AS I sit down to write, we have exactly a week of our tour in Afghanistan left to complete. It would be foolish in the extreme to tempt dear old providence at this juncture, so I shall resist the urge.
We have left Panjwa’i District Centre after a successful month and a half in residence and have returned to the running water and creature comforts of our base. I could never understand that phrase; exactly which creatures are famed for their material comforts? You don’t catch pigs whinging about not having a duvet or pandas complaining about the lack of hot showers. Our time there was well utilised, our patrolling seemed to have a positive effect on the security of our immediate locale as the attacks stopped after the first week, and the broader strategic mission to clear Taleban from its symbolic home has gone well thus far. The feedback from the Afghans at the more recent shuras has been positive and a loose commitment to contribute to the local security forces has been reached.
On our penultimate day in the district we patrolled to an area called Sperwan Ghar. Flanked by mountains and abandoned huts, the area had two outstanding features; it is now the ‘front line’ for the members of the Canadian task force who operate in the province and, it has the largest marijuana fields that I think I shall ever see. The scale was simply vast. Imagine all of the 6 -12 ft Nordic Spruces imported into the UK from Norway each December and then times that by about a hundred and you would be somewhere near, certainly in excess of 2,000 acres. The smell was quite overpowering and the sight would have brought tears of joy to the eyes of the ‘crazy Dutch’ and would have had Mr Clinton ‘not inhaling’ for all he was worth.
A CURIOUS quirk of being at the bidding of political masters is that despite being in a pressing and perilous situation, it is very difficult to think of much other than the Strategic Defence and Security Review. I will not attempt any political comment here as my censor would remove it instanter anyway, but there can be few professional circumstances that can draw apposite comparison as serving in a war zone, and as a collective, wondering whether your job will be safe before the fish course is served later.
I suppose it would be akin to a Chilean official shouting down the mine-shaft “good news/ bad news boys. We’ll have you out of this dangerous place in a jiffy, it is just you won’t have a job when you get out. Sorry and all that, but you are awfully brave and I’m sure you’ll cope.”
Actually it is in such adverse conditions that soldiers tend to become selfless. It is not their own employ that concerns them but that of the regiment or cap-badge they serve under. A fierce pride and loyalty for and to one’s own ‘service family’ emphatically manifests itself whilst on operations, and, a possessive altruism for the survival of that ‘home’ becomes more important than the individual’s pay cheque. Not for the first time in this column it is worth noting an example of the ASBO-Generation displaying genuine compassionate consideration for the greater good of others who share this unique bond.
There has also been speculation among my soldiers as to whether, during the announcements, any dates for the end of our future involvement in Afghanistan will be mooted. The smart money is that Mr Cameron, much like a good catholic pouring poetic musings in to the ear of his paramour during some pre-coital badinage, is unlikely to give a specific timescale for a withdrawal.
THIS close to the finishing-line it is inevitable that the thoughts of one and all turn toward home, friends, family and how they are going to spend their leave and fritter away savings in opulent, lavish or just plain idiotic fashion. For my part I intend to do all of the above.
My dear friend Charles has informed me, via the gift of the information-superhighway, that he has placed a 12 year-old in my bedroom for my delectation upon my return next week. Hopefully this refers to a single malt from Speyside.
So, barring any major delays I intend to be among the action in the closing stages of the conker season and to compete in the Dorset Pro-Am in early November. Anyone who has an interest in participating and needs practice should contact reigning champ’ David Noad, whom at this time of year will play with any man’s conkers. David can be found on October 28 signing horse-chestnuts for his fan all afternoon at the Boreham Wood branch of Pound Stretcher.
DON’T hold your breath, but the fat lady is having a Strepsil or two, and working through her arpeggios. There should only be one more of these witless musings for you all to endure.