The foreword by General Sir Peter Wall GCB CBE gives a hint as to what the book is about - and it is about the life of Sergeant Heaney MC and X Platoon. Within the Parachute Regiment, X Platoon (Pathfinders) is an unusual unit which has evolved almost in secret since the mid eighties.
- Steve Heaney MC
Pathfinders of various sorts have been in existence since the second world war for both land and air forces, providing markers for main forces; but the army Pathfinders did a bit more than just that. Inserted before the main force, their task not only included locating and marking the dropping zones, but also provided intelligence for them. In 1977 that expertise was lost when the Pathfinder unit was disbanded, leaving parachute battalions to develop their own pathfinders.
By 1984 it was realised this concept was not very successful and a separate resource was necessary if a suitable pathfinder/reconnaissance force was to support the Brigade. Thus X Platoon was created. Initially the emphasis was to be able to deploy men using HALO (High Altitude Low Opening) parachuting techniques as a means of insertion of personnel. Since then the Pathfinders have proven themselves again, and again in such places as Sierra Leone, South America, Iraq, and Afghanistan.
Qualifying to become a member of this very specialised unit was extremely testing and is where Steve Heaney really begins his story in this book.
At school, in Middlesbrough, Steve was one of those who always found themselves in the middle of whatever trouble was going, including those between school gangs but, in 1982, something happened to change the whole direction of his life. Argentina had invaded the Falkland Islands and the news was all about the battles to drive the enemy out. Steve made the decision that he would join the Paras (Parachute Regiment) and shortly after his sixteenth birthday, following an initial appraisal, he was accepted into the Junior Parachute Company and describes his time before going to Aldershot to join the adult Parachute Regiment. It is at the end of his P Company course that Steve starts to show some of his true merit and finally achieves his aim when he joins B Company of the third Battalion of the Parachute Regiment.
It is not long before he has his eyes on another goal, the mysterious and, to him, secret X Platoon (the Pathfinders) and during his time in Northern Ireland he badgered his Commanding Officer with requests to be put forward for Selection into the Pathfinders. Eventually he had his wish and the book spends a considerable amount of time describing his experience during the extremely tough selection course, which is merely the beginning as it is followed by the specialist training necessary for this very specialised unit.
It would be easy to recite what happens to Steve in South America, and in Kosovo, but it would detract from his own descriptions of both operations. Also mentioned are his experiences in Sierra Leone (the subject of another of his books) and arctic training he set up when he was Platoon Sergeant.
All in all this is well worth reading if you are interested in personal views of military operations and experience in the Parachute Regiment. It would have been nice, though, if the map for the Belize operation had been with the detail on that operation and not the Kosovo map of Operation Agricola. On a personal basis, if there was room in the book I would have preferred to have a description of the selection for X Platoon in addition to his own experiences.