2011, Age twenty-one
Stepping out of the gate every day would inevitably increase our chances of encountering the Taliban. After all, we were a foreign force strolling around in their back garden, so it would only be a matter of time before we would bump into them.
It was still early days and we had a great deal to learn about our area of operations. We had ground yet to exploit and many faces to become familiar with. Although we had very little information to work with, the Royal Marine Commando’s, whom we took over from, did leave us some reports from when they last patrolled in the area. Little was said about the East, so we referred to that as ‘The Unknown East’. The West, on the other hand, was referred to as ‘The Wild West’, because it seemed to have accumulated many reports of activity and it was highly likely that you would find yourself in a firefight with the Taliban there.
It was now our job to establish who was who and what was what in order to reinstate a peaceful life for the local nationals of Nad-e Ali, Helmand Province, Afghanistan.
Today, my call-sign pushed West and we didn’t f**k about. I set my compass and took a direct route to ‘Compound One-Zero’, which is a known firing point (a position where the Taliban have engaged friendly forces from). On arriving at ‘Compound One-Zero’, we couldn’t help but notice that we were already being ‘dicked’ (Observed). Therefore, Mark, our Multiple Commander took ten minutes to converse with the owner of the compound, to fish for some intelligence.
It was our duty at this early stage of our deployment to gather as much intel (information) in the local area as possible. We knew the Taliban operated in the area, but we needed to build up a substantially clear picture of what we were up against so that we could improve the lives of those innocent civilians who were living in this war-torn country.
It was then, that we heard another friendly call-sign come under attack approximately two-hundred meters further West of our position. As a multiple, we decided to go give them support.
As we were advancing along the tree line, one of our guys clocked an individual sprinting South roughly seventy meters ahead of us. With our bayonets fitted, we continued on our desired route knowing the high risk of a short contact (close engagement).
At this point, without a doubt, the adrenalin was pumping around my body.
Pushing down along the tree-line, our point man Matt noticed a UGL Round (Underslung Grenade Launcher) perfectly placed up in a tree.
UGL Rounds, certainly don’t grow on trees.
I could only assume this was placed there to slow us down. So we made an instant decision to avoid the area. Nevertheless, we still had intentions of providing support for the other friendly call-sign who were still in contact. So our next move was to push forward one-hundred meters North from one compound to ‘Compound Four-One’, which was located right beside the friendly call-sign who were engaging with the Taliban.
As we stepped foot into ‘Compound Four-One’, we came under effective enemy fire…. from the compound that we had just left ten minutes ago. I immediately pushed up onto the rooftop with Adam, our Sniper-man, Callum who was our Sharpshooter and Morales with the LMG (Light Machine Gun), to locate those who were firing at us. However, we failed to clearly identify any targets but fortunately, the firing had come to a stop.
Not only was it frustrating that we couldn’t identify the individuals who were shooting at us but the fact these individuals were firing at us from the compound we had just left moments ago was even more tormenting.
We held here in ‘Compound Four-One’ for roughly ten more minutes and it was obvious that we were being ‘dicked’, like something I had never seen before. It was agreed that we needed to get the f**k out of there and head North, towards ‘Compound One’.
Somehow, we had transitioned from predator to what felt like vulnerable prey in a matter of seconds. There was no one in sight, except for the odd peering eyes of potential threats.
It was so bazaar, one-minute we were in contact and then all of a sudden when making our way to ‘Compound One’, the atmospherics returned to normal.
This was truly disconcerting. By now, a few weeks into our deployment, we believed we had a good understanding of the differences in atmospherics in Nad-e Ali. However, one minute we were experiencing bad atmospherics as if world war was about to unleash upon us and then a minute later, it was as if the country had never even seen a conflict, and the small Afghan village was now thriving with life.
I then spotted what I believed to be a ‘dicker’ (Enemy Observer). The multiple spread out into a protective formation which allowed Mark to grab an opportunity to talk with this potential ‘dicker’. The atmospherics seemed to be regular, but the men and I were still on high alert. There was a high wall to our right and a cornfield with high crops to our left. A thin dirt track was situated to the rear and a small stream to our front. I concurrently used this time to clash heads with Barbs for a nav check (confirmation of your location on a map).
In hindsight, this was clearly a choke point, a vulnerable position to sit in. Believe me, we learned from our mistakes.
It was then, that I heard the distinctive sound of a hand grenade being thrown. “Clap“.
I snapped my neck around so fast that my head nearly fell off my shoulders. I clearly identified a grenade flying through the air and over the wall, and as that grenade landed on the soil between Adam and Morales, another grenade followed it. Two live grenades now sitting on top of my two rear men, fifteen meters away from me, there wasn’t much we could do except hit the deck.
On the event of an incoming grenade, you are supposed to shout “GRENADE“. However, for some unknown reason, I remember shouting
“DOWN, DOWN, DOWN, GET DOWN“! Either way, it still had it’s desired effect and every man hit the deck and begun digging in with their eyelids. “BANG, BANG” and the two grenades went off.
As the dust settled, I could see Morales rolling around on his back and Adam was laying completely still. Bearing in mind, I had just seen two grenades blow up directly on top of my rear two guys, I could only expect casualties and predict the worst.
Immediately, I ran to where the grenades had exploded and Morales was rolling around on his back. I could only assume he had been injured, but amazingly, both Adam and Morales survived the grenades without a single scratch. Morales was just disoriented and with the weight of his bag, he struggled to get to his feet.
I couldn’t believe Adam and Morales had just survived a grenade attack without a single scratch.
Just as I had confirmed that Morales and Adam were not wounded, we suddenly began to take incoming small arms fire and before we knew it, we were facing a wall of lead (bullets). We started to peel back, and run towards the remainder of our multiple.
All the while, we could hear the cracking of bullets whizzing past us!
Somehow, we made it back into a formation with the rest of our multiple and we laid down an incredible rate of fire to win the firefight. Barbs popped smoke (threw a smoke grenade) and we extracted out of the contact area. One of the guys is convinced that he hit one of the Taliban, but we couldn’t confirm the kill.
I’m fine, no need to worry, as we are all over it and honestly, what a f**king buzz!
This was genuinely how I wrote this letter home to my parents and this really was how I ended the letter after explaining how close we were to death. I laugh about it now, but my parents must have been worried sick at the time.
On returning back to the CP (Checkpoint), the men and I were all in amazement and we couldn’t believe that the multiple hadn’t sustained any casualties. Of course, with all the hype and adrenaline still coursing through our veins and the fact that we had just had a narrow escape with death, the following conversations lead to us reliving the moment. I was completely unaware until one of the men in the multiple informed me that I was, in fact, directly getting shot at. He told me he had seen the rounds splashing in and around the soil at my feet and I was completely oblivious to it. I knew we were under fire but my brain failed to acknowledge that I was personally being shot at.
This became a routine and on returning to the CP after a contact, we would not only talk about the details of the events which occurred but we also believed it would be necessary to take a photo of the team that was involved on the ground.
Five years on and reading through the letters I had sent home to my family from Afghanistan, I can’t help but wonder how the letters must have made my family feel. You may consider it to be selfish to put my family through the stress and worry by informing them in detail of my narrow escape with death, and I agree, it couldn’t have been a pleasurable read for my mum and dad. Nonetheless, if I had been killed, they would have never of truly known what we had been through. As I have stated in previous blogs, I also believe writing these letters home, in hindsight, were a subconscious method of processing the events which had occurred. Maybe that is why I am fortunate enough to not suffer from any form of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder).
So maybe there is something to take away from this blog after all and this is more than just a war story. If you are personally suffering from PTSD, how about trying to put your traumatic experiences onto paper. I wonder if writing about the stressful events which occurred will, in fact, help you to process the trauma. I’m no expert on mental health but it’s always worth putting ideas on the table if it has the potential to help.
Thank you for reading this Blog, your continued support has been truly tremendous and overwhelming.
Take care and stay safe