My Friend on the Front Line

Jan 13

The number of British military personnel killed on operations in Afghanistan since 2001 stands at 247. The latest fatality is Capt Daniel Read from 11 Explosive Ordnance Disposal Regiment, Royal Logistic Corps, who died after an explosion in the Musa Qala area of Helmand province, on 11 January.

Over the Christmas period I met up with an old school friend who is in 3rd Battalion The Rifles. He was due to be out in Afghanistan until March this year but was sent home to attend the funeral of L/Cpl David Kirkness and Rifleman James Brown, also of 3rd Battalion. The two men were killed on 15th December near to the hostile Sangin.

I’ve never spoken to a soldier who has been out fighting in Afghanistan and so was intrigued to ask him about his experiences.

Why did you sign up?

He said: “the reason I signed up, like most other people, was boredom. I got trained up and after 4 months they needed more people to go out to Afghan and asked us, so I stuck my hand up. That was 4 months ago and I wasn’t meant to be back til next year (2010).

How bad is it out there?

“I saw one of my best mates blown up in front of my face. There was a bomb and he was disarming it. We said we’d help him in a bit and checked out the surrounding area. When we looked back he was blown up. They wouldn’t send a helicopter because he was already dead, so we had to pick him up and carry his legs and body for 3 miles on a stretcher on our own. It’s the worst thing I’ve ever had to do.”

Do you care about the Afghan people and giving them some sort of democracy?

“The Afghans hate us. None of them know why we’re there and think they’d be better off without us. When we speak to them through an interp’ they just tell us we shouldn’t be here.”

Do you get any kind of counselling, to help you cope with things like death?

“We don’t get any before. A pastor comes and speaks to us afterwards. I’ve turned to religion too now. I always wear my rosary beads out there.”

What are your motivations for going back out to Helmand?

“It’s not for Queen and country. It’s for my mates. I’ve seen them be blown up by the Taliban and that makes me angry. We’re fighting for them, in revenge and in loyalty. I don’t care at all about our mission. We’re told what to do by our commanders and just do it.”

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Strong words that speak multitudes.

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