I have a photo, one I once cherished, let me tell you why.
It was taken in a mud walled compound in a place I once called home, Adinzai, Afghanistan. It shows my upturned helmet and there tucked into the inside is a picture of my girlfriend at the time. I’d placed it there whilst on the flight line, just before I flew from Camp Bastion out to my first tiny checkpoint. I carried that picture every single day I was in Afghanistan. It was there with me the time I was first shot at, the first time I shot back. It went through ditches, streams, deserts and rocky outcrops. It was there when my friends got injured; it was there with me through the killing and the death. That photo meant the world to me. It meant I was a good guy, that one day it would all be over, that I could go home and that I’d never have to do it again. That eventually I’d leave the mud and the blood, find a quiet home, cuddle up and let the war slowly seep from me. The picture of her aged over time and took on an almost sepia effect. Its edges curled only to add to its power. The advanced aging reminded me of my forbearers in WW1 and WW2, how they stood as mighty giants that we, just mortal modern soldiers can only dream of emulating. How they had suffered far worse for far longer. But this old photo stayed there, I took it out for a few moments before every patrol, closed my eyes and readied myself that whatever happened in the next few hours was worth it. That picture inspired me. When I came home I knew the picture of her and the real her were different, that we weren’t that romantic couple I fantasized about. We tried anyway, I’d spent the last few years of my life focusing on never, ever, ever giving up, to be a resilient, robust, unbreakable British Infantry soldier. If I really tried, we would work. But relationships aren’t like that. She drifted and I let her. We split up quietly, without arguing, without a fight, dignified. I wished her good luck for the future and I was alone, but she had to be thanked, she had kept me alive by making my life worth keeping. Why do I tell you this? I was up in the NFD at the weekend, doing usual silly dangerous things and I was stopped on the return by a Kenyan Army road block. A hot, dry mouthed exhausted soldier asked me for my ID and I just watched him. I remembered those moments, when even though you’re looking at the ID you’re scanning the car wondering if its full of terrorists, wondering if you’re about to be blown to bits like some of my friends were, wondering if you’re going to have to kill. He and his buddies were protecting the North from potential retaliation due to the Kenyan Police killing two clerics who were suspected terrorists. They do a hard job…believe me I’m an old scarred soldier who’s “seen things”.