The shout came through, that nerve trembling burst of static alerting you to the worst day of someone else’s life. Immediately the brews are dropped, the film that was so intriguing is now just a distant blur, a memory of a former care free life… the pan where the Chinook helicopter is kept is only a short distance away some 300 metres, and yet it’s the single most physically exhausting run of my life. The adrenaline causes vision to blur, legs to shake you feel weak and helpless, and an overwhelming need to vomit takes hold. As we arrive at the helicopter the crew are already there preparing, running backwards and forwards looking at the various dials and ensuring everything is working to an acceptable level, our body armour, helmets and rifles are left on the seats and quickly put on. As the blades begin to turn the section commander is receiving the information on the casualty, their location and current state, enemy presence etc, this gets passed back as hand signals and we all know to a point what lies ahead. Finally we lift off the Chinook banks right and speeds away from bastion, we know the casualty is ISAF and the flight time is 10 minutes, the area where the rest of my unit works is anything from 2 to around 10 minutes, and with the direction we were heading its unlikely to be a friend, I can feel myself begin to relax, and can see from the others faces they too have come to the same conclusion. With everyone knowing what they’re doing, the medical equipment passed back from the medics all ready to go there’s a brief respite, a small 5 minute chance to relax, I spend my time looking out over the compounds and the hundreds of people living in this truly nails place, they don’t care what we do, who we are or the names of the soldiers that have died or been grotesquely injured in their name, if it suits they’re friends until of course we move out of their village and then they’re more than happy to dig that hole ready for the IED to be placed later… Supporting the highest bidder, if the Taliban dominate, the locals support them, if we dominate the locals support us.
At the 2 minute point a final check of my rifle is made and I’m ready to get to work. As we approach the Chinook banks hard to the left and seems to fall to the floor, the tail is dropped and my foot hits the soft ground of a ploughed field, the mud sticks to your boots and combined with the weight of the kit we carry it makes it hard work just moving. Nowhere is safe and a step can’t be made without scanning the ground before hand to ensure it’s not me adding to the casualty list. Our 4 man team pushes’ out to form a cordon around the helicopter, by this point the adrenaline is pumping, the rifles in the aim ready to use. I use the sights to find the enemy to prevent them from engaging the aircraft in its extremely vulnerable state. Time seems to slow down, the ground appears to lift up around us and the sounds of whips cracking over our heads seem to drown out all other noise the rotors, the shouts fade into the background and the sound of incoming rounds take 100 per cent of my concentration, a feeling of immense frustration of my unbelievably exposed position takes hold, I dive to the floor cocking my rifle desperately scanning the hedge lines. “this guy is going to fucking die” I whisper under my breath, fed up of the bullshit, the bollockings, the constant worry of hitting an IED and in that one moment all that aggression was released and the person responsible for all the dead soldiers, all the people forgotten about and left with life changing injuries, was whoever was firing at me and he was going to die… whilst I was having the battle with my head the stretcher was carried on behind me, I caught the lads eye his face was yellow with blood loss, and the entrails that used to be a leg dragged on the floor behind the stretcher, this was only an initial glimpse into the injuries i’d soon be having to deal with and with that thought my heart sunk. The incoming rounds now seemed trivial, a mere hindrance in the way of the Chinook doors, no longer my fight, and leaving that piece of ground that seconds ago was my fortress was quite possibly the hardest thing I’ve had to do this tour.
As I ran onto the helicopter the rifle that had been so important on the ground was now obsolete and left on my seat as I ran forward to help the medics. I moved towards the casualty and was hit with the smell, a mixture of aviation fuel, cordite,grease and most of all blood, that smell will never leave me. It was only now the true extent of the injuries became apparent, one leg was gone at the hip the other at the knee, pelvis smashed, 7 of his ten fingers gone however the wedding ring remains, a reminder to the real casualties of this war. I began stuffing the holes where the leg used to be but it became rapidly apparent that although not completely dead the injuries he had sustained were beyond any repair. As I look up I see the doctor shake his head and before I know it the all too familiar question, “does anyone have any objections to stopping this now”. There is no answer but the feeling is clear among us, I lean back on my knees and look at the shell that less than an hour ago was a soldier and someone’s mate, still alive in the minds of an entire family, just another 30 second piece on the news. I take my seat next to the other soldier also picked up from the site, his injuries may appear physically small, just a graze to the head from the blast, go much deeper, and the tears in his eyes as the union flag gets pulled over the mutilated body of another young life taken in war, tell the story of what’s to come for this wounded man. I place my hand on his shoulder in some loose form of condolences however it will take a lot more hands on a lot more shoulders to make any difference to the people who loved that life.
Upon returning to bastion I retake my place watching the same film, drinking the same brew, attempting to return to that same care free life, waiting for the next shout to come through.
This is the story of 1 MERT callout, the same day these events took place a further 8 shouts came through…