RAFairman's Blog

An RAF Airman's Blog

The Luckiest Man In Helmand…

BANG.


It wasn’t as loud as I had expected. But it was clearly an explosion. Just a few yards away to my left.


‘UGL!’ shouted a voice from closer to the site of the expanding dust cloud that I was already able to taste. It quickly stuck to the sweat on my the skin of my face and particularly my wet lips. It tasted foul as I licked them. A UGL is an Underslung Grenade Launcher Round – sort of a portable mortar that is fitted under a rifle and can throw a small explosive charge further than a man’s arm.


The shout was echoed a couple of times, as we all dropped to the ground. The obvious place for us to go would be into the irrigation ditch that was behind us – obvious to the enemy too. A good idea from them would be to fire a UGL at us and then run off, whilst we took cover in a ditch that was seeded with IEDs. No, we just fell to the ground where we were.


The dust still swept across us.


‘MAN DOWN!’


The worst words. Repeated over and over. Across to my right I heard the commander of the ‘multiple’ I was working in, speak into his radio. ‘Contact – Man Down’.


‘I need two men over here,’ shouted another voice.


Without thinking I was on my feet and running. ‘It’s not a UGL,’ said the rear man as I ran past him, and then he shouted ‘CONTACT IED.’


I turned and stopped and saw…nothing. There was no-one there. There was a lot of dust in the air, and in the cutting through the fence across the irrigation ditch there was a small mound with two thick white wires exposed. IED.


I looked down. Already the other man who had run with me was in the ditch with a further rifleman who were frantically pulling at something deep in the ditch. There was a man down there. Silent.


The only words spoken were by the Medic who was already on the scene. In his soft Geordie tones he said ‘Lift him up over there. Gently mind. Head your way…Reet…’


He set to work straight away, but I refused to look down that way. I stared into the face of the young lad. ‘Okay. The medic is already here. Be cool. It’s all going to be Okay.’


The injured man spoke for the first time. ‘Fuck. My foot. Fuck. I fucking knew it. I had a bad feeling about today. What’s it like? Is it gone? My fucking foot…’


‘Easy, easy, easy. What’s your name?’ I asked.


‘Cpl Jones.’


‘Well, Cpl Jones, unless your Mum is in the military, I bet she doesn’t call you that. What’s your first name?’


‘John.’


‘Right then John. It’s all okay. You are gonna be just fine. The medic is working on you right now. In fact the other medic has just turned up. There’s two of them now. You are in the best hands you could ever be in.’


‘I stood on it. It was an IED wasn’t it…’


‘Looks that way John. It’s okay. You’ll be in out of here really soon.’


‘What’s it like? It is gone?’


I turned to expect the worst. But the worst just wasn’t there. John was the luckiest man in Helmand. The medic had already cut off the boot on John’s right foot and had peeled the sock off. Yes. Cut off the boot and peeled off the sock.


By some miracle – be it that it was a badly made IED, or that it had been buried too deeply, or just that it hadn’t gone off properly, John was officially the luckiest man in Helmand. There was no blood. There were 5 pink toes and one white foot there at the end of his leg. There was bruising and reddening around the ankle and heel, but…his foot was still there. He’d stood on an IED and yet…


‘What does it look like?’ he said again.


‘What do you think, Vinny?’ I asked the medic.


‘He’s a lucky bugger. Looks like the partial det of the IED just broke his ankle.’


John’s head was back, his eyes were closed in pain. ‘I want some morphine.’


Vinny nodded, and the rifleman to his left administered a shot of Morphine to his uninjured leg. Meanwhile John gripped my hand tightly. ‘Well?’


‘Mate, you are lucky. I can see five white toes and no blood. Your foot is still there. The blast just broke your ankle. Look – here’s your boot.’


I grabbed it from the floor and showed it to John. Clearly the blast had ripped into the boot, but it had protected his foot. It was ripped from the centre of the instep up about an inch and across towards his toes about two more inches, but that was it. In fact Vinny had probably caused more damage to them by cutting them off.


‘See? Good boots those, mate.’


‘I was gonna throw them away after this tour.’ He replied.


‘Well don’t.’ They’re something for you to put on your mantle-peice.’ I tied the fractured and ripped boot – the boot that had probably saved his foot – to his belt using the lace.


‘You’ll be in Bastion in an hour having Ice Cream and a cup of tea. Mate, seriously. If you ever wanted to stand on an IED – that is the way to do it. You lucky bugger…’


‘People from the Multiple rolled up. They were quickly briefed and radio messages sent. John was rolled onto a stretcher and we sat under the trees in the grass as the medic splinted his legs together to keep them immobile. He was still in a lot of pain and held my hand really tightly.


‘It’s there isn’t it?’ he asked again.


‘John…I want you to phone home today and tell your mum 6 lottery numbers, ‘cos it is your lucky day. You have a foot, with 5 toes. I am not lying to you. It’s all there, man.’


I lifted his head up and put his helmet under so he could see. Vinny, the medic slowly lifted John’s feet. John saw. And relaxed.


We chatted for a few moments whilst we waited. He was from Holloway in London. Used to go out in Camden. I told him I used to catch the night bus home to Enfield with an ex-girlfriend from Camden. ‘Actually, you are probably safer out here than catching the night bus in Camden…’ I joked.


He smiled, but it was a weak joke and the morphine was kicking in. Then the best sound of the day…a ‘Wokka Wokka Wokka Wokka.’ The sound of a Chinook. The medivac.


‘That’s the MERT coming for you John. You’ll be in Bastion in about 20 minutes. Nurses all over you.’


We lifted the stretcher and ran through the gap in the fence. Past the site of the explosion and into a field where a quad bike that had followed our patrol was ready to take him to the HLS for the evacuation to hospital. He was still holding my hand, and it made carrying the stretcher difficult. But it was only 30 feet or so.


‘There you go, John. Go on home. Have a cuppa for me, and a beer when you get back to the UK.’


He looked me in the eyes. ‘Thanks. Thank you.’


‘No worries. Just go on home and get better…you lucky sod. You really are the luckiest man in Helmand…’


Afterword.


Before you say it, I am not a hero in this story. John – not his real name – is the hero. As is Vinny, and Tom, the other medic, and the MERT crew, and everyone else who helped John get through the most terrible and yet, possibly the most luckiest moment of his life. If you are unlucky enough to stand on an IED then the best you can expect is a partial detonation of the device and the blast to just break a bone or two. And then have two combat medical technicians within 30m of you when you do it. The very best. That is what happened and it made us all very happy knowing that although one of our own was injured, he was fine and had an injury that he could have gained whilst falling off the Night Bus in Camden, but he actually got in a ditch in Afghanistan.


After I left him at the quad, and walked back to my Multiple, I stood at the site of the explosion. Two bare ends of wire were clearly sticking out of the ground. They looked like speaker wire that you’d wire your stereo up with…and over there was a plastic bottle damage by the blast, in a similar way to John’s boot. The bottle had housed the main charge of the IED. It looked like just the detonator – the part of the IED that initiates a larger explosion had gone off. And not the larger explosive. It was a partial det. And John was very, very lucky to come out of it with just a broken ankle. He is home now and making a good recovery. Best wishes to you, ‘John’.

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19 thoughts on “The Luckiest Man In Helmand…

  1. Shona Alford on said:

    Another brilliantly written blog! It’s really good to read a true account of what it’s like out in Afganistan! Keep up the good work, and stay safe :0)

  2. I felt sick with just the first word. By the time you’d “turned to see the worst” I was crying tears of joy (if that’s possible under the circs). Yet another finely written post. One thing I will say to you is this – never underestimate the power of holding a hand and talking to an injured party. Sometimes, that’s the best thing you can do. You kept him calm which in turn allowed the Medics to do their thang swiftly and with the least possible panic!! Hugs to you all.

    Wishing you a swift recovery “John”.

  3. Gee I enjoyed that amongst my tears, thinking of that lad and the pain oh the pain of it all…and your courage too in the job that you do…Please please take the care you have to out there….I cannot do anything to help you only read your blogs…I have two glorious grandsons, tradies now and have seen both of them in our local hospital in pain one had a broken foot and the other appendicitis…they were very brave but not as brave as you guys out there keeping us all free and having a life!!!!!! God Bless and keep you safe….doreen

    Hugs and xxx

  4. ann smitj on said:

    Another incredible blog. Gives us an insight into life out there that the media doesn’t 🙂 x keep safe x

  5. primaryandy on said:

    Well well, I liked that! Recover quickly John. It was only yesterday I was watching the Trooping of the Colour parade in London on TV. I remembered a year ago when Rosie Day’s son took part and so soon after returning himself from Afghan, and her photo’s of her hugging the life out of him on his return. In yesterdays parade the BBC commentator told us of a guardsman on Parade who had just recovered from being shot in the leg in Afghan. It was his wish to be on Parade to be with his comrades. I also remember 6 – 8 months ago a @RAFairman tweeting about his upcoming pre-deployment training and what with his appointments with the doc about his dicky ticker would he make the grade. He was also may be a little apprehensive about not having done anything like this in his career to date, and would he be up to the challenge if the going got tough?
    In your own words “you are not the hero in this story, but John & Vinny etc are”
    Well take it from me, you are being far too modest! You were there helping out John and reassuring him in an instance, and you can choose to say what you are or are not, that’s your choice, but I certainly think you have more than made the grade and your comrades [like John] will tell stories in the future of how you were there for him along with MERT etc.
    Keep doing your worthwhile job, but stay safe, ’cause I want to see the same sort of reunion photo’s of your Girlfriend, young Lily and you on your return.

  6. JulesO on said:

    Yes, we had to wait a while for this blog, but you made it a worthwhile wait.

    Totally agree with PrimaryAndy – all those worries about getting out there and doing the job, and you’ve paid it all back.

    It’s not all about being the warrior – you’re there for your team – and you’re all doing a fantastic job (especially for a retired avionics techie). Training takes you only so far, it’s the person in you that delivers the goods.

    My best to you all – keep safe, and keep doing us proud.

  7. Pingback: ‘The luckiest man in Helmand’ « Helmand Blog – Afghanistan

    • JRB0101 on said:

      An amazing story, summing up the brave and courageous acts carried out by the men and women of our armed forces. Our thoughts and best wishes go to all those “Johns” and “Janets” who are recovering from injuries sustained. A big thank you to all those who “do their bit” on a daily basis in such a hostile environment.

      Keep safe….

  8. Lorna on said:

    Fantastic post. You are ALL heroes out there. You all helped `John’ in the way you have been trained to and as human beings. There is no substitute for showing your humanity and humility in a time of great threat when the chips are down. I am so glad that John was as “lucky” as he was. He was certainly lucky that you were there.

    THANK YOU FOR EVERYTHING YOU ALL DO. x

  9. bergjagger on said:

    Great to read a story that makes you feel good! Initially I had that feeling deep in the pit of my stomach that this was going to be yet another aweful Afghan statistic and that the poor lad would have to go through the rest of his life maimed, but as I read on a big smile broke out across my chops! Well written blog, can I make a request please?……What 6 Lottery numbers did he finally pick then?

  10. Priscilla Dicketts on said:

    WEll, Corporal Jones……. one for Dad’s Army me thinks.
    Brilliant all you guys. You are the angels that can be seen.
    keep safe x

  11. ElleBee on said:

    You’re blogs are fantastic. Always an excellent read and it’s nice to hear what goes on out there from the horses mouth so to speak.
    Keep up the amazing work you’re doing and most importantly, keep safe.
    L

  12. MissCT on said:

    After watching ‘our war’ last night and shedding enough tears to resolve the current drought problem in England, I found my eyes streaming again reading this.
    Each and every one of you out there is a hero in my eyes and pretty much most of us here in the UK. Your dedication to your job is second to none and we are all so very proud of you.
    Stay safe and thinking of you guys and girls always.
    Xxxx

  13. shandell on said:

    Very lucky lad-but noticed that even when he believed that his foot was gone…-he was still very brave about it all!!!! Hope you recovered well “Jon”!!!xxxx

  14. Your blogs are real, happening, amazing and whilst I sit here in the comfort of my living room I read about what’s going on with you, the real world in “The Stan” and I wish you and all of you serving…stay safe x

  15. Its hard to imagine what it’s really like out there, fascinating to read your blogs now and again from the amusing to the serious encounters you’re doing well at putting things into perspective..This recent one really stood out; quite a lucky turn this chap had!
    Stay safe out there!

  16. This exact same thing happened to someone I know, if you have indeed changed the guy’s name I would suspect it may have been him! Both the unluckiest/luckiest person at the same time!

  17. Silvia Prescott on said:

    I am still weeping as I type this. My heart is overflowing with love and compassion for you all, no matter who or where. I pray that – sooner or later – you and all your friends and families will be happy and live happy and fulfilled lives.

  18. Excellent read again Alex. Well done!

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