RAFairman's Blog

An RAF Airman's Blog

You’ll Be A Man My Son…

It was twenty years ago the world changed.

Everyone’s life changed.

My life changed.

Twenty years ago today Saddam Hussein – a man the world had hardly ever heard of – invaded Kuwait. A country no one had hardly ever heard of.

And with a stroke the world changed.

I was in Cyprus. With our 6 week detachment coming to an end.  I was on a guard duty and sitting in the guardroom in Akrotiri, wondering what the heck was going on. I’d been talking about going home and the rest of the staff there suddenly said that our return had been cancelled and we were staying put.

Over the next day or so it became clear that our aircraft were going elsewhere, and not going home…they would be going to Saudi Arabia not back to Coningsby…and a sort of madness set in. People were delegated that they were going to go with them, and others told they were to remain behind.

I said the other day that I have unfinished business with war and conflict and all that, and this is why. And I am sort of ashamed to admit to this, but I feel I need to.

Back then I was in a difficult position…I’d been told I was not going out and I phoned home to tell me new wife – of just 4 months, she was just 19 I was 20 – that I would be staying in Cyprus, when I was approached by a colleague who WAS delegated to go and asked if I wanted to go in his stead.

I didn’t think. I said, no, I had already told my wife that I wasn’t going. And I was sort of relieved to be staying behind in Cyprus to act as part of the handling party who would deal with further aircraft staging through Cyprus on the way out to Saudi.

And so I turned it down. I said no. And then I realised I should have said yes. But it was too late, the guy had turned and walked away. And the next day he left.

And since that day I have had a nagging doubt, an annoying feeling in the pit of my stomach that I didn’t do the right thing. That I did the wrong thing.

Yeah, I later went out to Saudi for the first Gulf War later in the year and was there for the shooting war (such as it was in 1991 with the only shooting being the occasional Scud missile) albeit in the relative safety of Dhahran airfield, far back in Saudi.  I tried to make amends with myself at the time – working myself as hard as I could, but it just didn’t feel right. I couldn’t fill the hole that I had. And over time it has popped up in my mind; the nagging in my head.

I am ashamed of my actions back then. But I guess I was young and foolish, and totally unprepared for anything like that…I mean the world we had grown up in didn’t actually have a real threat of being involved in a war. For me I had never joined to actually ‘fight’ or ‘defend the nation’ – it had more been about being around cool aircraft and being part of something, the RAF family – in every respect, having a big brother already serving, and having had a dad who had served in the past. War? Bugger that! We won’t actually have to fight anyone…’cos our real enemy was the old Soviet Union…and the stakes were too high – with nuclear weapon and all – for there to be a war.

So I was completely out of my depth. And I failed my first test. And it has, as I say, nagged and hurt me since.

And as time has gone on, that nagging in my mind has been added to by a guilt that I am not doing more. I work in a nice safe warm office. The biggest issue I have in my normal daily routine is who is making the teas next. And I hear and read of people doing so much, making such a difference…fighting, working, being pushed and stretched and…and making a difference.

You see I don’t buy into this ‘pointless war’ thing.  I think that when we go out to places like The ‘Stan we make a difference to people lives.  It may be slow, and it may be painful – people are injured and die and we at home see no real tangible benefit from it – but I do believe we are making the world a better place, bit by bit.

A soldier, Marine, airman, or sailor injured or killed out there seems to be a wasted life – but it’s not. In their way they have tried to make the world a better place for their actions – either on the world stage by improving the geopolitical situation in a far off nation or by just trying to be a better, stronger and more honourable person. After all, the world is what we make it…

So those are the reasons I volunteered to go to Afghanistan.  Call it a sense of atonement for what I did – or didn’t do when I should have done in the past. I should have been a man back then, but I wasn’t. But that is not the case now.

Yeah, I am scared of it all. Scared of the job I have been selected to do out there; will I be good enough at it, will I be fit enough to cope with it, will I be a man out there if the crap does hit the fan – and it really might, as with each day that goes by I find out more about the job and all that it will entail…Will I rise to the occasion this time and face that fear…or will I be like I was…and turn and run?

Actually, that was a stupid question. I can’t run this time. It is time to be a man – 20 years late, but it is time…

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27 thoughts on “You’ll Be A Man My Son…

  1. I think you need to make peace with yourself my friend. You were young, and quite possibly made the right decision at the time. Now you have another twenty years experience you can really make a difference, and safeguard your life (and the lives of your family and those you love whose lives will be harmed if you lose your life) whilst doing the work you have trained and prepared to do. Kia kaha mate. – In Maori that means – Keep strong. x

  2. Great post, but I think you’re too hard on yourself – the job of staging the aircraft in Cyprus was just as important as working all the way out there – and the same can be said of the “office job” which you do now – it contributes to the effective running of the RAF, and so you deserve your part of the credit for the good work the RAF does everywhere.

    Good luck with Afghan!

  3. primaryandy on said:

    It was your colleague who was nominated back then, so may be he should be the sole searching one as to why he didn’t want to go and try to swap. I don’t know his circumstances but if he had mitigating ones there are official ways of dealing with it not trying to arrange a swap thereby guilt tripping a friend. This time it is you RAF airman that has been nominated and if you wanted to side step it again, you could no doubt play on medical circumstances. However you have not done that in fact quite the opposite, you’ve been nominated and as far as you are concerned you are going, so stop beating yourself up about things in the past and concentrate on the future, and go make a difference yourself. *big encouraging smile*

  4. I klnow nothing about the mechanics of the RAF, but even if you had agreed to go, would you have been accepted? The fact that you were recently married was probably the reason you weren’t asked in first place & could have resulted in a refusal had you offered.
    The other reasons are what you have thought were excuses don’t exist really – you were not meant to go – no guilt, no wondering What if” it was not your turn.
    Now you have the experience, the knowledge & they welcomed you; but previously you did not have this & so it wasn’t cowardice it was how it was meant to be.
    No life is wasted, spent as currency of the action – may be – but not wasted and you are no coward – by writing this you have proved it.

  5. I agree wholeheartedly with the other two comments. Stop beating yourself up about it – you were really still a kid at 20. With all the stuff you’ve done in the meantime you will be perfect for the job in hand.
    All the best!

  6. I have a similar story, as a newly graduated JEngO at Lynham, I spent the entire period working at base, bar 10 days in Gutersloh as we moved the HQ of the second big ground push out. I had been commissioned from the ranks and spend the duration of the Falkland conflict on the Jag OCU or putting PSP mats together, real war effort there!

    It was not that I wanted to go to war, I wanted to see how I would react and perform after nearly 15 years of training. Would I do as well as I thought? How would I react if a Scud came across the airfield? How would I cope as a leader if one my troops cracked? I was fully involved in the effort as a C130 JEngO, but it did not feel the same, I was at home every night, I was still going to college when I could.

    I retired before the second round and was fully involved with civil aviatiion and the aftermath of 9/11; it did open up those questions again.

    Take the opportunity to bury the demons, take as much out of the experience as you can; prove to your selve that the last 20 years of self doubt have been incorrect. Keep safe and I look forward to the blog about your experiences!

    Malcolm

  7. Albertina McNeill on said:

    I doubt if there is anyone who would not go back and change something given the opportunity but I also doubt whether many would make the same choice that you have now. It is probably safe to say that most of us would have treated the whole incident as a lucky escape. I have sometimes thought that we are given these choices and we know instinctively whether or not we are up to that challenge at the time. Perhaps you weren’t meant to go the first time because you are really needed now. Nothing to do with fear or what was expected of you then. To me you represent Everyman in your blog, it just happens to be in the context of military service. At the same time the thing that sets you apart is your military service with the potential risk it brings. I admire your candour and so will your children when they read this.

  8. Steve on said:

    As you said yourself you were 20, you had a wife who was 19. You were young, give yourself a break. You probably did the right thing at that time, your wife may have been very very happy to hear you say you’re not going into war, shouldn’t you think about that? You saved her the worry that many people feel when their loved ones go off to war so at that moment you just made her feel better.

    When you go to Afghanistan, please be very careful 😉

  9. Dont beat yourself up you are doing it now and havent we all made mistakes and had regrets?
    you are doing what you believe in and doing it actively so all I have is admiration for your courage not only to fight for world peace but to admit what you thought were your vulnerabilities, not many will admit that.
    Good luck to you and all the troops out there and their families you are all supported and thought of every day x 🙂

  10. Just to say God Bless this time round. Nothing happens without a reason . If you had meant to be there at twenty you would have been.
    This is your time now. keep safe and we all think of you guys over there every day. Will pray for you on your journey of self.

  11. Mike Cox on said:

    i wouldnt beat yourself up as you were 20yrs old,i was entering the last few months of my 22yrs when gulf war kicked up.i was on list and nearly went to saudi,but my son was ill,sorry to add he passed away last year.but he was ill and this stopped me going and hereby removed from list,but if had happened then i would have gone whatever happened.but all the services in afghanistan good luck.

  12. george on said:

    My question would be on this statement…….. “For me I had never joined to actually ‘fight’ or ‘defend the nation’ – it had more been about being around cool aircraft ”

    I think that is what you should be ashamed of . What exactly did you think the Armed Forces did ? Granted the likelyhood of major conflict was fairly small but at the end of the day it’s in “the contract” and you were being less than honest in signing it.

    Unfortunately to “belong” to the Forces family be it Army Navy or Air Force you need to be prepared to put it on the line for those you serve with. If you are going to wear the uniform and take the money every month then you should be prepared to fullfil yr part of the contract when yr number gets called …again you obviously weren’t.

    I’m not critising you for not going instead of yr mate what I am critising is yr dishonesty in joining up in the first place. I spk as a vet of Op Corporate , N.I and Op Granby / Desert Sabre. I am not a war monger I simply believe in doing the job you are paid to do and if you are not prepared to do that sign off .

  13. Michelle on said:

    Isn’t it strange how an action with take in a split second can change the course of our lives! I don’t believe you acted out of selflessness, you just acted. But this action has plagued you.
    Good luck in The ‘Stan – stay safe

  14. “if the crap hits the fan” – are you then, part of, or attached to a Regiment Sqn? I enjoy reading these blogs, but have not yet notice a reference to your particular trade- depending on the trade, a confirmation could help consolidate the amount of danger you reference.

  15. Betty on said:

    You did what was right then! You are doing what is right now! Don’t look back with regret but forward with courage!!
    Whether a war is just matters not,Your part in it will be worthwhile and never forgotten.
    God bless and keep you safe. x

  16. Bravery comes in many forms…somedays on battlefield and somedays in a blog. I’m proud to know you in as much as I know know you through your blog.

    Everything happens for a reason, you have to have faith that there was a reason your gut/heart said no before you could think that day. And there was a reason the other guy left Cyprus.

    You are a good airman and a good man. Don’t let this plague you, rise up as all good men do with no regrets.

    xo
    Rene

    PS stay safe and keep writing–there is no better cure for what ails you than getting it out on the table in words.

  17. You have really carried this for too long. I can understand why you have but you need to have closure on this issue. Life is too short as you know. You cannot change anything now. Put it in a box, close the lid and realise tomorrow is another day.
    Concentrate on today and tomorrow and live life to the full.

  18. Carol_51 on said:

    Well what can I say? My first reaction is one of shock that you have so bravely volunteered for Afghanistan and hope you keep safe for the sake of your family especially Lily.

    Please don’t feel guilty anymore the past is gone your colleague’s ill-judged request has caused too much soul searching already.

    Good luck, take care, we’ll miss you on twitter and will be thinking of youx

  19. Carol_51 on said:

    In reply to George:

    I’ve met a few guys over the years who joined the army and navy at 16 “To see the world” or “Escape their homelife to become more independent”.

    How many joined purely to serve their country?

  20. Helena on said:

    Don’t beat yourself up about a decision you made 20yrs ago. I agree with many of the above comments. You were young, newly married and made a split second decision, if my husband was in your position he would have done the same thing. 20yrs down the line you are older, wiser, have more experience and more to give. Stay safe in Afghan and be proud of what you do x

  21. IanEMassey on said:

    I’m an ex submariner now serving as an MoD Police Sergeant, I’ve done 2 tours to Afghanistan as a Police Mentor, only returning home 10 weeks ago
    I’ve worked with MSST guys in Gereshk. It’s a great job, you will be a direct link between the civilian Provincial Reconstruction Team & the Afghan people. Out on the ground delivering reconstruction projects. Not without danger, but without doubt you will get to see the real Afghanistan. Good luck, enjoy your tour, it’s a fascinating, frustrating place, the Afghan people are incredibly resilient with loyalty to family & tribe 1st & foremost. I’d go back tomorrow!

  22. Soo Cross on said:

    Have no regrets for past actions , they help shape who and what we have become so far , in your case , a man with integrity . Enjoy your tour as much as possible , and stay safe , may angels watch over you all . x

  23. Everyone else has pretty much said it all my friend. Funny, but I was just relating one of these “boy was I ever an idiot,” stories to my wife. It happened 35 years ago too. I won’t forget it, but I have forgiven myself for being 25.

    I’m interested too though. When will you have done enough proving to go on … and let it go?

    Rob

  24. alison hogan on said:

    my dear friend you was young then do not hold this against urself. my partner was in the raf for 24 yrs he served in the faulklands but now war is harder n my heart goes to each n evry one of you out there whether its army navy or raf. do not punish urself over the past as this may cloud ur judgement. u did wot u had to do. be proud of urself n hold ur head up high. my love to each n evry one of u xxxxx

  25. Perhaps unlike many you didn’t suffer from the ignorance of youth and saw war as some kind of jolly adventure. At 20 you sound as though you were mature beyond your years even if you didn’t realise it then.
    Few join the forces to go to war, but we accept it is an occupational hazard.
    Over the years I have seen too many young people join for the wrong reasons, they quickly learn the job isn’t want they hoped it would be, many of them don’t complete training because of it.
    Do not let the decisions of the past cloud your judgements of today, let them inform you by all means but keep a clear mind. You are not the same person then as you are now, you have experiance and service on your side which enable you to make the right decisions.

  26. your a brave man just by writing this, make peace with yourself, things happen for a reason, would you be who you are and were you are if you had gone, i think your brave man, take care of you. xxxx

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