Here, I’ve seen…
Being out here inAfghanistan has meant I have seen some amazing things. Some sad, some funny, some downright tragic. And now I am approaching my time to go home, it’s good to look back on all I’ve seen.
From the power of a Chinook bringing in an Under Slung Load right over my head, I’ve seen the advancement of technology…and then I’ve seen a poor disabled boy – aged about 10 – crawl on his hands and knees around a filthy compound where his parents were squatting. I’ve watched as a farmer has been evicted from his compound by me so that we can take it over as a Check Point. I’ve felt sick as I watched him take his wife and brand new baby – less than two weeks old – go off to who-knows where.
I’ve seen a girl, aged about 15 or 16 steal looks from the doorway of a compound as she hid behind the cowl of her head scarf. Not fully covered, she was spying on us and when I saw her face through the crack of the door, she held my gaze for 3-4 seconds before being seen by her father and pulling herself away. Her eyes were dark and stared at mine. The only face of an Afghan female over 13 and under 50 that I have seen out here.
I’ve seen great generosity when a local mistook my description of what my drinking tube was for a request for water and brought me a cup from his well…and I’ve seen the very worst of what humans can do to each other – an IED blast, and a rocket flying into an enemy position and exploding.
I’ve been lucky to see a medic stitch up a lad’s foot – watched as the needle passed through the skin and then pulled the folds of the cut tight with the thread. I’ve been unlucky enough to see a bullet hole in a man – to see the entry wound tight and small and then the exit wound on his back a mass of red flesh; ripped and torn.
I’ve seen the beauty of fields and fields of poppy flowers stretching almost out of sight in one direction and I’ve seen people disappear into massive fields of 10 foot high corn – whole patrols swallowed in a single gulp inside a green version of a burning hell which saps your strength with every step.
I’ve seen friendship when a local offered me his bread and I’ve seen anger and disappointment when I’ve had to turn down projects for a village. I’ve felt the handshake of gratitude and the feel of a hand on my shoulder to try to pull me back into a room to discuss further a project that a local wants, but just can’t have.
I’ve seen happiness when a couple of the Riflemen had a water fight outside their tent, and rolled with laughter watching myself and others fall into irrigation ditches. I’ve seen dreadful sadness and misplaced guilt when the same Riflemen lost a friend killed in action. I’ve seen new friends and colleagues disappear because of life changing injuries. I’ve seen the strength of people hurt but already recovering from amputations.
I’ve seen fear when I held the hand of a lad who had been in an IED blast, and I’ve also seen the relief on his face when he realised he hadn’t lost his foot.
I’ve seen disgust first hand when I had to wrap up my first ‘wag-bag’ full of my own crap. And I’ve seen my own disappointment in my own fitness when I returned from R&R and failed whilst out on a routine patrol.
I’ve seen greed when a local national pocketed cash that was meant to build a school, but I’ve seen the selflessness of another who came forward, in the face of insurgent intimidation, to tell us about IED locations.
I’ve seen banter. I’ve seen humour. I’ve seen friendship. I’ve seen comradeship. I’ve seen loneliness. I’ve seen beauty and I’ve seen evil.
And all these things I’ve tried to bring you, so that you could be able to see them too – after a fashion. Thank you for taking the time to share in them with me. I’ve tried my best to share them as best as I could.
They are all experiences that I will take away with me from this country. But here’s the rub. An experience isn’t something you have – it’s something that you use, and each one of the things I have seen, I will lock away until I need to use it. When I need inspiration, when I need strength, when I need guidance for a decision, I will look back to all the things I have seen out here and use them. That way, being out here won’t just be something I will have done…it will be something that has changed me and will hopefully have made me a better person.
God knows, out here I have seen so many people that have been stronger than me, braver than me, cleverer than me, wiser than me…better than me…and each one of them is an inspiration to me. It has been a privilege to work and fight alongside the very best. I have been blown away by the guys I have had the honour to share this tour with. Thank you for your patience, your understanding and your comradeship. Every one of you there has taught me something.
This blog is dedicated to the Officers and Men of B Company, 1 Rifles, and their attached Fire Support Team, medics and other personnel. Swift and Bold.