I remember in early 2003, a lifetime ago now, there was a definite air of excitement, tinged with trepidation.This was what my job was about, the real deal…
I had my doubts about the political justification of it all, but I had sworn an oath, and the crux of that oath is to do as I’m told (as long as it’s legal, but that’s a whole other topic!).
I deployed as part of a 4 man team, working in pairs. We covered over 3000km in the first 2 weeks in theatre, working 18-20 hour days, often spending much of that time with noone knowing where we were. And that pace continued for some time.
Over the next few months pressure (stress?) would come to bear, the likes of which I had never experienced before, or have since. I physically assaulted a friend (who was also my superior) over the volume of a radio, I watched two WO’s fight over less, I was struck on the head with my rifle by a Major (admittedly, I did deserve it!), and I had the conversation…
It seems odd now, and has done ever since, but at the time it seemed the most natural thing. I agreed with my boss/friend that, should it come down to it, we would save our last rounds for ourselves rather than face capture.
This decision was not made out of cowardice, nor was it made out of heroism.
Not long before this ‘chat’ several individuals had been paraded on Al Jazeerah, and the bodies of some Servicemen had been found flayed, with their throats slit, in a roadside ditch.
My decision was made to protect my family, to spare them the anguish and pain I had seen on the faces of everyone involved with someone missing or captured over that period. I hadn’t really considered the effect things coud have on my family before that.
Fast forward 4 years (Yes, next year!) and I fear I will be in a far worse situation. I know where I will be, and I know the reality will be worse than I can imagine, even with my previous experienceto call on, and the callously frank briefings (refreshingly honest actually) I am currently enduring.
And yet I find myself more relaxed about it? I certainly don’t feel the excitement but, on the other hand, neither do I feel the trepidation.
I find myself preparing letters in my head, to be written nearer the time, to each of my family, explaining my thoughts at this time, and expressing my feelings for them with the utmost candour. Of course these letters will only be delivered should I fail to return.
It is my profound hope that these letters will never see the light of day, but even the process of formulating them in my head is strangely cathartic, a pressure valve, if you will. I find that, regardless of the stories I’m hearing, the news coverage I’m hearing/seeing, and the briefings I’m receiving, I am surprisingly calm about the whole thing.
My Wife is well aware of the the current operational environment and the fact that, although the situation was not as bad at the time, I did volunteer for the upcoming tour some time ago. I would have been ‘volunteered’ had I not done so, of that I am sure.
I do not know how I will react once I am out there, I can only hope that I cope better than last time… And that, on my return, I receive the same understanding and support from my family and friends as I did before.