Reflections on the Harsh Reality of Modern War "War is all hell. There's no use trying to reform it; the crueller it is, the sooner it'll be over" - General William Tecumseh Sherman, US Army, 1864 As I sit here, in the comfort of my little home, with a full belly and a four-pack of lager in the fridge, my mind drifts back 6 years, to a time when comfort was nothing more than a memory. It was the time of Operation Telic 5, my very last operational tour at the end of a full military career, to be served amid the chaos of post-invasion Iraq. I sit at my computer desk and smoke, listening to the cars as they roar past outside my living-room window and I wonder how many of the anonymous drivers are even faintly aware of the sacrifices that we soldiers made on their behalf. My mind turns to specific events, semi-obscured by the distance of time but each an illustration of a war that has now passed into history. I bring them to mind one-by-one and suddenly I am back in Shaibah, back on tour, back amidst my fellow soldiers, the comrades in arms - the heroes - who made up HQ (UK) NSE. A soldier sits on the tarmac, the harsh desert wind whipping up sand and grit all around us. We are alone. Only the distant sound of engines reminds me that we have not been entirely abandoned. I grip his shoulder, not knowing what else to do. No words come. He is very pale, cold to the touch and yet sweating profusely. A thin line of spital runs from the corner of his mouth. I catch the tell-tale acidic scent coming from his body. And there, squatting on the ground, I watch in silent, helpless sympathy as he begins to sob and rock back and forth. At that moment, I realise with a kind of horrible clarity that no civvie back home will ever understand. A stinking hangover in the Iraqi summer is no joke. My mind flits to another scene... Bedouin Camp, SLB. Yesterday, a cohort of recently mobilised reservists arrived in theatre and were dumped in these dirty transit tents. Now it is their first morning in hell. They snake around the block, clinging to helmets and body armour as if they were comfort-blankets. Suddenly, all is chaos. Shouts rise up from somewhere at the front of the line. Training kicks in almost instantaneously as NCOs try to take control of the disorientated mass. Now is the time for these virgin soldiers to receive their baptism of fire. It is a day they will never forget and in the distant future, these men will tell their wide-eyed grandchildren about what happened that day: about how the young Private from the Tyne-Tees Regiment walked into the cookhouse without washing his hands. Welcome to hell. Another page turns in the picture-book of my mind... I sit across from the reservist Royal Engineer. He was once a regular but left the mob years ago. He would be young for a Senior NCO but is ancient for a Sapper. His eyes are crusted with fatigue and his tattoo-etched forearms shimmer with moisture. They rest on the table in front of him. He tells me of the hard night he has just gone through. It's all I can do to listen; to try to understand. He wearily places a cigarette between his lips and lights it with trembling hands. Through the curling smoke he tells me how he received 'The Knock' at just gone midnight. At that small hour he had been shaken awake by a returning security section from the Intelligence Corps platoon based on the camp. In the darkness he had made his stumbling way to an ISO container near the wire. As soon as the armoury was open, the action began. It was hours before he had got back to bed - happy snaps with Minimis and shotguns can't be rushed. The picture fades, another floats in... The insurgents had become wise to us; that much was obvious. They had been bombarding our fortress in the desert on an almost monthly basis but now their strategy had been refined. Simple desert-dwellers they may have been, but they were possessed of an animal cunning and an almost innate understanding of how to strike an enemy where it would hurt most. They knew that by striking at our mission-critical infrastructure, they could cripple our logistic operations. Like the IRA before them, they knew that they only had to be lucky once. And they were lucky. The mortar they fired that night arced through the sky and landed bang on target, exploding against the bastion wall of a vital facility. Operations would be hampered for days. Staff Officers would suffer sleepless nights. Pizza Hut and Subway were out of action. ECHOS would have to cope. Alone. I can't stand to think much more but, unbidden, I am confronted by another memory... It makes me angry. In fact, it makes me sick. I don't think I'll ever be entirely able to forgive the top brass, nor look at a Colonel or General in the same way again. The lads on the ground were digging-out blind. They were doing their jobs as best they could, showing courage and fortitude night after night, against all the odds. Truly, lions led by donkeys. How could these 'commanders' do it? Did they not know the effect that the policies they pushed out from their ivory-towers had on the real struggle out on the ground? How could they be so arrogant, so pompous and yet at the same time so cruel? I only hope that when they come to reflect on their time in theatre, they hang their heads in shame at the thought that it was they - they - who enforced the two-can rule, who forced people to shave, who ordered the removal of sun loungers from public view and who made the lads switch off their air-conditioning for 8 hours a day. Oh, and there was something about a VBIED at the front gate killing an LEC and wounding 9 infantrymen, or something. Whatever.