...after the battle



My fear is for our young soldiers after the battle

Chris Parker
Sunday February 3, 2008
The Observer

'I didn't care that I had lost my foot; I just didn't want to leave the army.' These were the words last week from a young army veteran maimed in Iraq. This powerful statement stirred deep emotions in those privileged to serve the British public on combat operations. The words typified the almost all-consuming uniqueness felt by the army and, primarily, its young soldiers, bonded by their averagely paid but extremely dangerous jobs.

The environment soldiers leave behind today is that of a high-pressure and dangerous battlefield. The 1st Battalion The Royal Anglian Regiment recently returned from Afghanistan. Despite superb leadership by the commanding officer, Stuart Carver, and his commanders they were not the same unit that left Blighty. Of a battalion of 550 men they lost nine men, a further 24 will never soldier again (the maimed) and another 100 were so badly injured they were evacuated.
For the front-line infantry there is now a one-in-four chance of death or serious injury, a 'hit rate' rarely seen since Iwo Jima or D-Day.

It is not surprising that many are deciding to leave but not through any overt fear. Most feel they have done their 'bit' (or their 'duty' in old-fashioned language) and want to do something else for the rest of their days. I felt too, when I left, that having served on nine operational tours in 16 years there was little more that would give me the same exhilaration that I felt as a younger man. Time then for 'civvy street'; but how?

Soldiers leaving the British army today will experience a range of emotions: fear of being alone, exhaustion (it stacks up for years), confusion, lack of understanding and even hopelessness. They all receive a good resettlement package that was recently lauded by the National Audit Office as being 'in the forefront of best international practice'. A great effort is made to help those who leave but, having been through the process a few months ago, I might offer that it is a good process rather than a good service, as the army is now so stretched that the care that held us together in combat is becoming threatened.

On my second six-month tour in front-line operations in Iraq I found it easier as not one of my men elected to leave in my time in command; I felt this was a blessing. I would have been sorely challenged to prepare and care for those leaving while we were facing the daily suicide bomb threat in Iraq. It is all about prioritising in a way that the average UK manager does not have to consider. Overstretch, sadly, has meant some of the golden threads of leadership have become too taut.

To be fair to the MoD, they have recently acknowledged they can do more to further improve the support we as a nation offer to help the transition of military personnel into civilian life. Services offered to those entering the civilian employment market are statistically effective: 94 per cent of those who want work find a job within six months of leaving.

Yet I know my soldiers will be less fortunate in finding employment than I have been and I urge all those who understand that politics and combat are very different to think what they might do to help our returning heroes. My fear is for the hearts and minds that matter most in combat, those that belong to our brave young soldiers after the battle.

Chris Parker MBE is retired from a front-line infantry career that saw him serve as chief of staff of the Desert Rats in Kosovo and then the Iraq war. Parker, 38, was the youngest lieutenant-colonel of his generation.

The Guardian today seems to have had a rush of blood to the head in defence of servicemen, whether injured, underpaid, ill-accommodated or having committed suicide following unpopular operations in faraway, unnecessary places. Good for them, although I suspect their motivation.

One piece by Mark Townsend goes into detail on the medical problems and health issues affecting returning soldiers.
Britain is the only major European country without a dedicated military hospital. By contrast, French troops have the best medical institutions at their disposal. They include the Hôpital d'instruction des Armées Val-de-Grâce in Paris, offering a service so outstanding it has become the premier port of call for every ailing French leader since Charles de Gaulle. Hart appreciates the value of such investment. His survival was dependent on the treatment he received from French and German surgeons after being flown from Afghanistan to Germany for treatment. 'The NHS has been OK, but the German welfare is why I am still here. They even wanted to carry on treating me.' He found himself dumped on a geriatrics ward in a British hospital. He arrived on a Friday and was not seen by a doctor until the following Monday. He felt forgotten. He then caught the hospital superbug MRSA.
However, on Wednesday this week, I heard Brown at PMQs say this:

We have been spending substantially more on medical services. I have visited some of them and seen the improvements that have been made. Many people say that Britain has some of the best medical services for members of the armed forces in the world.
I repeat that we are spending more on defence, and we will continue to do that, and that every urgent operational requirement of the armed forces is being met.
It really is no wonder that some people are urging that patriotism should no longer be taught in schools when the country's Prime Minister is capable of such black, barefaced mendacity as that.
But many people do say that. Admittedly they all work for New Labour, but it isn't technically a lie. It's the kind of nice barristers' distinction the Blair Presidency wa founded on.
Some would say he's a lying, scummy, self-serving shit. I couldn't possibly concur.
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