Mud mud inglorious mud…
We move off from the Shura I have just been having with locals. It wasn’t particularly successful as the people we really needed to talk to in that village weren’t there that day. We’d found out who were the main power brokers and who made the decisions in the village, but little else. Frustrating, but part of the job.
The temperature starts to rise. We move back in the same method as we’d moved across the countryside to the village, each of the two multiples out on the ground providing depth support to the other, leapfrogging along the route, but along a route that is different to the one we went out on.
It’s hard going. It’s hot. The fields have been well irrigated. In fact they have been flooded with water to soften the soil in readiness for them to be ploughed and sown with the next crop. Quickly fields turn to quagmires. Deep, thick, black mud clogs at my boots. Each step becomes more difficult than the last. I start to struggle though the mud and water, trying to pick out a route that is the least muddy. It’s energy sapping and the sun burns the one bit of skin at the back of my neck, between my body armour shirt and my helmet, that is bare.
Each step is a chore; lifting boots that suddenly weigh twice as much as they should due to the water soaking inside them and the mud sticking to the outside. The fields stink. The mud stinks.
My breathing gets hard and I am starting to pant. I can see the Check Point that is home, only 200m away, but its also another wet, muddy field away. I can go no further, and take a knee. I put my fist to the floor, trying to prop myself up, but it disappears into the mud, my glove soaking up the mud like a sponge.
I take a sip of water from the drinking tube that goes to the camel-bak inside my day-sack, but I’m sucking on the dregs of the 3l of water I had taken out with me.
I look up and see the gates of the CP open and welcoming. I can’t stay here. I can’t stay in this field. But all I want to do is just sit. Sit and take off all this kit. The helmet, gloves, goggles, body armour and day sack…I want to just sit there and cool down, but it isn’t an option.
The effort…just the thought of slogging through another field crushes me. But I just can’t stay there, out in the field like that. I need to get up and get to the safety of the base before I de-kit.
I force myself to stand and take another few steps, plodding in an erratic line through the muddy field. My feet disappearing into a mud that had almost the consistency of soggy wet clay.
I can’t think of anything I have ever done that is as hard as this. My energy I just being sapped with each step…My legs burn. Cramp in my calves. Pain in my thighs.
‘You okay, Serge?’ says one of the lads behind me. ‘Not far now…’
‘Yeah,’ I pant. ‘Just finding it hard going in this mud.’
‘It’s a bugger innit!’ But his slight conversation has brought me out of my own thoughts. I look up and see there is only 50m to go, a small wall and then a dry field…and then the dusty road…and then the fridge! Inside the CP we have a fridge stocked with cold water and I can see the guard at the gate already giving out bottles of cold water to the patrol who are already inside.
One last push. One last effort through the field, one step at a time. Head down looking at the mud. But then I am on the road and then stumble in through the gate…and I am pouring water down my throat.
‘Do you need to see the doc?’ Asks the patrol commander.
‘Nah. I’m fine. It was just hard going.’
‘Yeah. Those last two fields were a hard slog. We won’t be going that way again, not until they have dried the fields out a bit anyway. Too much bloody hard work.’
‘A good walk out though, even though we didn’t get a location for the well, at least we got a bit of information about the politics of that village.’ I nodded, and stripped my kit off, drinking more ice cold water – welcome ice cold water…
‘I’m getting to old for this,’ I say, to no-one in particular.
‘How old are you Sarge?’ asks the lad behind me.
’41. Patrolling is a young mans game.’
‘Fair play. I hope I’m still able to go through fields like that when I am 41…’
‘I hope you are too… But I tell you what, I won’t be doing it at 42…Well, I’d better get kit sorted and washed, do a quick patrol de-brief and report and then I am having a cool shower! And then this afternoon, I will be having an old man’s snooze!’