2008, Age eighteen
Stepping off the ramp of a Merlin helicopter and into the high temperatures of Iraq. Walking into such intense heat, as if you were walking into an oven (not that I’ve ever walked into an oven). Though at last, I was here, deployed on my first operational tour in Iraq.
With the knowledge of the British Forces pulling out of Iraq, I wasn’t sure what to expect from my first ever deployment. I occasionally wondered if the senior and more experienced men in my company even knew what to expect from this tour, compared to their last tour in Iraq. Yet, here I was, deployed on operations in the Middle East, two years on from day one of basic training.
At such a young age, I was so keen and eager for combat experience, as every infantryman would be when fresh out of training. However, I was now standing in a Sanger (watchtower) and observing over the perimeter fence of Camp Steelback, just South of Basra with nothing but desert and oil fields for miles around. This was far from how I visioned my first operational tour to be, and unfortunately, this was all it was going to be. The next five to six months would consist of numerous mind-numbing hours of the wonderful, yet vital task referred to as ‘Stag’.
The term ‘Stag’ is every soldier’s most chilling word because as a soldier, you would usually hear this word when being awoken from a deep, warm and comfortable sleep.
“Kenny, wake up, you’re on stag”.
This is the critical task of providing protection for the men and women in your team while they slept or went about their daily routine. It would be the soldier’s duty to issue an early warning of an attack on the camp. Be that as it may, the only threat posed to this camp was the regular wild dogs scrounging around outside the perimeter fence.
Three months into the tour and I had already accumulated over four hundred and fifty hours of stag in the tally chart within my notepad. That’s four hundred and fifty hours of looking across a desert and into the skyline, in the far distance. Not quite how I thought my first operational tour would have been, and at the time, I was very frustrated and disappointed. Meanwhile, I had good friends and brothers in arms taking the fight to the Taliban in Afghanistan. I felt like I had drawn the short straw and I couldn’t come to terms with the fact that I was missing out on all the action in Afghan, while I was stood in this Sanger, staring across a desert in Iraq.
Having said this, now I have been a civilian for nearly five years, I have had time to reflect on my thoughts of that tour. Despite being frustrated and disappointed while being on what I felt was a pointless task in Iraq, at least I was ready for combat even though combat never came. As I said at the beginning of this blog, I didn’t quite know what to expect from my first operational tour in Iraq. So that being the case, I wouldn’t have known any better, and anything could have happened on that tour.
Therefore, I have come to the conclusion that it is always better to be prepared than not to be prepared and this certainly applies in the civilian world. The ability to always be prepared is a defined skill in itself, which by the way is something I have not yet mastered. However, I can now transfer this experience to the civilian world.
Plan for the worst and hope for the best.
Thank you for taking the time to read this week’s blog, we really appreciate the continued support. There wasn’t much to take away from my time in Iraq, as it was predominantly time on stag and time in the gym. Having said this, I couldn’t overlook my appreciation for at least being prepared for the worst case scenario.
Jamie R Kennedy