It’s a time of change here at the Patrol Base. It’s that worst time of any one individual’s deployment. The Company based here are going home. All their conversations are of when they fly, their route home, what will happen when they get back to the UK and how they are going to spend their leave when it arrives.
And of course I still have over five months to go. The positive side of this is of course that when the new Battle Group and the Company to be based here arrives…well in five months time I’ll be in the going home mode before them…
Some people here are more ready to go home than others. There are those who have invested time in projects here with the locals – the Company Commander who wants to see the school he has worked on open before he goes, and is pressing for more and faster work on it; the Check Point Commander who has set about aiming to assist in refurbishing all the mosques in his area – both of whom I am here to help and both work me hard doing it.
But then there’s also the young squaddie who has had a long tour here and quite clearly wants, no needs, to go home. His first trip away has been an eye opener for him and he has, so I am told, grown up out here. But he will be one who will make the most of the few days’ decompression in Cyprus on their way back the Britain. A couple of days with just a couple of beers and some time on a beach or maybe see a film, or just relax and sleep…but the whole idea of Camp Bloodhound and decompression was developed for that very type of soldier. One who has just had enough, and just needs to be away from Afghan, from living in a Check Point or a Patrol Base, and at the end of the day. Just needs a bit of normality.
Normality is something that is in short supply here. The situations that I find myself in bemuse me. I can stand here at the gates of this Check Point, in shorts and a tee-shirt, and talk to the local builders about the progress of the school build, whilst in the near distance you can hear an Apache helicopters’ chain gun open up. I can sit and drink chai tea with Afghans in a Shura, discussing their plans for rebuilding their village and suddenly a huge BANG – the explosion caused by the Counter-IED (Improvised Explosive Device) team clearing a suspicious device will resonate…and no one will batter an eyelid. I can return from an eight hour patrol in the early summer heat and then nip into the Mess/Welfare tent and scoff some home-made cottage pie or fish and chips. It is a times, bizarre.
It’s a world of extremes, where you wander through the countryside on a patrol and talk to locals who show you pictures of the completion of the latest hand-pump well in their village on a Nokia mobile phone, as their children stand by them holding their hands out and say ‘Kalam, Kalam’ – the Pashtu word for ‘pen’, or else they snatch a bar of ration pack chocolate from your hand as you bend down to give it to them, running away shouting ‘chocolit, chocolit’ waving it in the air in triumph and never once making eye-contact with you.
And it is the children that have made the most impact on me since my arrival here. These children have known nothing but war – in fact there is a whole generation here that is now grown up and producing these children who have lived in a country that has been in conflict in one way or another.
The one that got to me the most was a little girl, who’d been brought along to a Shura outside a Check Point by her grandfather. She was just two or three, and I could see my own two-year-old daughter in her; wandering around smiling at people in a cheeky way with a chocolate bar in her hand that was almost as big as her, drinking from a bottle of water to combat the bitter-sweet taste of the chocolate and the hot sun. She looked so delicate and vulnerable, and yet so much like a child anywhere in the world. Just wanting to go through her life, go to school, grow up and live in the relative safety that we in the UK take for granted. He grandfather said that his biggest wish was for her and her brother to go to school – so that they could have a better future and have a better life than he had.
And that is what I am here to do. I am here to help the Afghans rebuild their country. To assist them with projects that help to take them out of the situation that 30 years of war and destruction has gotten them into.
So whilst it is a bit depressing to see people go home and leave, it gives me hope and momentum to continue the work of those who are departing, and to work with the new Company who come here prepared to fight if necessary – to provide security for the locals and to partner the Afghan forces so they can eventually take over their own security – and yet who also come here to build. Not just to construct houses, schools, wells and bridges, but to help build a country for the people of Afghanistan…and particularly the children. And when THIS Company of troops goes home I think they can consider their job here well done, and they deserve their few beers in Cyprus – and then the leave they are due when they arrive home.
And as much as it hurts me to see them go and leave me behind, God speed to them on their way there.