As I sit here in Preston on a grey cloudy afternoon trying to focus on my dissertation my thoughts are 3000 miles away in the hot desert of Iraq. 10 years ago to the day since the country was invaded to fight a "war on terror”. 10 Years ago I was 15, still at school playing a silly amount of sports to keep me busy and doing well at school. By this point I had already decided that the army was going to be my future. Getting paid to play soldiers is good right?
I was bright enough to go to sixth form, my mentor and head of sixth form offered me the place there regardless of my upcoming GCSE results several times. I turned down the offer, I wanted to get away, carry on playing sport, have a good job and get paid for it. If any of you have ever been to Burnley, you might understand.
I had been 16 barely 3 months and I was walking through the gates of AFC Harrogate. 10 months I was there and to say I grew up in that time is more than an understatement. People say that coming to University is the transition from childhood to adulthood, a stint at AFC Harrogate will do that to anybody. My father died recently but the proudest day of my life thus far was seeing tears in his eyes as I marched passed him on finishing my training there. The memory is so vivid still and that was 9 years ago.
Fast forward a few years, I am now 19 in a hot foreign land doing all the things we practised a million times in training. It might have been 35 degrees outside, but trust me that is better than -10 in the Brecon Beacons and snow. Compared to training these conditions were luxury, but the threat was very real. It wasn’t just a game anymore; people’s lives were at stake. To liberate a nation from an evil dictatorship who posed a serious threat to the world. Forget about the politics I was there to do a job and when it comes right down to very basic survival instincts what would you do? As it happens I did really believe I was fighting the good fight for a just cause. While I was there, many things happened and sometimes the days felt like weeks and weeks felt like months. Every other day or so there would be a fire fight. I was only involved in one serious one and I know I was lucky that day. Some people were not so fortunate during my time there.
In the last year two of my closest friends have died whilst serving on operations. Both fighting the “War on terror” and both believing what they were doing was just and right. Every time I hear that a British serviceman has died I feel like a part of me has also died but for it to be somebody particularly close to me hurts beyond compare. One leaves behind a fiancée who is at a loss with the world and her career now and grieving in another continent as far away from this world as possible. She called me a hero and compared me to her dead boyfriend and one of my best friends. I was so overwhelmed with emotion, I felt guilty at first and then immense pride. I don’t take compliments very well, I went to London in February and a stranger said a similar thing to me. It makes me very humble that people can hold me in that esteem. People like my friends are the real heroes though; they died fighting for a righteous cause that they believed in. Me, a hero? Pftt I am nothing but a mere man.
I left the Army just before I was 21 after 4 and a half years, I didn’t want to leave but was medically forced to leave. Some people say that you can never let go of the army no matter how long you have been away. But it is the army that never lets go of you, it is always a part of your heart and your soul. Maybe I was the lucky one, I got away.