, it was a huge wrench. He was the first person I knew who’d be going to a place that I know of only from International Relations courses at uni, and the news.
The abstract notion of anyone being sent to one of the most dangerous places on Earth isn’t a pleasant one. The news stories that come out of War Zone testify that it’s not a place you’d necessarily wish anyone to have to be in. But when confronted with the reality for the first time, it’s no longer merely an abstraction, a variable in the international security debate, a certain level of terror sets in.
Realistically, of course, I knew it was verging on the ridiculous to get worked up worrying about it. Statistically, as officers, my friends are comparatively safe. It’s just that they’re not as safe as they would be if they were sitting behind a desk in a law firm.
I spent a couple of tense months doing what I imagine a lot of people in this country do: soaking up every news snippet about the conflict; flinching every time the terrible words, “a British soldier was killed yesterday…” emanate from the radio; sighing with guilty relief when they hear that a previous day’s fatality has been named as Not Their Loved One, horrified at feeling such relief when someone, somewhere, has had a hole blown through their life.
Of course, I absolutely didn’t let on how I was feeling. Guards Man had enough to deal with, without worrying that people at home were worrying. Silly guilt about our feelings is something that guys serving don’t need to worry about when IEDs are more the priority.
People at home don’t tell of the fear. We are thankful when we hear no bad news; we relish the letters that fall on the mats; we cherish the rare but longed-for moments when we pick up the phone to hear their voices. We wait. We wait for them to come home. Pray that what they’ve seen won’t scar them beyond recognition, and be here to pick up any pieces that might have fallen loose. We put on a brave face. We do our very best to be blasé, conceal the dread beneath a veneer of dark humour and nonchalance.
But then, something happened and my feelings about Guards Man, and thousands of his colleagues, being out in War Zone took a turn for the calmer. With casualty figures still rising, it came as a surprise, but a welcome one.
“You should read this,” said Speckled Lad, one of my best friends who was being put through his paces at RMAS. He’d pulled out of his bag a copy of The Junior Officers’ Reading Club by Patrick Hennessey. “The description of Renowned Military Academy is absolutely spot on – and he makes it sound really funny. Not like the impression you get from my whinging.”
I turned the book over in my fingers, reading the blurb.
“But Blonde, you have to promise me…” I looked up at him. “Once you’ve finished the description of RMA, don’t read any more. Please. I really don’t want you to worry.”
“Of course,” I said. “Absolutely.” Obviously I had absolutely no intention of complying, but I wasn’t going to tell him that.
And so, over about a week, I curled up with the fantastically evocative, indisputably military prose, torn between howling with laughter, and bemusement that anyone could choose to put themselves through anything like that. And then I got to the section that the Lad wanted me not to read: the long and detailed accounts of the author’s tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. With slight trepidation, I got stuck in.
Initially, it was fodder for every nightmarish thought that had been crossing my consciousness in the idle moments. Whilst I was getting to grips with the Army’s dark humour and nonchalant – some might say blasé – attitude towards the gritty realities of warfare, it was hard to read of young guys dying; less than ideal equipment; and the bizarre notion that when back home on R&R, getting Back Out There is almost the only thing soldiers can think of. But the more I read, the closer the penny came to dropping, and by the time I’d turned the last page, I felt I understood.
I never really will understand, of course – not planning ever to be in the situation – but I can now recognise that these guys have signed up to do a job, and it’s a job that they enjoy. I might get my kicks out of a snuggly blanket, a mug of Earl Grey and the remainder of the Christmas Lindor; but some people need the rush of adrenaline that comes with firing weapons and playing at war. An unpalatable truth, perhaps, but there it is.
It’s a job they’re properly trained and equipped to do. There’s travel, excitement, and a sense of comradeship that few of us are ever likely to know. They know they have the love and support of family and friends, and are spoilt rotten due to the (possibly misplaced) intense sympathy that’s engendered by fear and the unknown.
And whilst absolutely none of this means that I’m going to stop sending blueys and packages full of cake at every opportunity, it does mean that I sleep easier at night – and for that, I’m hugely grateful.
If you know someone who is deployed – a friend of a friend or similar – and fancy sending a care package out to them, then please have a look at this website before you do. http://www.supportoursoldiers.co.uk/carepackages.html
Don’t forget to check back tomorrow for the third Guest Post – which will be a bit of a cautionary tale…