RAFairman's Blog

An RAF Airman's Blog

A Snapshot…

I wish I’d brought my camera out here. Well, of course I have brought A camera out here, one that takes snaps – its a little Fuji that has an interior zoom and so has no moving parts to get all clogged up with the dust – but it’s not great for taking ‘good shots’.

My usual camera isn’t an SLR, but it is a ‘bridge camera’ and it’s pretty good at getting some good shots. And this place is great for pictures. Not the usual standing smiling, posed shots, or indeed photos of guys in body armour and helmets in poses out on the ground. Rather, I’m talking about the candid shots that tell stories. The other night, for instance, as the RiP – the change-over of the troops on the ground that is underway right now, with Herrick 13 units going home to be replaced by Herrick 14 ones – there was a Para Corporal (who has sort of looked after me and taken me under his wing and I am eternally grateful to him for doing so) sitting by the side of his tent.

It was pitch black and my attention to him was caught by the flicker of the fire he had set in an ammo box. What happens out here is that you don’t throw away letters from home – unless you intend to take them home – you burn them. Security means that you can’t just throw away letters with addresses on, you never know where they might end up – or in who’s hands. This would be a ‘bad thing’, so just for that piece of mind and extra security, we all burn all our letters. This is what he was doing.

He was sitting on his haunches, arms wrapped round his legs, head slightly bowed, looking forward into the flames. He was dressed in the maroon-red tee-shirt that all Paras wear, faded by the sun and lightened by ingrained dust, and a pair of MTP combat trousers equally dusty and dirty.

The light of the fire lit his face and made his tour-tan look darker than it already was. Whilst his eyes were focussed on the fire, at the same time they were focussed on something a thousand miles away. And he was lost in thought as he did it. The fire wasn’t big, contained in an old ammo box, just enough to burn his letters and anything with his address on, the slight glow and flicker of the flame lighting up his face. The smoke gentle drifting up into the sky between the tents. He was here, but where his thoughts were – that was a mystery.

It would have been a sin to have disturbed him. I didn’t. I left him there, thinking of whatever it was; of his tour out here, the things he’s seen, and of the things he’s been involved in – and he has been one of the main men here in the last six months. Maybe he wasn’t thinking of this place. Maybe he was thinking of home and that it’ll take him a week or so to get from here through Bastion, through Cyprus and to his loved ones…But in the end, only he knows what was going through his mind.

I decided that I shouldn’t be there any more, that he should be left to his own thoughts and his small fire. I turned and walked down the path beside the rest of the tents leaving him alone. Alone to enjoy the burning because it was more than just a security measure. Something more than just paper was going up in flames…he leaves the front line tomorrow and he doesn’t have to patrol any more. He doesn’t have to go out there…maybe it isn’t just paper that is going up in smoke – it’s the stress that he has been under for the last six months. Maybe it’s all the dark thoughts and doubts everyone has from time to time, when they go outside the wire. We are lucky in this area that it is relatively quiet and not very kinetic right now, but you still need to be sharp and always thinking. Maybe he had realised that he only needed to be sharp for one last time. When he walks from the compound to the HLS to catch his Chinook home…that he can start to finally relax…

But I just wish I’d have brought my camera to be able to record that moment…not for me, but for him, because it would have been a great picture for him to keep…


This post is dedicated to all the Officers, SNCO’s and Men of E Coy, III Para. Thank you for all you did, and have a safe trip home.


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18 thoughts on “A Snapshot…

  1. Excellent post bud. I know what you mean about not having your camera, it’s irritating.

    You described the Para very well, seems very poignant.

  2. I enjoy reading your posts. Thank you.

  3. Kerry Maria Lawson on said:

    Burning ltr is spiritual-Thoughts r snt. Prayers said acknwlwdged. SMCO & 3 COY III para, Ur Chinook awaits U. As U R lads xx

  4. Debbie on said:

    That was a very moving blog. I have a very good friend currently posted to Libya but has done time in Afganistan/Iraq.

  5. Really nice post, you guys are fighting a really difficult war against an enemy that blends into the population and uses dirty tactics with no ground rules. Its a tough one…. stay safe all.

  6. Lelpune on said:

    Brilliantly moving blog. There must be so many moments like these, besides the horror, fear and mayhem. Thank you for sharing. Stay safe.

  7. ATC Padré Nick Rutter on said:

    Thank you for this thoughtful and poignant comment. May God bless your comrade-in-arms and may he come home safely! It is a chilling thought that we have to destroy anything that could identify us!
    Happy Easter, and keep safe. I’ve just been visiting my Air Cadets on their adventure training camp. Some find getting over a wall hard – for fear of what is on the other side. We’re all a bit like that at times!

  8. Yes, a picture can say a thousand words, but not nearly as eloquently as the words themselves. I believe you have captured the moment superbly.

  9. Kerry Maria Lawson on said:

    To Alex, ACT Padre Mick Rutter & all, one should always be fearful of the other side, but prepared to face it at all times. X

  10. Deborah Lord on said:

    I am so proud of what you are all doing out there. May you all have a safe return home soon. God bless you all.x x x 🙂

  11. Warren Hollingsworth on said:

    Im in the Air Cadets 1074 (Ellesmere Port) squadron. We are all proud of you guys and we hope you are all well, stay safe and we think that was a nice, but moving post 🙂

  12. Angie Goulding on said:

    This really got me thinking about my man who is currently out there.He is there with the US army and is on his final tour.He is due home any day now and I know when we do get to talk he says that the nearer is homecoming gets the more his mind is back home with us.You are all doing a wonderful job and I wish you all a swift and safe return.

  13. Jetz Maddox on said:

    What a provocative image you gave us there. Personally I am glad you didn’t have your camera. Your description made me feel like I was standing at your side and observing the exact same moment. Sometimes cameras dont make up for a gift like yours and could possibly take away from the sheer poignancy of that moment. Thank you for sharing that and you are right, it was so much more than the usual posed shots or the images that are constantly replayed on our tvs. God bless and keep you all safe xxx

  14. God bless and keep uou all safe, home soon xx

  15. God bless and keep you all safe, home soon xx

  16. wozwonder on said:

    I have read this today and it really inspired me.. My better half is currently with 58 sqn Raf Reg, I felt like crying in the post office sending his letters and parcels this am, (before I read your blog!), to think my relationship relies on the pc, words and letters is sad and I felt angry that all my daughter has is a few pictures to post to her father instead of his hugs, smile and strength. I wanted to say the military wives really do understand how much letters mean and try our best to comprehend whats happened when you come home. We have those moments where we fear for you out there and at the same time are proud of the strength and courage you all convey. Deploying is never easy but sometimes coming home can be tough too?? That moment you wanted to catch on camera that distance in his eyes.. Its exactly how we feel when we post the parcels and the letters.. |The fear, the frustration and the realisation we have to be strong and carry on with the kids and day to day living despite the guilt of living a normal life without you being in it.. God bless guys, stay safe and hurry home!
    May the road rise to meet you,
    May the wind be always at your back.
    May the sun shine warm upon your face,
    The rains fall soft upon your fields.
    And until we meet again,
    May God hold you in the palm of his hand.

    Raf Reg wife x

  17. Kerry Maria Lawson on said:

    Wozwonder, tnx u say the words of 1000s. In the land of dreams, hugs, smiles & strength r plentyful @home they R real. love K

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