RAFairman's Blog

An RAF Airman's Blog

Archive for the category “Career”

The Fog of…Life…

I’ve hinted at this in a couple of blogs in the past, but I need to just say this…because, well I don’t know, I just need to Say it I guess.

For the past year, in fact longer really, I have suffered with depression. Not sad. Not a bit down. Not upset. But proper, clinical depression, diagnosed and treated by doctors, mental health workers and medicines.

It kind of all started when I came back from Afghanistan. Where I didn’t particularly see anything that upsetting, or got traumatised or anything, but rather got to see myself for who and what I was. (More on that later…) But I came back and I was angry. Angry and everything, everybody, the whole world. The crapness of it, the materialism of it, the emptiness of it. The fact that people moan about the quality of the coffee they buy in a cafe (and yes I do that too), when there is so much MORE going on in the world. I was angry at myself for not being in control of my anger, angry at my wife for, well, being my wife (‘how could she possibly want to be married to me, a grumpy, miserable, moaning fool?’). Angry at my three year old daughter for being three, angry at my eldest son and daughter for having a life built up without me in it.

Anger turned to general grumpiness and a feeling of being low ALL THE TIME and there being no respite from it. I felt out of control at work, where, to be honest not a lot was going on and I had a lot of time to spare. I was very negative and very closed off. I would be judgemental, closed off and…miserable. Just miserable.

And as I said, I would take it all out on my family. Waves of anger would explode out of me. Followed quickly by anger at myself for exploding and being unable to control myself. And after that followed a wave of self loathing and miserableness and yes, sitting at the top of the stairs sobbing into my hands covering my face. This became a regular habit of mine…hands in front of my face, almost trying to hide from the shame I felt at myself. That and rubbing my hand across my forehead…and this became my poker ‘tell’.

I, my wife and my even my three year old daughter would know when I was getting stressed because I would do just that. My right hand would rub over my forehead; fingers and thumb moving together almost like the mouth of a vice closing. And it felt like a vice was closing on me…Stress, pressure which could be brought on by anything.

It was, to be honest a fucking nightmare. A waking nightmare which never seemed to end. Sleep was a slight relief, when I could get it. I was tired, dog tired, permanently tired, tired beyond all understanding of tiredness, and I would get to sleep fairly quickly, but oh! the early mornings. Awake at 5-5:30 everyday. Every day.

Life for me, and everyone who knew me, who interacted with me, who crossed my path, was horrible. I was horrible. And after a particularly bad weekend where I picked on everyone, I decided that enough was enough. I had to go to get help.

And I went to see a lovely RAF doctor who was just the nicest person. I talked, she listened, she spoke a little and listened more. I must have been in there for 40 minutes (sorry to whoever was behind me in the appointments) but I came out feeling better. Better because I had told someone.

I left there and went back to work where I said to my boss, I went to the docs this morning and it turns out I am mental. And he was wonderful. ‘Well, there’s nothing going on today, go home, spend some time just trying to think and sort your head out a little,’ he said. And I did.

And I then wasted a lot of time trying to think. Think about why I was depressed. Why it was happening to me. Why I felt the way I did. And it was a waste of time. There was no one reason. With the help of that doctor, a CPN and eventually some Citalopram, I’ve come to realise that it was just a combination of everything that had made me feel so irrational for so long. I’d come to feel that I wasn’t good enough, and my actions were those of someone who wasn’t a good husband and good father, and so my thoughts reinforced my feelings of not being good enough. My experience of being in Afghanistan made me see that I was nothing special. I was just another guy out there, who was, to be frank out of his depth for a lot of the time.

I felt almost embarrassed by my blogging out there, that they made me seem to be some sort of hero, that I was better than others, when I just wasn’t. They were stronger than me, fitter, braver, more heroic…normal people, but just better than me. And my embarrassment was demonstrated by that habit of putting my hands in front of my face…of trying to hide. If I can’t see the world, then the world can’t see me…or so my failed logic would go.

All through my depression, it’s never felt the same way as others when I read about their experiences. I do feel down and sad, but when they describe it as a veil of darkness over them, of it being a cave they are forced in, that is much different to me. I feel like it is a fog. A fog enveloping me, closing around me. I know the normal world is out there, somewhere, just out of reach and out of sight, but I can’t see it. I can’t find it. A thick pea soup of depression is hiding me from it and it from me. I know that the way I feel is temporary and that I can fight it and I can, and will eventually blow the fog away, but it’s so bloody hard to do so. Even after nearly 9 months of taking the medication, it’s still, sometimes just as hard as it was.

Too much has been going on recently for me to stop taking the Citalopram yet, and that’s a bugger, because the major side-effects of the tablets (google them!) are a fucker. I’ve taken voluntary redundancy, moved house, got a disabled wife to care for, a three year old who is lovely, but who is hard work, no real job, a mortgage to get and pay for…money issues going on…lots and lots to try to deal with, lots that could plunge me downward again so I can’t deal with life without them just yet.

I am one in three. Because one in three of us will have a mental health issue at sometime in our lifetime. But I still feel alone and often unable to cope, and that I want to hide from the world by just walking my dog in the Shropshire countryside. I want to get better, and be ‘normal’ again, if I could ever figure out what normal is, but it still feels so very far off.

The fog is still about me, some days it’s thicker than others, some days it’s almost a sunny day, but it’s always a bit misty. But in all my thinking about my depression, I’ve come to a conclusion. It’s pointless trying to ask ‘Why?’ There are lots of reasons, but the main one is that there is a chemical imbalance in my brain. Brain chemicals that I don’t understand are not going to the right places and it has the result of making me feel angry, out of control, worthless, useless, inferior…depressed.

But it’s pointless and a simple waste of my time to ask why. I just have to get on with making myself…allowing myself…to feel better, that eventually I will come out of this…that it is actually even more pointless to feel angry, inferior and depressed. But simply stopping feeling that way is not so easy, but I know that with the help, love and support of my family, I will do it. I might have been angry at them outwardly…but in reality I was really angry at myself. And that’s not fair on them, and worse, its not fair on me.

Scared of the Dark…

Can you try something for me? Just do this and then read on…Count to twenty. Easy. Quick isn’t it?

Now do the same thing again, but with your eyes closed.

Felt longer didn’t it. Time seems to slow down when your are in the dark. I’m sure you counted as quickly, and I am sure it took about the same time for you to count up to 20, but in the dark…it just felt longer.

Longer. But it was only about 15-20 seconds. But just imagine a lifetime of it. Imagine everyday being dark and black. Seeing nothing; being blind.  Not only would you miss the beauty that is all around us in this fabulous world, but the time you are spending in it feels longer. More time to see…nothing.

I remember being in Afghan, and we would discuss possible and potential injuries. Particularly after someone had been in an IED explosion or in a shooting incident. It’s natural to talk about it. And one day the topic of conversation after an Afghan Soldier had been airlifted out to go to the hospital at Bastion, fell to the macabre. If you were injured…what sort of injury could you cope with and what couldn’t you cope with. Lots of people, buoyed by the news of the new prosthetic limbs said they could probably cope with losing a leg, less people thought that they could manage without an arm…but the one that surprised me…and it was the one that I said I really couldn’t cope with would be losing sight.

It was a real fear of a lot of the lads. And a real fear of mine. Still is. You see, if I were to be brutally honest I would say that the biggest fear I have in the world is dark enclosed places. Some people it’s spiders, some heights, some people it’s even clowns. But me the dark. And team that with an enclosed place and I am absolutely quaking.

I once had to face this fear. When I was a trainee in the RAF, we went away to an outward bound, adventure training place in Mid-Wales, where you get to do all sorts of great activities. Climbing, hill-walking, canoeing…and caving. In an old slate mine which is entered by a long narrow tunnel often filled quite deeply with water.

The aim of the exercise is to practice your group’s communication and team-working skills. And the instructors take you down the tunnel and then before you enter the cave system, they take your head-torches off you. They then split you into two groups and give one group the torches and the other group the batteries. You are then led about the cave system and left on your own. You then need to join together into the two small groups and then find the other group and get the batteries/torch so you can see in the dark.

Dark.

It’s not just dark; it’s absolutely pitched black. Blacker than night. Blacker than…well, bloody dark anyway. It could be the brightest summer’s day outside, but absolutely no light will penetrate into the mine. To say you can’t see your hand in front of your face would be an understatement. Blacker even than a Catholic Priest’s socks.

And you stumble around inside shouting out for the rest of your team. You wave your hands in front of you in an attempt to avoid hitting the walls. You duck your head to protect it from the roof of the caves. You take tiny, tiny steps, feeling your way along, almost shuffling, hardly moving. Your breath is faster, you are on the edge of panic. You desperately reach out for something…anything that is vaguely human. Looking for the reassurance of the touch of another living being, and when you find one, by shouting and directing yourself to the sounds of his or her voice, you grasp them tightly, and you never, ever want to let go. You don’t want to be left. Alone. In the dark.

And eventually you find the other people and your get the task done and you turn the head-torches on. And then you can see in the dark. Relief. Relaxation. Calm. Your blood pressure and your stress levels drop instantly. And then you look about and see that even though you thought that the roof was very low and you would bang your head, the cave is actually massive. Like a cathedral. Huge high walls, easily 60-70 feet up. And where you expected the walls and floor to be jagged and cluttered, and you constantly thought you were going to trip and fall, they are smooth and flat and safe.

You were in no real danger. You wouldn’t have hurt yourself. You were only really afraid of the unknown. Of what you couldn’t see.

We rely on our sight. We take it for granted. We use it to give us frames of reference and safety in the real world without thinking about it. We even use the language of sight without realising it…’Watch out’…’I see what you mean’…’I don’t like the look of that’…and we go about our lives not really thinking, or maybe not wanting to think about not being able to see.

And when you are faced with the possibility of losing your sight, like we were in the arbitrary world of the IED in Afghan, or when other soldiers, sailors and airmen have been faced with that in the past, the fear becomes greater. I remember one lad who was often the lead man in a patrol. Often he would volunteer to go first and prove the route, look for the ground-sign and analyse the floor in front of him searching for clues that the enemy could have planted an IED on the path. This didn’t scare him, but what did scare him was the thought that if he saw what might be an IED he would have to determine if it was or not by getting down on the floor, and getting up close to the potential device and see if it was a bomb or if it was just some rubbish or just a stone. Because he was scared about his eyes. Losing his sight.

Like me, it was the one thing he would not have been able to cope with losing. And thankfully neither of us did. We both came home fine, without our worst fears coming to life.

But sadly that is not always the case. Throughout history, wars have damaged people’s eyes, and men and women returning from conflict have faced a future of stumbling about in the darkness. But thankfully like in the cave, there are people there for them. People who they are able to reach out to and hold and gain help and comfort. Someone who they can hold onto and who will not leave them alone.

Since the end of the First World War, St Dunstan’s which has recently changed it’s name to Blind Veterans UK, has offered help and advice and support to any ex-servicemen and women who have lost their sight. In fact it doesn’t matter when someone served or how they lost their sight; a REME engineer blinded by a sniper in Iraq, a National Serviceman in the Canal Zone of the 1950’s with a glaucoma or an ex-sailor who served in the Falklands, blinded by a car accident, as long as they have served they won’t be alone, Blind Veterans UK will be there to support them.

And like in the cave I found myself in, it is really reassuring to know that there is always going to be someone there to help. That there will be no one alone in the dark.

If you would like to read more about Blind Veterans UK or help them in their work by donating to their campaign, then please have a look at their website at http://www.blindveterans.org.uk and read about the amazing work they do to support Blind Veterans.

Tiredness…

Knackered. Shagged. Ball-bagged. Chin-strapped. Hanging. Fucked. They all mean the same thing…tired.

There have been many times I’ve been all those things. The first 24 hour guard shift I did. The time in Saudi I worked the night shift starting the First Gulf War. The day in Afghan Op Omid Haft kicked off, patrolling for 9 hours and then sandbagging for another 7 hours to prepare the defences of our new Check Point.

But these service and work reasons for being so tired have nothing on how deep down shagged-out, chin-strap, hanging out tired I am. A soul-deep fatigue where the very mention of the word ‘Daddy’ makes my shoulders drop. A sort of tired that has been off to University, worked at its tiredness and come back home full of the knowledge that it has a First in Tiredness and it knows just how to put all that theoretical knowledge into practise.

Tired.

Dog tired.

A sort of tired where not even sleep will replenish the system and recharge the batteries. The sort of tiredness that hasn’t just drained you, but drained the whole grid and Powergen are now phoning up the French to see if we can have some of their lecky.

But why? Why so tired?

Everything. Leaving the RAF, redundancy, moving house, looking for work, unpacking boxes, being Daddy-day-care, shopping, running the house, painting, failing to complete paperwork for jobs, stressing about money and mortgages, father-in-law dying, wife being very sick in hospital, more daddy day care, not being at home, walking into the glass door of a chemist (because of being so tired and thinking it was an automatic door) and cutting my nose open…and the bloody dog…

Everything. Life.

And yes I know that it’s just what everyone else has to cope with, that others have it equally bad and that there is always someone who is worse off than you and who has to contain with and put up with just as much…but it is seriously getting too much for me.

A break. That’s be nice. But I don’t really want one. I just want us all to be home. In one house, under one roof. In our place doing normal things, whatever normal is anyway.

But why can’t I cope? Why am I finding this all so tiring. Why am I so ball-bagged and why can’t I just chin it all off.

And here’s why. My support network is gone. Along with moving house and leaving my old job behind…I’ve left my old life behind. I’m tired because the support network of the banter with the chaps in the office isn’t there. The laughs with the guys in the mess have gone. The instant common ground that you had with people around you has disappeared and you are alone.

And despite having family around (thanks all!), despite offers from people over on Twitter to ‘talk if you want’ (thank you, very kind but, no), despite being around people, it’s not the same.

I don’t miss the RAF. I felt nothing handing my kit back and a similar feeling of ‘meh-ness’ handing my ID card over. The job I could take or leave. But just the people. People who share an outlook like you. Who share a way of thinking, and who share the same strange, stupid, macabre, self-depreciating, downright sick sense of humour as you do. People who don’t get offended when you are sarcastic towards them, and who give back the same amount of abuse as you are giving.

I miss that. I miss the ability that they have to recharge those batteries – faster than a French Nuke power station flicking a switch to double charge ‘Le rost-biefs’ for the electricity to boil a kettle for a ‘cupper teia’. (Yeah, I think that metaphor has run it’s course now.)

I miss the fact that just half an hours banter is better at powering you through life than a set of dilithium crystals.

I don’t miss the life, I love my life, well I will once it properly kicks in and I have a job and a home and my family around me, but I miss the people. I miss the sense of humour. I knew I would, everyone leaving the service before me said they did the same and that I would too. They were right. I don’t miss the bullshit, the Squadron Leaders, the crap postings, the deployments away for months at a time to god knows where, the lack of control or anything else…I don’t even miss the free healthcare, cheap accommodation, safety of living behind the wire, the variety of the work or the places I have been and things I have done.

I don’t miss any of that. I just miss the laughs and the people who made the laughs happen.

Lost…

Lily, my daughter has Scruffy.  He’s a battered, smelly, balding, bare…scruffy…bear.  He’s been with her every day, every night since she was born.  He’s been everywhere with her.  Shared her triumphs – first teeth, first steps, first day at Nursery School…and shared her pains and troubles – the time she was severely dehydrated and in hospital after catching a Noro-virus type bug… but he has always been there, with his very soft tail that Lily strokes and trails between her fingers when she is really tired and is drifting off to sleep.

But not tonight.

Tonight whilst Lily tries to drop off to sleep upstairs, Scruffy is in Liverpool with Lily’s mum. By accident, Scruffy was in Mum’s handbag when we dropped her off there this evening.  I realised that Scruffy was not in the car just after we’d been driving for an hour and were nearly home. It was too far and too late to turn round and fetch him…we would just have to wait a day or so until Scruffy came home with Lily’s mum.

So what? you say. What is your point? It’s sad, but she has to get used to the idea of loss. Of losing things.  Of coming to terms with loss.

But loss of the most simplest things, the smallest things can mean the very most to us.  Right now, the media is bringing our attention to the loss of innocence of many children due to assault by a certain celebrity.  Lily’s mum is coming to term with the loss of her father, who died on Sunday.  These aren’t easy things to come to terms with. At the other end of the spectrum is the fact that we all get stressed and grumpy at losing the remote for the Sky box or our car keys…

How we deal with the loss of whatever it is we have lost is down to one simple thing. How important the thing that is lost is to us.  How much value we attribute to our possession.  It depends where it comes from, who provided it to us, how much they meant to us.  And Scruffy is pretty important to Lily.  And she is rightly pretty cut-up about him not being in bed with her tonight.

And I can sympathise with her. I know how she’s feeling.  I have got lots of experience of loss; both my parents are dead now, and have been for many years…and I am always losing my bloody keys.  But the one thing I have lost that really hurt me was out in Afghan.

Before I was deployed my wife, Lily’s mum, had a ‘dog tag’ made for me.  Made of silver, it was an impression of Lily’s finger print, which hung around my neck, along with my proper military issue dog-tags.  It hung on an extra bit of chain below the two steel tags with my name and rank and so on… On one side of it was Lily’s fingerprint, on the other were the words…’Love you to the moon and back’.  It was with me every time I went out on patrol. It had been with me a few days before when our multiple had turned left and avoided the IED that the shadowing multiple had hit by turning right.  It had been my totem, my lucky piece. It was my link with home…despite being 5000 miles away, here was something from home, something from my family, something touching my skin. A direct link with home.

We’d moved into an Afghan compound and were setting it up as a new Check Point.  It was a standard Afghan compound. Fairly basic mud constructed buildings with a large brick and mud wall around it, and a large area for the animals in the middle.  Rather annoyingly right by the main door to the compound there was a big ridge of hard, compacted earth.  We couldn’t figure out what it was for, but it was something that every time we went in or out of the compound to go on patrol in our full kit, we would trip over.  It got frustrating.

And so, one afternoon, whilst the lads were out on a patrol and I was staying behind I decided to take a pick-axe and shovel to the ridge of earth and use it to fill a few more sandbags (and don’t get me started on filling sand-bags in that bloody CP).

The weather was of course bloody hot. Absolutely baking, but the job needed to be done and I stripped to my shorts, in the safety of the compound and set about the ridge with the pick.  Hard, heavy work, swing, pull, rip, swing, pull, rip…repeat and repeat, then dig, dig, dig, fill a sand-bag, drink a bottle of water…and then start again.  50 minutes later with 6 sandbags full the ridge was gone. Nice and flat and nothing for the guys to stumble over when they got back from another tough patrol in full body armour, helmets, kit, weapons and ammo, desperate to get the kit off and get a drink and some food.

I went into the HQ room to have a seat.  I was still bare-chested and reached for my tee-shirt to put it on. I looked down and noticed…nothing. It wasn’t there.  My dog-tags still hung there, but the extra bit of chain that held the silver tag with Lily’s finger-print was not there.

A moment of abject, mind-numbing, utter panic.  Fear and desperation.  I searched everywhere in the HQ room. Turning chairs upside-down, rifling tables, sweeping the floor, tearing the place apart…and then the deeper fear hit me. I was wearing it when I went out with the pick and shovel.

SHIT. I rushed over to the area I’d been digging.  I scoured the area. I dug, and dug. Turning over soil.  One of the Rifles lads came over and asked what I was doing. I told him.  He nodded and turned and walked to the HQ room.  He returned with a Vallon metal detector.  And we spent another hour scanning the area with the detector.  We even ended up scanning over the filled sand-bags.  We found…nothing.  We emptied the bags out and got down on our hands and knees and sieved through the right Afghan soil with our fingers.

And…

We found nothing. It was gone. Lost. We looked over the compound, but it was nowhere to be seen. It could have been anywhere. It was simply lost.

And I felt the biggest hole in my life.  Utter, absolute despair. I felt every one of those miles away from home.  Desolate.  And I felt empty…and an absolute sense of feeling that I had let both my wife and my daughter down.  I’d lost this thing that was so valuable. More valuable than simply pound notes. It was what was behind it.  What it meant.  The thought behind them giving it to me.  And I’d let them down by losing the bloody thing.

And I went to the empty field that served as our Helicopter Landing Site, around the back of the buildings. I sat there and wept. I wept for home and for my daughter and my other kids and my wife.  I wept what felt like a tear for each of the miles between us. I wanted to be back home right then, I wanted to be away from Afghanistan, out of that god-forsaken crap country, with their problems that were so complex and deep that would take so much to solve.  What could I do to help these people? How could my presence there do anything to improve things. Things that had taken so much, that still take so much, to solve.

But I couldn’t. I had to stay there. I had to carry on.  You can’t run away from your loss. You can’t hide from it. It was getting late and time for the evening Company Conference Call over the radio net.  I did my piece on the net, and listened to the usual evening chat about the days events and what the priorities for the next day would be.  Well, I half listened. It was getting dark and I continued to shine my head-torch around the room trying to see if there was a silvery chink of light. Of course there wasn’t.  The tag was lost. Gone forever.

I went to bed, crawling into my sleeping bag outside, under the Afghan sky.  Through my mossie net, I looked up at the stars and the moon.  To the moon and back…that’s what the tag had said.  And my spirit changed.  Each night I would get a reminder of home.  It wouldn’t be round my neck, instead it’d be in the sky.  To the moon and back…but it’d never be the same as that small bit of silver.

And now, I am going to go and check on my little girl Lily in her bed. To try to make up for the lack of Scruffy the teddy bear, Lily has every teddy she owns in her bed tonight. All round her.  But they won’t be the same as Scruffy.

Moving on…

It’s been two weeks since I was last in work. Normally after about two weeks on leave I would be building myself up to going back into work on Monday, thinking of where my work shoes are? Have I washed and ironed my trousers? Where is my beret?

But not this time. I am on leave until I leave the RAF now. No more work, no more office, no more RAF. In one week I move out of this service house and into my own place far, far away from the RAF. I don’t have any work shoes. My trousers have all been handed back in, and my beret is hanging forlornly on a hook in the hall as a keep-sake of a job, of a career, of a life that is over and slinking away.

But here’s the rub. I don’t actually miss going back into work. I actually thought that with still living on base, and having my daughter in the nursery school just over the road from my office that I would be in there a lot. Popping up for a chat and a cup of tea. But no. In the time I’ve been off so far, I’ve been into work three times. And one of those times was to pick up some of the stuff I had under my desk as a result of clearing my locker and drawers out. I have been back to check my JPA (the admin computer system from hell) and put in assorted claims to do with my resettlement and relocation.

But I haven’t missed work.

I thought it would be a massive wrench. I thought that finishing would rip a part of me out. But no. And the fact that it hasn’t has proved to me that I think that applying for, and being selected for, redundancy was the right move. It’s been a stressful time, this last 4 months, but the fact that I don’t actually miss work has been a revelation to me.

I miss the conversation and the craic already. Just the chatting to other people with the same outlook as you and having the same sense of humour as you is the one thing that I will miss. The perks, the life…yes…but the work? No. I don’t and I won’t.

It is quite simply time to move on. I have settled on an idea of what I want to do next, and I am slowly getting my head around how to go about it, and of course it has NOTHING to do with the resettlement courses I have done, but hey ho. The resettlement courses are all about my fall back plan anyway. If I can’t make it doing what I want to do (basically, THIS, as a freelance/ghost blog and web copywriter) then I have the fall back of doing a real job that I am, I have to say, quite decent at…It’s sort of like your dad saying, “ok, you can give it a go as a professional footballer, but make sure you have a trade in case it doesn’t work out.” It’s me being wise.

But the thing is I don’t really want to work full-time. I am completely drained from 25 years in the RAF. And I feel like a weight is being lifted from me. I have enjoyed every day of the life…but I just couldn’t do it anymore. I have spoken about it in the past – the cost-benefit analysis of it all means I do not get out of the life enough to allow me to put up with the job. The job isn’t bad. It’s just different, and it was just hard for me to go on with it all. So it was time to move on. And as I have done my 22 years, I am entitled to a full service pension, which whilst not huge, is (along with my wife’s full service pension) enough to mean that we won’t starve. We will get by out there, and jobs that we do will be for us, and to top our pensions up. I am not a greedy man, and I want to enjoy my life post-RAF. I don’t want to keep working at the same pace. I don’t need to. I don’t have to. I’m not going to.

And anyway this moving on is not just the mental moving on to do with leaving the job. It’s the physical one of moving house. Of leaving this house and moving north to set up a home. It’s odd ‘cos of all the many. many places I have lived in (certainly over the past 5 years since my divorce) none of them have really been a home. They’ve been houses. They’ve been places to stay and live with in, either on my own, or with my family, but they’ve not felt like homes.

But the next one will be. We are renting a place that was also for sale. And we want to buy the place after we have had a chance to settle. We have decided to make sure that we are happy with the area we have chosen to live in and the house we are moving to before we put down a massive amount of money and actually buy it. I think we are 75% there already, it just seems so bloody, idyllic… but we need to make sure before we take the massive plunge into the house with our cash, gratuities and savings.

But the move to that house starts next week. Exactly a week today we will be out of this house. As I type now, at 11:09 pm, a week today we will be in my brother’s house just a few miles from our new place, awaiting the arrival of the removal van the next day. We will literally be moving on.

And I can’t wait for it. I will miss the life. I will miss being here, being on base, in the warm little womb of the military. But it’s a real fact that everyone has to leave the Armed Forces at some stage. And I am happy that I have chosen when I am going to do it and that I have had some control over it. And I can’t wait for the next stage of my life to start next Friday morning when we move into our new house.

Moving on? Bring it on…

Difficult…

It is a truism that military life is a cosseted environment. If you want it to be your whole life can be supplied by the military.

You can, in fact, spend the whole of your life on base. Your house. The base shop. The school on base. The messes. The education centre, the dental centre, the doctors. The gym. Everything you could possibly ever need is inside the fence. On tap. For free (or at least at a very much reduced cost).

Unless you want to, your whole life can be spent behind the wire. Leaving you in a nice safe, warm, fuzzy environment with like-minded people who share a job, an employer, a lifestyle similar to yours.

But one day that has to end. Like death and taxes, it’s a certainty that one day you will cease to be in the military and you will have to leave that environment. And when you leave it, you literally leave it behind. You have to leave the safety of the wire and head out into the real world…on your own.

You have to find your own house, a job, a doctor…everything at ‘normal people’ have to do, but you have to do it all at the same time and all involve each other. For a group of people who have had their whole life easily mapped and provided for them, this is a really difficult thing to do.

Take, for instance, getting a house. We have a small deposit that would just about make 10% of the purchase price of a house where we want to live. But because we are both leaving the forces, we will have a much much larger amount of cash available in the future. But these funds don’t come through until about a month after you have left the military, so it means that the full amount available to us won’t be ready until the middle of January at least. Meaning that it makes sense NOT to try and fight for a mortgage (that a lender probably wouldn’t give to us based on our initially meagre (but survivable on) pensions from the service that similarly start a month after our discharge), but instead to wait until we have a huge deposit and then apply for a smaller mortgage.

But this leaves the problem of where to live. Our entitlement to a house runs out three months after our discharge…meaning that yeah, we could wait in the married quarter for the cash, but then be really up against it to find a house and have the purchase go through in time before we are quite literally made homeless.

So we have made up our minds to rent for 6 mons or so, just to tide us over whilst we relocate to our preferred area and then have a base to buy the house we want with a bit more leisure and leeway.

But this is a bit of a nightmare itself. To rent anywhere decent you really need to be employed, rather than ‘between jobs’ but to get a job you really need to have a base for those jobs, and yet to get a base for the jobs you need to be employed.

A viscous circle that has lead to a lot of phone calls to and from agents, and some…well not actual lies…or even real untruths…just extensions of the truth. Like saying that although we are relocating, I will be continued to be paid by the MoD until next year (true…I will be on my terminal leave until my discharge date of 11th Dec, and my last payday should be 31st December)…

This all just adds to the stress. The future is uncertain enough, but when you have nothing certain…no home, no work, an income of 1/3 of what you previously had…it is just too much. All coming at the same time means that each one of the most stressful things that can happen in your life…all come together at the same time. It means that tempers fray. Patience runs short. You wake up at night not knowing if you ARE going to have somewhere to live…or what you are actually going to do for work.

And this makes you tired. It makes you more testy and tetchy and you argue of little things and you can’t enjoy anything…and you stress and stress and stress. And everything is just so difficult you feel like running away and hiding, even though you know you can’t.

Getting Close…

‘As you are aware, your entitlement to occupy Service Families Accommodation is conditional on your continued employment by HM Forces and it ceases on your final day of service.’

Time…you can’t get in the way of it.  It surges on. Like Canute you might try to think you can deal with it, but it will, like the tide just wash over you.  It’ll overwhelm you and nothing can stop it.

And my time is running out.  Time in the RAF that is.  I now only have 6 working days left.  Well, a couple of extra days doing stuff like ‘clearing’ and handing my kit back, but pretty much I have 6 days at work.

And it’s when you realise that you have enough shirts left hanging up and you will never need to iron another ‘Shirt, Short Sleeves, RAF, Wedgwood Blue’ that you suddenly realise that time is overwhelming you.

And I have so much to do. Move house, find a job, find a purpose.  Because, frankly, the RAF has provided me with all those things for the last 25 years. OK, there were times when I lived in my own house but, the RAF has always been there for me to provide me with all those things.  I live in a service house – gotta move. I have a service job – gotta change. I have a purpose – gotta find one.

And all three are hard.  It’s like the ultimate growing up.  I like to think my life is fairly grounded and I am aware of the civvy world, but I have a feeling it is going to take some getting used to.  The house thing is easy. We have found a place that we want to live in, in an area that we like and works for us both; close to my family, close to my wife’s family; in the countryside, at a price we can afford.

We are going to be waiting for all the various elements of money to arrive from the various sources, MrsF’s end of service gratuity payment in October, my gratuity and redundancy money in January and are going to be able to put down a very sizeable deposit on a house – hopefully the one that we are going to move into that we have just applied to rent. So, yeah, the house thing isn’t that big a deal, and the service, because I am being made redundant are going to pay for the removals, so there is a big bit of stress relieved.

But then there are the other two things.  The job.  The purpose. For years…for 25 years and 5 months and 4 days my job and my purpose will have been inextricably linked. The one thing and the other both mutually compatible.  Almost indistinguishable.  One able to be replaced by the other.  BEING in the RAF was a job and a purpose.  In fact it’s interesting that I considered myself as BEING in the RAF…whereas that letter…the one that began with that paragraph at the top of this post considered me to be ’employed by’ the RAF… I guess it’s funny.  To me being in the RAF wasn’t a job, it was a purpose. It was a reason for me to be me.

And when I leave, when I have finished my 6 working days, and am on my terminal leave before the Big Day on the 11th December when I am no longer part of the RAF…what will I be?

A civilian? Ex-service? Unemployed? I honestly don’t know.  I certainly don’t know what I want to do for work when I leave. Ok I have ideas.  Lots of ideas.  I could do the same sort of thing as I do now – a sort of Management Consultancy job.  Or I could go to work in a factory. Or I could go and work in a coffee shop. Or I could start my own business as a Dog Walker.  Or set up my own training company. Or become a Teaching Assistant. Or try to find work writing. But I haven’t decided…can’t decide…can’t really think about what I want to do, or who I want to do it for.

I guess I will eventually decide.  We are lucky because with our two service pensions coming in, between MrsF and myself we will have a modest, but survivable income. Enough to pay for a small mortgage on the house we will be able to buy, enough to live on – just – but the pressure of finding a job quickly isn’t on me.

I want a job. I want to be able to bring in enough so my wife is well looked after.  So my living at home daughter has all she needs.  So my older children at University have some cash to help pay for their accommodation and won’t be saddled with huge debts. And I want a job that will give me a reason. A purpose.

I remember my father. He was in the RAF. He left the RAF and went to work…for the RAF as a civilian.  He worked all his life in or for the service. And when he retired and he stopped…he just stopped. He associated his work with his life and with his purpose and when he stopped working he stopped living. By his 67th year he was dead.  He simply died. And I don’t want that to be me. I want to carry on.  I want to have a purpose, a reason to go on.

I know I am not quite my dad’s age yet, but my point is that I, like my dad, need a reason.  A reason to go on.  Maybe my reason will be to relax and just enjoy myself. God knows I want to relax and chill and catch up with myself.  But to be able to separate what you do from what you are…it’ll be an interesting thing to attempt.

Because in the RAF, in all the Armed Forces, what you do IS what you are. You are a member of the RAF. In the Army. You are a Sailor or a Marine. The role you do is what makes you; what defines you. That’s not quite the same in the Civvy world.  The Service wraps your identity up inside itself, making you part of something bigger. Part of an organisation with a history, a tradition. With values and beliefs and ways of thinking that are different; ways of working that are different; ways of speaking that are different.  You are not just part of the RAF or whatever, you are part of something bigger that you. Better than you. That stands for something, that embodies something.  That means something.

And like I said. That question I asked…when I leave the RAF.  What will I be? A civilian? Ex-RAF? What…?

That is the big question.  And it’s quite a scary one, and this is the first time I have talked about it. Because even though I applied for redundancy.  Even though I knew it was my time to leave, because the RAF isn’t the same as it was when I joined and my time in it is just up.  Actually leaving and moving on is going to be so bloody hard.  Because when what you do makes you what you are, and you are no longer that thing…what are you? Who are you?

It’s almost time to find out.

What a Walt.

Being part of the military has its downsides.

Multiple postings, long working hours, tough physical work, little control over your life, difficult living conditions…and of course the potential to get yourself blown up and killed.

But we in the forces live with these. Not because we are special heroes, but because military service life has its benefits too. Fairly decent pay. Fabulous opportunities for adventure. Brilliant like minded people around you. So things sort of balance out.

One of the benefits is how people in the UK have started to think about the military more, and the regard for what we actually do has gone up so much recently. Help4Heroes, SupportOurTroops, Adoptasquaddie all allow people to show their support for what we do. and that is just the loveliest thing. To be appreciated for what you ARE, not just what you do, is just bloody wonderful.

But with all this support and appreciation there are some who want to cash in on it. Not actual servicemen who might want to write or talk about their lives after they have left the forces, but some people (who aren’t even in the forces) who want to literally cash in on the military, and the support that it gets.

These people are nicknamed Walts. Named after the character Walter Mitty – who lived a fictional life inside his head, daydreaming and then playing out these dreams; being something and someone that he wasn’t.

Yes. There are people who want to pretend to either be in the forces, or have been in the forces, for what ever reason they have…and get the kudos of being a serviceman, or ex-serviceman, without actually having to have put up with those downsides (and the many more!) listed above.

These people are the sad, the lonely, the needy. They are the ones who want to live bigger, better, braver lives, but aren’t up to it. They often prowl the forums of the Internet, lurking in the very places that those amazing people who support military personnel go to offering help, support, assistance and friendship, and then they leech of it.

The Walt will make up some spurious lies about a military career. They will be a Para, or a Marine, or even Special Forces. They will say they have been on a tour or two; Iraq and Afghan. They will trawl eBay and find an old beret or military surplus jacket and have a picture – but only one or two pictures will be available if the befriended asks for them.

The Walt will seek firstly contact, then friendship and then they will go in for the ‘kill’. They will ask for something. Mostly, and the most common form of Walting is just for the attention and adulation. But the next worse is when the Walts look for sex. Worse is looking for ‘love’ which then turns out to just be sex but the very worst is the Walt who looks for a gain. A financial gain somehow. The classic is ‘they’ve fucked up my pay and I need a bit of help seeing me through to the end of the month’…or ‘I can’t access my bank account here…’

And of course they get what they want, and then run.

Run on to the next victim.

This really, really, pisses me off. Really. Military people put up with a lot, but the last thing they should have to put up with is people stealing their good name and using it to prey on the unsuspecting who only want to help or meet real military personnel.

Speaking of that…and returning to the subject of sex. It’s a fact that there are people who like men (and women) in uniform. Hey! Life’s rich pageant! I could tell stories that…but I won’t…but the reason for this blog post today is that I have been affected by Walting this week.

Someone, a Walt, used my picture on a dating site. I received a Direct Message on twitter from someone who followed me asking if I was using a dating site. I wasn’t. I am not. The messenger went on to say that someone had contacted her on a dating site ‘flirting’ with her, using a picture that she recognised. My old Twitter picture. The dead-ally hardcore one of me, taken by a military photographer in Afghanistan, just before I was going out on a patrol. Tooled up. Helmet, body armour, combats, rifle.

Now, I posted on Twitter about this and got the expected response – outrage and anger – at the Walt, but I also got something I didn’t expect. Several saying that they thought it must be a compliment.

But I don’t see it as that. I see it as some sad wannabe who is pretending to be something he isn’t in the hope of meeting people for sex. And then when he DOES meet the poor victims, what does he expect to happen? When someone who DOESN’T look like me (and he should think he is lucky that he doesn’t really) stands in front of a woman and says ‘here I am, oh, THAT picture? Well, yeah I know it’s not me, but we are here now and so…’

What could happen next? At best the woman would leave, at worst…the very worst could happen…and I will leave that to your imagination.

So a sad Walt pretending to be a member of the military isn’t an honour. It’s not a compliment. It’s just bloody infuriating. It’s stealing. It’s stealing everything that being in the military stands for. Its the theft of an idea and an ideal. And whilst most of the time Walts are harmless attention seekers trying to fill an empty hole in their lives, some are after much much more, and can cause much much more pain.

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If you have been approached by someone saying they are military and asking for something, or have concerns about the military ‘bona fides’ of someone online, have a look at Walter Mitty Hunt or do a search on Facebook for Walter Mitty Hunt.

And The Winner Is…ME…

This blog has just been given an award.  The DefenceIQ Best Defence Industry Blog 2012.

And I’d like to thank everyone who nominated me, the judging panel for choosing me, and more importantly all the many readers, followers, RT-ers, Sharers…who spend their time reading and talking about my blog, and helping to make it a success.

It comes at a particularly poignant time, the twilight of my RAF career.  It’s kind of nice.

It’s actually lovely.  To be recognised by people for doing something that you enjoy doing is just the loveliest thing. And to do it up against other quality bloggers, who know their stuff; who are serious and knowledgeable and aren’t just gobby chancers ‘spinning a dit’ like me, well that’s just the best biscuit. It’s an absolute honour.

So THANK YOU once again to DefenceIQ for the award.  But more I’d like to thank every reader who has used some of their valuable time looking at what I have written, and those who had gone the extra mile and recommended my stuff to other people.

You are all pretty ace. Thanks.

This Is The End…My Friend The End…(Almost)…

So.

There we go then.  The secret is out.  That I’d applied for the Armed Forces Redundancy Scheme.  And yesterday I found out I’d been accepted and selected for redundancy from the RAF. I had volunteered and my number had come up. And I am happy about this. Very happy.

After 25 years, I felt that it was time for a change.  I am, and always will be terribly proud of being a member of the Royal Air Force, but we all move on, we all grow, we all change.  And since I got back from Afghan I had felt like that I had changed a bit and that I wanted more and different experiences.

I want a bit of control over my life you see. The one thing that you do give up when you become a member of the armed forces is that control over your life – where you live, what job you will be doing…and that had become too much for me.  I need to have a bit of control.

To be honest, despite the brave face I have been putting on on here and on Twitter, it’s been a difficult 7-8 months since I got back from Afghan.  I initially found it easy settling back in to the swing of things, but soon a strange feeling of anger hit me.  I had trouble dealing with stressy situations – not big dramatic moments – just the day-to-day niggely stresses. I struggled.  My family struggled. I made others around me struggle.

Things got tough for me to cope with and it sort of came to a head in late April/early May when I found myself become very frustrated and then having very angry outbursts. This would be a total overreaction to whatever the person had done – usually Lily, my three year old daughter, Therese my wife, or Mahsa my dog.  I would launch into a stream of verbal anger reducing the first two to tears very quickly and the puppy to a quaking wreck.

It wasn’t fair.  It wasn’t fair on any of them.  Lily was just being a three year old – doing as three year olds do. Mahsa just a puppy! Therese, just trying to help.

And this would then, five minutes…two minutes…10 seconds after the out burst make me feel bad.  I’d feel bad for them and then feel bad for me and this would become a cycle I have identified myself…

Frustration – Anger – Guilt – Despression.

I would end up quite depressed and low and moody and miserable. And I eventually grasped the nettle and booked myself into see the doc here who has been, I have to say, bloody amazing. Absolutely brilliant.  I’ve been referred off and seen the Community Psychiatric Nurse over at the Metal Health centre at Brize and I’ve had a really good start at getting me back in my own mind and getting myself (my self) back in order. I am not there yet, but on the road.

And I think that this all fits back to that lack of control.  I didn’t have any control over my life. I think that you can cope with this for so long, as long as the benefits of the lack of control out weigh the drawbacks of it…but recently for me they didn’t anymore.  I wanted…want more.

I want to choose where I live and what job I do.  I know that the job world isn’t that rosey right now, but the thought of being posted to do a job i might not want to do, in a place where I don’t want to be…well that blew my mind.  I just couldn’t deal with that anymore.  I am not going to turn this into a moan about life in the military, because life in the military has been bloody brilliant…but costs v benefits…it just didn’t even out for me anymore.

So when the opportunity to leave as part of the redundancy scheme came up – and I was in the field – I grasped THAT nettle too. So back in February I filled in the application and then basically waited whilst my head fell further apart and I slightly lost myself.

And then today. A phone call to see the Wing Commander.  A tense minute or two as he got to the point and then him looking at his piece of paper in front of him and saying the words ‘You HAVE been selected for redundancy…’ followed by me saying ‘YES!” a little too loudly…and then a nice long chat with him and me leaving his office with a thick cream envelope with lots of information and a lot to do.

And…

Not quite a weight lifted off completely…but certainly a clear vision of the route forward now.  I really have no idea what job I am going to do when I leave the RAF in December – just in time for Christmas – and I (we) have a lot to do to get to that point…but now…it’s in MY hands. I have a bit of control. Over where we settle. What house we buy. What job I look for.  What work I do. And the redundancy pay out is, well, lets just say, it takes the pressure off. I have done 25 years and will be leaving with a pension, and a handsome pay out that will help me get a disable chunk of a mortgage if I live in the right place…and with the fact that Therese will be leaving the Army on a medical discharge in October…we are going to be alright.

We are going to be alright.  We are lucky. I am lucky. I have had 25 years doing some bloody ace stuff.  Going to the first Gulf War.  Working on Tornado F3 fast jets.  Fixing high tech top end radar. Being on a Trials and Development team bringing a new Electonic warfare equipment into service. Instructing the future of the RAF. Trying to make this bit of it here at Benson more efficient. Flying in a Puma. Watching Tornados air-to-air refuel from the aircraft I am flying on. Flying in an F3 over the North Sea. Going to Afghan and seeing and doing ALL THAT. Making a difference. Visiting the USA, Canada, Bermuda, Germany, Portugal, Belgium, Italy, Cyprus, Spain, France, Saudi, Afghanistan. Working with some of the very best people in the world. Doing amazing things.

Yes I am very lucky to have been part of that, and whilst I will miss it sooooooo much, it is time to move on and move forward because all those things are things I have done. I can’t do them again…I can’t go back to them. I can revisit them and remember them and enjoy them, but we must look to the future and look to what we have to do next. What I have to do next. And so I will miss it all, and most of all miss the people and the belonging to something bigger and better and special. And whilst I’ll be around in the RAF for a bit longer and on here for a while yet, it is time for me to leave and go onwards.

Per Ardua Ad Astra. By struggle, to the stars.

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