I mean, really fucking tired.
I apologise for beginning this somewhat delayed instalment on such a whiny note, but it’s unfortunately the complete and utter truth. The closer I get to my escape from this ravaged, famished, forlorn country the slower the pendulum swings. How I miss the sweeping sun-up-sun-down days in the earlier months of our tour. A succession of six-day-long missions slumming it in compounds and on rooftops obliterated significant chunks of the calendar in such satisfyingly efficient fashion as to indicate an unstoppable momentum shoving us hurtling head first down the chute towards the plane ride home. Recently, that chute has mercilessly flipped over, presenting an unforgiving and gravity defying sheer wall. The wall. It’s been well and truly hit. Regrettably it’s not the only thing being hit over here these days. A week or so ago our guys offered up four more casualties to the Afghan altar. Two had their legs blown off by anti-personnel mines while a third was hit by debris from one of the explosions, and the fourth - a member of the air rescue team - was hit while loading the injured into the helicopter for evacuation. Jesus, do a good deed and there’s your thanks!
Fresher in the mind, however, is an incident from Wednesday afternoon. Our friends down the road in Srobi saw one of their vehicles hit by an I.E.D. while out on patrol. Nine injured. One dead. A young corporal with a three year old daughter. The 56th soldier mort pour la france. Traditional fire fights are finding themselves increasingly relegated to the bench as the more sinister tactics take to the field in these ever-heightening temperatures. It topped 50°C today, and we’re not even into the conventionally designated "Summer period". Thank Christ we’re getting out of dodge in a month’s time. I can’t begin to imagine conditions throughout June and July for the brave souls coming to our rescue over the coming weeks.
50°C today. But that wasn’t the only cause of perspiration. Coincidentally, only a few hours ago did I find myself perched snugly in my turret looking out over the very same stretch of road where our guys only recently underwent a hair-raising encounter with a suicide bomber. On that occasion, myself and my driver were playing taxi man, having dropped the lads off in the morning and being charged with collecting them later in the day. The explosion, when it happened, only briefly stirred me from my Harry Potter marathon by having me remove my headphones to listen attentively. We had actually believed it to be artillery fired from our FOB. The car exploded five kilometres away, shaking my helmet off the top of my wardrobe. Yikes! On this occasions, we were snared into parking our fat metal ass roadside and "surveying" the thoroughfare for any suspicious vehicles. No laptop lounging this time round. Naturally, all precautions were taking, earplugs staying in all day long, ballistic goggles enduring a similar fate, windows remaining firmly shut (I suppose that too might have contributed to the sweat fest). No one wanted to risk internal trauma or permanent loss of sight/hearing unnecessarily. Who would? Thankfully today’s outing was exceptionally placid, as one hopes the remaining missions shall also be. Nevertheless, considering the risks involved in those essential missions (today’s involved us securing the entire route for a convoy delivering supplies and provisions to a combat outpost, or COP) I found it particularly displeasing to have recently been involved in what can only be described as a whimsical, cost-ineffective and disproportionately risky little promenade.
Another COP adorning our precious valley only recently arrived at completion. A welcome addition to our meandering repertoire of strongholds throughout the region, it was somehow deemed necessary to indulge in a full-blown opening ceremony. A four-star general with family roots in the lumber trade presented himself as just the man for the job, having graduated with honours from the Pompous School of Ribbon Cutting. It had long been established that our group together with an infantry platoon would be the armed escort for his Highness. However, that morning our flock of bodyguards had flown out to intervene in yet ANOTHER roadside bomb. I’ll never forget the faces on the five or so lads watching us intently from the other side of the river, a mixture of disappointment at our discovery mixed with overwhelming indifference, silently insinuating a healthy stock of successors to this, their foiled attempt at further carnage. Still, as they weren’t openly waving Kalashnikovs in our faces there wasn’t much we could do.
Anyway, back to this babysitting business. Arriving back from the I.E.D. intervention, we were permitted an outrageously lavish EIGHT minutes to park, eat, and load up once more, direction - the sparkling new COP. Of course, struggling to be on time for the scheduled departure was such a fickle battle lost before it ever began. Will we never learn that armies’ favourite activity is the endlessly amusing "Hurry Up and Wait" ("Stereophonics" back when they were good). Forty five minutes later and we were all set to hit the road. And my, my weren’t we an impressive sight. Twelve road vehicles, sixty troops, four (count that - FOUR) fucking helicopters in the skies overhead (securing the essential delivery of life-sustaining supplies to isolated troops merit’s a measly pair) and two hours of sitting around twiddling our thumbs while the beret-sporting, body-armour-ignoring fat cats waltzed around with an air of nonchalance that would inspire derision from staff at the motherfuckin’ Louvre. Upon our departure, a cocky exhibitionist flyboy swooped down so low with his chopper that I genuinely feared for my protruding helmeted head. I bet the general enjoyed it immensely though.
They talk of the cost of fighting a war. For example, they recently eliminated the provision of plastic cutlery at meal times, obliging each soldier to use his camping cutlery. In reality, it’s a most correct decision, contributing to the environment’s well being and liberating space in future convoys for more urgently needed materials. The reason given, however, was the economising of approximately €7,000 per month. Seven grand wasted on plastic knives that couldn’t cut through shit in a bath tub and forks that serve only to pepper a tough lump of mash potato with jagged projectiles. That’s most certainly an unworthy expense. But then what of the cost of escorting a revered general four kilometres to open a COP that for all intents and purposes was already fully operational and in no dire need of the blessings of some irrelevant and overpaid figurehead. General’s set the Ministry of Defence back about €20,000 a month. That’s a might high fee for cutting a fucking ribbon. I’m sure a pair of scissors and a willing volunteer from the rank and file would cost considerably less. Making even more financial sense, perhaps, would be borrowing the services of one of the local goats. So hungry are the poor divils roaming the country side here that I’m sure they’d tear through that ribbon quicker than you could say "Pay Check". There’d be no trouble finding one, that’s for sure. Those goats are simply EVERYWHERE you look.
And they wouldn’t keep you waiting for forty five fucking minutes either.