28.11.2011, Age twenty-one
Taking cover in a four-foot deep ditch and up to our knees in s**t, checking ourselves for gunshot wounds after surviving the wall of lead that had moments before suppressed us into the ground. Now not knowing exactly where the heavy enemy gunfire had come from, we had to make an agreed decision to push forward and fight through or to pull back and reassess. Either way, both of these options had unpredictable results.
Mark & Jacobs in a ditch scanning the ground – Photo by Jason P. Howe
The Taliban had initially put such an effective rate of fire down on us that instinctively, all we could think about was getting into cover and out of harm’s way. We hadn’t clearly identified where the shots had come from but it was clear that we couldn’t just sit here in this ditch for the remainder of time, we had to move one way or another.
Barbs was the best and most competent commander I had ever worked with during my time-serving in the British Army and I would follow that man anywhere. Nonetheless, on this particular day, I struggled immensely to ignore my gut feeling.
Barbs on a patrol in the ‘Unknown East’ – Photo by Jason P. Howe
Not knowing exactly where the Taliban had engaged us from, Barbs made the conscious decision to take the fight forward, whereas I, on the other hand, was too busy fighting my own battle. I knew we had to go forward and we had to take that enemy position but that little bastard of a voice in the back of my head was screaming at me and telling me that if we were to go forward, we would sustain casualties within the multiple.
It is only now that I can openly come to terms with the facts and admit that I was beginning to lose my nerve.
Barbs honourably offered to lead the multiple forward as he could see that I had doubts about his decision. That was when the other voice started screaming in my face from the back of my mind. What if I did let Barbs lead the attack and that led to him becoming a casualty or worse, what if he was to die? I knew that I would never be able to forgive myself if he was killed standing where I was meant to be standing.
I looked out across the open ground which we would need to patrol over. it was a fifty-meter stretch and it was nothing that we hadn’t already done before, but this time, however, I had to win my psychological fight first.
We climbed out of that ditch together and patrolled forward as one with our weapons in our shoulders at the ready. Moving across the open ground and anticipating that same heavy rate of gunfire to hit us once again. I can strangely remember how quiet it was at the time, I could hear my heart pounding, my lungs gasping for oxygen and my footstep crushing the dirt below me as we kept pushing forward.
Ten to fifteen meters away from the next ditch and I was amazed that we had actually made it across that stretch of open ground without being completely obliterated by enemy fire. It was then, that we were welcomed into a two-way range by the Taliban. They opened up on us and before we knew it, there was machine gun fire and UGL (Underslung Grenade Launcher) rounds flying both ways.
I toned down the events of that day in a letter home to my parents.
Dear Mum and Dad
Yesterday was a great success! I don’t feel like I really want to go into too much detail because, to be honest, I’m sick of getting shot at and writing about it each day is beginning to wear thin.
I have to admit to myself and you the reader that by this stage of the tour, walking towards enemy gunfire on a daily basis was starting to take its toll on my state of mind.
So long story short –
We advanced forward to exploit an enemy firing point which resulted in us coming under fire from the Taliban three times, yet we continued to push forward.
I was always the first one out of the ditch and I’d be lying if I said it didn’t scare the s**t out of me every time and I f**king hate it! However, this time it paid off.
We exploited a Taliban position but they had already withdrawn and fled into hiding. Whilst searching the position, I used a Vallon (like a metal detector) to scan over some harvested corn which was stacked up next to a compound. I got a high reading, so we got the AUP (Afghan Uniformed Police) to uncover the corn in order to see what it was, and there it laid wrapped in a bed sheet like material.
I had just found a PKM (machine-gun) with half a belt of ammunition loaded, which would indicate that this weapon had most likely recently been used.
I’ll be in touch
Here is a short video of that day.
(This footage is from the helmet cameras of Barbs and AW)
By this stage of the tour, we had reached over twenty-seven contacts, to which point we stopped keeping count. Not only did we stop counting how many contacts we had, but I also lost interest in writing about them, in fact, this was my last letter home to my family.
Some of these engagements with the Taliban were so adrenalizing to the point of which no drug could ever replace the feeling, although, there were also times when we would ask the question, “Is that all you’ve got?”. Be that as it may, I can also recall times where we were literally face down in the dirt, digging in with our eyelids and I remember wondering if we were ever going to make it out alive.
I have no shame in openly admitting that on this particular day, I was so scared that I really did not want to get out of that ditch and proceed forward, albeit, we did because it was what we had to do. There is one thing that I am ashamed of and it has been blocking my mind every day ever since and that is the fact that I had doubted the decision Barbs had made. He is an incredible soldier and an extremely competent commander, and I would follow that man anywhere.
I apologise for ever doubting you mate
In hindsight, I’m glad we went forward and took the enemy position because that decision that Barbs made actually led to us finding a Taliban weapon system and removing it from the hands of those hostile individuals.
Barbs firing a UGL during a contact – Photo by Jason P. Howe
If we as veterans can overcome s**t like this, we should have the strength in us somewhere to be able to overcome anything that is thrown our way. I believe it is just a case of being able to channel our fears in order to use it to drive us forward.
You’ll be glad to know that this is all I have to say for this week’s blog and I shall stop harping on now and let you return to your day.
This was my last letter home to my family from Afghanistan which marks an end to this chapter of my blog. Join me next week as I finally begin to talk about my transition to civilian life.
I hope you have enjoyed my blog so far.
Take care, keep low and move fast