From the heat of battle to cold indifference at home

Discussion in 'Current Affairs, News and Analysis' started by Skynet, Oct 28, 2007.

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  1. Sunday Times
    From the heat of battle to cold indifference at home
    Last week troops returned from fierce fighting in Afghanistan to shabby barracks and little fanfare. They deserve betterPeter Almond
    Post your comments on the troops' return on the feedback form at the bottom of this story

    The name, Barrack Road, suggested there was indeed an army barracks somewhere among the semis and terraces and light industry of suburban west Hounslow. But otherwise I might have struggled to find Hounslow barracks on my map.

    On this dull, cool, midweek afternoon Staines Road carried traffic as normal; airliners droned overhead from nearby Heathrow airport. Only a small Union Jack, a handful of balloons and a “welcome home” sign at the narrow main entrance to the old battlemented barracks suggested that I had found the right place.

    But “welcome home” turned out to be not the half of it. For the return of the 2nd Battalion the Mercian Regiment from Afghanistan last Wednesday – to emotional scenes captured on television and in the newspapers the next day – encapsulates much of what has been happening to our troops over the past few years.

    Heat, dust and bayonet charges: life on the Afghan front line
    Surreally, the battalion left for its tour as the Worcester and Sherwood Foresters but was transferred into the new Mercian Regiment mid-battle in the Sangin Valley on September 1.

    Nine of their number were killed during their six months on the front line and they return with 17 seriously wounded – sharing with the Royal Anglians the highest number of British casualties in Afghanistan.

    They returned to what the Commons defence committee said a few days earlier is the worst army accommodation in the country – a shabby, damp collection of buildings condemned in the 1960s – worse by far, they said, than their quarters in Afghanistan.

    Normally, soldiers leaving the country get 24 hours or more in Cyprus on their way home for “decompression”, a modest effort to let them unwind, drink some beer, sit on a beach and tell each other war stories before facing up to home and family.

    Aircraft problems meant the 120 men of A Company came straight home: on Monday they were under mortar attack near Lashkar Gah, on Wednesday they were on the parade ground at Hounslow.

    I had somehow thought the army would have united the men with their families privately before the media got to see them. After all, thoughts and emotions are not what the Ministry of Defence usually encourages the press to see. But it had not and for a couple of hours in the barracks gym I joined families impatiently and nervously awaiting their loved ones.

    There were Keith and Jo Henshaw, parents of Private Mark Henshaw – “Fred”, his nickname said on their specially made Welcome Home T-shirts – his girlfriend Dominie and two cousins, who had all come down from Ilkeston, Derbyshire, that morning.

    “I was afraid for him, I can tell you,” Jo Henshaw told me over tea and cakes. “But he’s always wanted to be a soldier and he knew what he was getting into. I am very proud of what he has done. The whole street is. But I don’t think a lot of people understand.”

    We were interrupted by the regimental band and a fresh bit of video on a large screen that showed the battalion in action in Afghanistan: machineguns blazing, bombs exploding, men running, sand billowing. The nervousness increased among the balloons, the presents, the “welcome home daddy” and “I love you” signs.

    The young men – average age 21 – were in their desert uniforms, tanned from months in the hot sun, and all looked straight ahead as they marched onto the parade ground, forcing themselves not to glance left where their mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, children and friends were screaming their cheers and welcomes.

    As the two sides came together I admit that I was choked and could not have asked any questions if I had wanted. My own two sons are little older than these lads. I went over to talk to the padre, Captain Nick Todd, whose birthday it was that day and whose wife had a balloon and a present for him. He’d had his work cut out in Afghanistan, I suggested. How did he and the troops manage with so many casualties?

    “When tragedy hits it’s what you are there for, to be able to say something of solace,” he said.

    Then I met Sergeant Michael Lockett and Second Lieutenant Rupert Bowers. They did not have family waiting for them but together relived with me an eight-hour battle near Garmsir at the beginning of September that other soldiers told me is almost certain to result in one or both receiving medals.

    Their section was approaching a treeline on foot, said Lockett, when they were caught in a Taliban ambush that immediately took down five soldiers, including one shot in the head and stomach and another in the head. Flat on the ground, but with screams and shouts coming over the radio, Lockett and Bowers could not locate the fallen men.

    Then Private Johan Botha, a South African, was hit and could not be found. Lockett and Bowers heard shouts over their shoulder-borne personal radios – “They’re coming to get him!” – as Taliban fighters approached to drag a wounded soldier away, and then another shout: “Don’t leave me!”

    It is thought that Botha crawled forward to continue to fight but was hit again and killed.

    Over the next few hours Lockett and Bowers extracted their injured men to behind a wall, but Lockett knew he could not get to Botha. He radioed Sergeant Craig Brelsford (Brelsy) about Botha. Lockett recalled: “He said, ‘No dramas. I’ll get him back for you’.” But then Brelsford was shot and killed.

    Another soldier, Private Stacey, was a “legend on the night”, said Lockett, but he, too, was badly injured when a 500lb bomb struck so close that a piece of wall collapsed on him.

    Later on I saw Corporal Ben Umley, 26, a friend of Brelsford, put a finger through a hole in his helmet where a bullet had penetrated.

    Was it all worth it, I asked Lockett. “Personally, it’s hard to see the end result,” he answered after a little thought. “Yes, we killed Taliban, but I don’t think we made a difference. We lost a man [Botha from his section] and I don’t know if it was for a valid reason.”

    Another young man joined us. Lance Corporal Lee Weston, 27, was in casual civvies because he had been shot and wounded and had been in and out of hospital for the past six weeks. “I was lucky,” he said. “The bullet went in my upper left shoulder and came out the back of my neck. It didn’t hit any bone or nerves or arteries, just tissue.”

    He showed me the vivid scar on the back of his neck. “I’ll be back at work on Monday,” he said.

    Later on I caught up with Brigadier John Lorimer, the just returned commander of British troops in Helmand province. He insisted the troops have made a “huge difference” there and that reconstruction is forging ahead.

    Where reconstruction is desperately needed now is at Hounslow barracks, with its overcrowded housing blocks, decaying married quarters, overflowing drains and broken windows. Some of the soldiers told me that they would be counting the days until they could get out of there and onto their next posting – Belfast.

    As I drove out through the gates into bustling, civilian Hounslow I had a sense of what American troops used to say on returning from Vietnam, “Back in the world”, a world that doesn’t seem to care much about the extraordinary things these young men have gone through.

    A spokeswoman for Hounslow council said she knew of no parades or council recognition planned for troops. “It hasn’t come up,” she said. “We don’t have much involvement.”

    Approaching Staines Road it struck me that neither I nor many of the soldiers really cared that much about public parades either, but I did think of Bowers and Lockett, shivering there in their thin desert uniforms only hours off a plane from being mortared in Afghanistan, and I wished people could either see them more in uniform to say “thanks”, or at least buy them a beer down the pub.
  2. Well whats new, hasn't this been much the same through out the years
  3. Well I think this quote just about sums it up.

    This is not just wrong. It is decadent. For if we lack the will to defend ourselves, or rather to defend those who are there to defend us and to fight for us, then we are simply rolling over to display the soft underbelly of decadence to the world’s predators and scavengers. Those who think that our armed forces don’t matter will soon discover that other people’s do.
  4. " If you can read this; thank a teacher..... if you can read it in English; thank a soldier..."
  5. If we continue with the similarities with Vietnam, which are fairly obvious then it can only mean more problems in the future. Combat stress vicitms are difficult enough to bring back to 'the world' without having to suffer the cold shoulder from our ungreatful society who we supposedly fought for. Rambo was a great film but not of a 'Walt' it was based on several true stories of combat vetrans who felt so isolated from society that they could not be part of it. We already have far too big a percentage of those sleeping rough on our streets. We must welcome our heros back and make them feel a valued part of society, if not for moral reasons then surely for societies long term safety.
  6. A few years ago, a programe I watched compared the state of our armed forces to I think it was Sweden. The equipment, troop numbers etc where all considered superior. i mean sure we have a better quality of troops but our government should seriously increase the amount of funding for all of the forces, greater troop levels, better equipment and accomodation etc, everything. People seem to neglect the fact that the army is the defence of our country, sure the health service etc is important but as far as i can tell a greater priority really needs to be placed on the armed forces. If not one of these days we are going to be very very sorry.
  7. I just posted part of this on another thread. Why is this?

    Why is it that if Iraq but most importantly Afghanistan are so important to the security of this country is defence such a low priority? If the personnel of the armed forces are so important to defending our way of life why is it that morale is being allowed to be eroded away at such an alarming rate by lack of investment? Why is it that if Afghanistan is such a pivotal position of foreign office policy the government is allowing the forces to disintegrate by lack of care and attention? Just how does the Foreign Office aim to carry out its policy without well motivated armed forces? None of it really makes much sense does it?
  8. Well said!
  9. And why is it that the armed forces have become so divorced from civil society the we have statements like this from a spokeswoman of the local council?

    A spokeswoman for Hounslow council said she knew of no parades or council recognition planned for troops. “It hasn’t come up,” she said. “We don’t have much involvement.”

    What an indictment of attitudes to our armed forces when the local council cannot even muster the mayor or a local dignitary to be part of the welcome party. Does this battalion not contribute to the local economy in any way? Or is it they just don't care?
  10. Councilors are too far up their own arses to give a hoot, they are more into gains for their own ends! But that does not mean the Joe public don't, there is still a lot of us that appreciate what our forces do for our country.
    Your all very much appreciated for your efforts from the decent people of society.
  11. It,s The same every time.
    After being on a boat for 2 weeks, I marched off a Falklands medal Parade in Ripon straight into the forgoten war Vets from Korea?
    They got Fk all recognition which all I replied was "Yeh but we did ours quicker" what a twat I feel now.
    RinR from NI was fkin terrifying to be a civvy for 4 days and relax without a weapon and be a "family guy" ?
    Iraq Pt1 was a war fair enough but coming back was a sneaky affair in the dark at Gutersloh.
    The early tours of Bos where not even classed as Ops to the point that there was no point on going on R&R because your leave time was taken up on the back of a 4 tonner going to split and you probably wouldn't get there.
    Bos tours later took you from shit to real life in 2 hours
    Kosovo was the same.
    After one particular tour we got of the bus, back on the bus to do our APWT and left our families stood in the dark as we fked off to be tested ?

    Shit happens and we get on with it, am an old Sodjer noo but I feel I'm still in the thick of it.

    Nil Desperandum
  12. Unfortunately it shows that for all the pious words that float out of politicians mouths they truly don't give a fcuk about the troops. That is the harsh reality. Same goes for most civvies.
  13. But we are our own worst enemies - the recent Abingdon parade debacle was a result of the unit not deciding until two days before and not telling anyone.

    Furthermore, on arrival at Brize we are told airports and stations are operating a no uniform policy so people on connecting flights (and trains) have to change into civis. Airlines and train companies have no such policy and I am sure most cabin crew and passengers would be delighted to have well behaved soldiers in uniform on board and might even express public gratitude. So who has set the no uniform policy? Some nameless SO2 in MoD probably, heedless of the spin offs but too aware of the risks of young blokes in uniform gettng drunk and getting in bother.

    If we insist on making our people dress like civis and tell them to cover up, we are invisible and will not attract comments, positive or negative. So why not relax the rules and let people travel back home from r and r in uniform?

    Finally, and I suspect this is the unpalatable bit, when did any of you last go up to a copper, nurse or binman and personally thank them for their work? Never I reckon, because they chose to do their job and it is not our culture to heap thanks on someone for doing their job. The same goes for us, I do not expect or want civis to come up and thank me for soldiering anymore then I would thank anyone else for doing their job. if they help me personally I say thank you, but I would not stop a Tesco employee in the street and thank them.

    If you crave recognition, go on X factor!
  14. What a line


    Quote of the week
  15. The public are more interested in X factor than squaddies.

    When I was in the Army I believed it was right that for security reasons you should wear civis when going out in town. It doesn't look great when squads are having a Mcdonalds or buying booze from a petrol station, in my personal opinion. And we are led to believe there is an ongoing terrorist threat from Islamic millitants, so uniforms down town should not be worn.

    However, the guys deserve decent living quarters, a pay increase and a bit of respect from the powers that be.