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Universal Soldier

A Memoir

Updated: 2017-08-18T13:09:08.318+01:00


Going Solo


Not everyone who deploys on operations will deploy with the Unit they've trained with, lived with and gone on the piss for the last few years with. Most Units get extra people to go on Ops with.

They're variously called Supernumeries, the Wartime Establishment, Individual Augmentees, Battle Casualty Replacements or more commonly "Oi new lad get the kettle on".

I had the choice of going to Kuwait as an augmentee or not going.

So I went by myself.*

* - Well I sort of knew three people. I still got to make lots of tea though.

Sitting, Watching, Waiting


It was the autumn of 2002 and things were getting interesting.

It looked like we'd be going to war. It looked like this was going to be 'the war' of my army generation.

Whilst some British forces had gone to Afghanistan the year before things were quiet there now. There were still a few guys around who'd been out on Op Granby (the retaking of Kuwait) in 1991. There were a few guys who'd been shot at in Northern Ireland or caught in a crossfire in Bosnia but most of us were virgins. Untested in combat and never had someone try to kill them.

Most of us were looking forward to it. Most of us were excited.

Funny how quickly things can change.

Where's Everyone Gone?


Honestly - you take a year off and when you come back everyone has disappeared. My sidebar now links to several sex sites and other dubious cybersquatting sites.

I obviously have some catching up to do. In the meantime (and whilst I work out something interesting to say about Iraq) may I recommend the following series of articles about a British Battalion in Basrah by Michael Yon, an independent American war blogger:

Men of Valor - Part I, Part II, Part III and Part IV.

Back - For A Bit


Since I left I've moved house (again) and spent some time sunning myself in Iraq. On the positive side the army, and it's relationship with the general public has come back into the media. After some negative press about the military covenant there has been a resurgence in homecoming parades.

We, in the military, accept that not all of the campaigns which we are involved in are popular, but appreciate the increased public support which we are receiving.

How do you see it - civilian side that is?

Stand Down


As you know I'm just a tad busy at the minute.

I'm also finding it hard to find anything new to say on this blog. Hence the reason it's all got a bit crap lately.

So for the time being Universal Soldier is being stood down.

I'll almost certainly start blogging elsewhere.

I might be back here at some point. We'll see.

Thanks for reading.

How Exciting


Looking forward to trying out the new version of blogger - that makes me sad doesn't it?

Answers - #10


Gonorr asked:

"PBI* or support?"

Well I used to be the former until my body decided it wasn't such a smart move and now I'm definitely a REMF.

* - Poor Bloody Infantry. Support = support troops - did you know there are something like 9 support troops to keep 1 infantry soldier in the field?

Here Comes The Bride


(image) Although it is nearly 8 years ago I can still feel the ice in belly as I woke up on the morning I was due to get married.

The party had started the night before with a little 'light ' karaoke that had broken the ice between the in-laws and assorted guests but had left me with a slightly thick head despite my best intentions.

For any budding grooms out there can I recommend a 5 mile run and a full cooked breakfast to get rid of any wedding jitters.

Oh and getting into a spankingly smart uniform helped too.

And walking through my home town with all the passers bye gawping helped too.

And a couple of pints in my local helped too.

As for the wedding - well it's all a bit of a blur really (and that had nothing to do with the couple of pints).

I do remember seeing the soon to be Mrs Soldier walking down the aisle - red hair standing out even more than usual because of her wedding dress.

I do remember giving my wrong hand to Mrs Soldier and ending up shortly after the wedding being told that I was a prat and had my ring on the wrong hand.

I do remember thinking "Oh dear" as the lads who'd come over from my regiment sat down at a table with the only available ladies and then ordered tequila - at about 3 in the afternoon.

I do remember thinking "That'll be the tequila" when some of my friends decided they couldn't wait for the first dance.

I do remember thinking "Oh shit" when the DJ decided it would be a good idea to play 'Kung Fu Fighting'. *

But apart from that it was all a bit of a very pleasant blur.

* - Fortunately just the one casualty when one of the blokes managed to 'accidentally' kick his missus in the head.

Answers - #9


Dr Jest asked:
"How much does the regimental tradition still survive with all the political buggering about, and is this(the tradition)for good or ill?"

Yes the regimental tradition survives even though some famous regiments were forced to merge during the last round of tinkering.* Yes I believe the regimental tradition is a good one - every soldier in every infantry battalion is 100% convinced that they are in the best battalion in the whole army. Regimental life brings with it a sense of family that can be very important for both the soldier and his family when he is on operations. It also brings a sense of history and place that I personally believe to be important.

Having said that I really don't believe that soldiers fight for their battalion, regiment or even country most of the time. The soldiers who are fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan generally do so well because they are fighting for their mates and they don't want to be the one to let the team down.

* - tinkering that was actually long overdue and has been carried out in a sensible way.




Coming Home


I've got a short pause in the madness that is currently my life of work, getting ready to move and trying to have a family life, so back to the memoir for a short moment.

I loved my first 6 month tour of Bosnia. It's a beautiful country filled with passionate people (who sometimes want to kill each other) and I hope to return there someday as a tourist rather than a soldier.

But 6 months is 6 months. 6 months of not being able to walk out of the camp unless I was working. 6 months of living in a a porta-kabin. 6 months of work without a real day off. 6 months of living in the pockets of other people whether I wanted to be there or not.

So there was a mixture of relief and sadness as I got on the coach to take me to the airport.

Oh and a little nervousness as well - I was getting married in a fortnight.

Answers - #8


FourDinners also asked:

"Are there many Officers like the (ex) one we've got at work from Deepcut? (intimidating bully who's going to lose some bits of his anatomy when he transfers to our shift. If he behaves as he does on his current shift his balls will be leaving via the top of his head)"

Erm - I suppose like any large organisation there will always be a few people who reach a level of management which they shouldn't have reached. Most of our officers these days are actually very good although sometimes the more junior officers can overestimate their own importance.

The stereo-type of the public school boy turned officer who has a private income is to a large extent totally misplaced these days. These days they tend to come from all sorts of backgrounds and fewer and fewer talk with plummy accents.

P.S My ultimate test for any officer is - "Would I single handedly storm a machine gun position if this person asked me to." I.E - if they asked me to do something fairly suicidal would I do it. There are probably three officers I've worked for in the last 12 years who if they asked I would trust that it really needed doing and there was no other way.

PostSecret For Egomaniacs.


Fed up with Blair, Bush and Kim Jong-Il? Think you can do better? Pop over to Postcard Manifesto and prove it then.

(Clair - I promise I'll get my arse in gear and buy a postcard really soon)

Answers - #7


Four Dinners asked:

"Have you ever shot anybody?

Have you ever been (personally as opposed to generally in the midst of many) been shot or shot at?"

I sort of answered number 1 a while back here but no I haven't shot anyone since then.

I've sort of been shot at twice. Once I'm fairly sure it was a case of the totally inappropriately named 'friendly fire' and was just one round that landed a bit too close for comfort.

The second time was during the invasion of Iraq. I was actually that far from the front line that I had to send my laundry forward. Someone did, however, fire a surface to surface missile at us and it landed in the 'neighbourhood'.

So I guess really it's a no on both counts.

Answers - #6


JJ asked:

"Weren't you terrified signing up initally for 22 years? Such a long time had it turned out to be the wrong choice for you (which clearly it is not)."

Actually we aren't committed for 22 years - which is a ridiculously long time. It used to be the case that people would sign for 8 or 12 years. Nowadays we get a 22 year contract but we are only committed for the first 4 years. After that we are pretty much guaranteed employment for the remaining 18 years. If we want to leave we can at any point but have to 12 months notice.

Answers - #5


Ellie also asked:

"Do you ever rethink your career? Wish you were a corporate whore and not a gun toter? (Grass is always greener, no?)"

Erm - don't we all think 'What if?' sometimes. Financially I actually do ok - about £30K last year and that includes very cheap rent. If I leave at the end of my 22 years I'll also be on a pension of about £15k a year and I'll only be in my early 40s.

But yes, sometimes I hate my job and want to leave - the fact that I have to give a years notice is usually what stops me from doing it.

Answers - #4


Ellie asked:

"Do they eat powdered eggs in the HM's army? What are powdered eggs really? What's the best army food? What's the worst?"

1. I don't think so.

2. I hate to think.

3. It depends whether you mean rations or the everyday food that is served in the cookhouse. In camp the army feeds its single soldiers on less than a fiver a day for 3 meals and as such the quality is a bit iffy at times. As for the ration packs - my favourite is chicken and mushroom pasta (which if memory serves rightly is actually a breakfast option). I also have a bizarre penchant for fruit dumplings in butterscotch sauce which the remaining 104,999 people in the army hate but I find quite tasty.

4. I can't stand the bacon and beans option in the ration packs - which is unfortunate because it is the most common.

Answers - #3


The Blonde asked:

How do you feel about the professionalism of the British army in comparison with other countries armies?

Virtually every where we operate these days we do so as a part of multi-national force. This means we get plenty of opportunity to see what other armies are like.

Are we the best?

I suppose it depends how you measure things. We certainly don't have the best kit and we are small in numbers.

I know I'm biaised but man for man I would still rate us as the best army in the world. As for the rest - I'd work with the Canadians anyday; I found the Americans very mixed - some very, very good and some very slack; the Scandanavians nations are always good to work with; the Dutch army certainly have the best looking women (and they wear camouflaged shorts in the summer); and while I hate to say it while I wouldn't want to peacekeep with the French again I'd certainly want to go to war with them.

Answers - #2


Cookie Monster asked:

"how do you feel when you hear the british action in afghanistan and iraq criticised? im guessing it must make you feel pretty unloved/unappreciated back home here in blighty. is that accurate?"

Tricky - I'm not entirely sure that the media are against us per se. Certainly in the early days of the Iraq deployment the press was primarily anti-going-to-war rather than anti-British-Army. At the end of the day the media are after a story and sometimes we are an easy target.

Some stories really irritate us - e.g British soldiers caught taking drugs - this story runs regularly but all it really illustrates is that a) We randomly drugs test all our employees and b) If they are caught we kick them out.

The other stories that I wish were dealt with in a different manner are the allegations of 'war crimes' in Iraq - these stories do raise tensions in the theatres of operations and on at least one occasion it would appear that the publication of story led to an attack resulting in the deaths of two soldiers. I think we - in the army - are fully agreed that anyone breaking the rules should be dealt with - but why not wait until the outcome of the disciplinary hearing before publishing anything.

Do we feel unloved? - No I don't think so but as Richard Holmes pointed out in Dusty Warriors these days there are very few people in the country who know someone well who is serving. So unloved - no, not understood - yes.

Answers - #1


The Boy asked:

"From the outside, what looks like the hardest thing about army life is the time away from family. Is that true, and if not, what do you find most difficult about the army life?"

This is a really tricky one. When I first joined up the time away was a major attraction, but of course at the time I was young(ish) free and single. In many ways, yes, the time away these days is the hardest thing - probably more so for the family than for me as whenever I'm away I have friends with me. But yes it's hard breaking your kids hearts on a regular basis.

Other things I find hard:

  1. Never really being able to put down roots - again something that was an attraction 12 years ago has now become a negative point.
  2. Having a very green 2Lt fresh from training telling you to do something which you know is particularly stupid and them not listening to a word you have to say - although I assume that applies to most jobs in one form or another.
Keep the questions coming!

Busy Busy Busy


I'm going to be rather busy fairly soon, first with work and then with moving the family a few hundred miles.

Which is going to lead to a bit of a pause on the blogging front.

Before I shoot off I was wondering if anyone has any questions they'd like answered about life in the army. I'll try to do any answers as complete posts in themselves and get someone else to publish them in my absence.

So fire away.

Welcome To The TimeWarp


It was shortly after my Op Cygnet that I was due the three letters that bring an instant smile to your average squaddie:

R n R

Two weeks at home. Well ten days at home by the time you've had a couple of days travelling either end.

But still good.

Very good.

I wonder what Stephen Hawking would make of the R n R phenomenon.

In the weeks immediately preceding R n R time slows to an almost imperceptible grind. Think being a child waiting for Christmas and multiple that by a factor of about 10.

The time-space continuum* continues to be affected when you reach the airport although this may have more to do with our lovely friends the RAF than any alteration to the basic physics of the universe.

And then home.

By the time you've had a decent bath, slept in a decent bed and had more than two pints of your favourite beer then 10 days are over and it's time to head back.

* No - I'm not a Trekkie.

Operation Cygnet


Being bumped around in the back of the LandRover and I was beginning to regret taking my boss up on the offer of a weekend in Split. It was in the mid-30s, very little of the draught from the drivers window was reaching me and knees were tucked up under my chin.

The boss had some sort of meeting to attend and had managed to get a few of us transit accomodation for the weekend.

A few hours later, sat in civi clothing in a pizzeria on the waterfront and all complaints about the trip down had disappeared. If you squinted with your mind you could almost forget that you were on an operational tour and pretend it was just you and the lads on holiday.

Well you could until you clambered back into the LandRover for the 6 hour trip back north that is.

My Battalion Went To Bosnia And All I Got Was This Lousy T-Shirt


(image) It was about half way through the tour that the list came around. A tour t-shirt, only about £6.

Great I thought.

Now eightish years later the washing line at my house can resemble a pictorial representation of my military career.

Phew What A Scorcher!


(image) If, like me, you've spent the last few days sweltering* and on occasion moaning about how hot and sticky it is then just pause and think about this:

In Basra today it is 45C (that's about 110F), at night time it gets down to a cooler 30C.

There are blokes today sat in the back of what is effectively a large, well insulated metal box (otherwise known as a Warrior Fighting Vehicle). This doesn't have any air-conditioning.

As well as their full uniform they will be wearing body armour, helmet and webbing.

On the flip side, the pie-eaters amongst them are likely to lose a bit of weight.

* - For overseas readers it's been warm here for the past week - reaching 30C - that's over 80F - and boy are we unused to it.