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…