It is a funny thing when finally you are set free from captivity, there is a moments hesitation, a pause for thought as you muse whether or not you might just stay and continue in the same monotony that you have become used to. Like a bird teetering in front of the open cage door wondering whether this straight forward, subservient, existence is not so bad after all… And then you jump and spread your wings, and it feels bloody brilliant. You also then realise that the only possible reason to even think about returning to the cage would be in order to hover over it at an annoying height before then covering it and all those associated with it in bird poo.
Putting the bird analogy to one side for a moment, you may have guessed that I have finally been let loose from my desk job and am now ‘living the dream’ doing what I signed up for. Yes indeed, since my last installment I have taken command of a Troop of fine young men and been sent forth into the barren sandpit of Helmand in search of adventure, excitement and any baddies who might be kicking around at the time. Fairly typically however, none of the above have been anywhere to be seen as of yet…
Having spent the last four months talking up a storm about how things are going to change once I’m out from behind the desk and winding up the only other member of kindergarten corner about how he will be stuck indoors while I’m off winning the war single handedly it wasn’t without yet another deep routed sense of irony when things didn’t go entirely to plan.
It started ominously when, for the amusement of the one man farewell party (kindergarten friend, obviously) who came to bid me adieu at the heli pad, I attempted a Braveheart style cry of ‘FREEDOM!!’ with my arms raised in the air whilst walking towards the awaiting helicopter, before promptly being taken to one side like a naughty schoolboy by the RAF man in charge and told to stop pratting about or I would not be getting on the flight. Given how long I had waited for this moment you can imagine that I was remarkably well behaved for the remainder of my time with boring Mr RAF man. I made it in the end and was soon ready to go on my first excursion into the deep unknown. I was excited, perhaps a touch nervous but raring to go.
We set off in our trusty vehicles, winding our way out of camp towards the front gate, my excitement grew, this was it, finally I am in the role I have trained for and in a few moments I would be out there doing it. Or so I thought. It was at that moment, 100 meters short of the gate, that my driver piped up on the radio with:
“We are going to have to stop here Sir.”
“What? Why?! We haven’t gone anywhere yet!” was my somewhat desperate reply.
“There’s no power going through to the engine Sir, somethings buggered.”
Utterly typical. Four months of waiting, four months of spread sheets and being a tea boy for people who still don’t even know my name and my bloody vehicle breaks down 100 meters short of the front gate. Perhaps I’m destined to remain inside the wire forever.
It turns out it wasn’t completely buggered but it did delay us leaving by a good few hours before I was finally able to taste the delectable nectar of being on the open road with my troop. I say nectar, it tasted more like exhaust fumes and dust, but even that couldn’t dampen my mood- I was exactly where I wanted to be.
Once again, in the interest of those concerned for my safety the excursion couldn’t have been less eventful if it tried. I have felt more threatened on Salisbury Plain than I did during my brief foray into the desert and it still stands that the only person I have shot at in my time out here is the same suspiciously German looking chap from WWII who bizarrely still gets pasted onto our targets on the rifle range, so worry not.
Other than that life in camp over the past few weeks has been dominated by watching the Olympics (yes we have tele-visual contact with home soil) which has been fantastic. There was even a small group of us hardened fans who stayed up until 0400 (4am civilian time) to watch the full opening ceremony the other week only for one of the guys to stand up at the end, having sat through the entire 3 and half hours and proclaim “What a bunch of lefty bollocks!” before walking out. Quite why he didn’t spot that theme within the first half hour and call it quits then is beyond me but the rest of us thoroughly enjoyed it, even if it did make us want to be back home even more than usual.
And so it is that I find myself just beyond the 4 month point and preparing for the, slightly belated, half term break.
Things I am looking forward to immensely include not sweating, green things like grass and trees, being able to choose what I want to wear in the morning (my feet are particularly excited about being in something other than boots), eating for pleasure not for the purpose of fuel, not having to drink 6+ litres of water a day for fear of becoming dehydrated which, when in a air conditioned office usually just results in going to the loo every half hour.
Things I am not looking forward to so much include people asking (and there will be at least 1) how many people I have killed- the tally remains on nil but by asking the question you dramatically increase the chances of that tally rising… Also, realising how much my drinking ability has diminished (it wasn’t exactly chart topping before so I will be a very cheap date indeed now) and people saying “Oh, I thought you’d be browner than that after 4 months in the sun”- given the fact that I have been known to burn on a warm day in April you can appreciate that 50 degree heat is not exactly my cue to break out the tanning oil. Either way it is going to a very welcome break.
That’s it for this installment, I am sure two weeks of leave with a reduced capacity for consuming alcohol will bring much amusement to these pages in a few weeks time so be sure to stay tuned.
by Rich Glover