A day to remember


Mar 17, 2019
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All, This isn’t to brag, boast or show off. This is to demonstrate the reality of a career in the military. I wrote this during a rather dark time as a cathartic release. I feel it is important to share..

I have known fear, I have known uncertainly, I have known tiredness, I have known sadness, I have known disappointment, I have known hilarity and I have known true gratefulness. This is what I think of when I think about Afghanistan.

Working as a patrol medic some days I seen first hand man’s inhumanity towards man but on other days I seen the very best that humanity could offer. It was a strange place to be but I honestly do not regret going.

I shan’t bore you with the more trivial details of my time out there. Lets just say the checkpoint I lived in can not be found on Trip Advisor. Conditions were pretty austere in the small checkpoint. The daily cycle of patrolling, fighting insurgents,general primary healthcare duties, weapon cleaning and trying to keep my kit in working order occupied most of my time. There were few luxuries or distractions. A makeshift gym is the closet thing we had to recreation.

The question I always asked myself was “How on earth have you ended up here”.

The day this question rang out the most in my head was a date I’ll never forget 11th of November 2011 (11/11/11) .

That day was different. This wasn’t one of our routine ground dominating patrols. We had been tasked to conduct a large offensive operation in an area called Loy Mandeh which was a kalay (village) that was regarded as a safe haven for the Taliban. This operation involved many soldiers.

My multiple (the 12 men I lived with in the checkpoint) moved out at 0430hrs, under the cover of darkness. It was our role to secure a helicopter landing site. This security allowed for a Chinook to insert two more multiples (Also made up of 12 men each). These two multiples then proceeded to the North, moving through the compounds of Loy Mandeh seeking out the Taliban, whilst we moved position and lay up to provide protection on the Eastern flank.

It wasn’t long until I heard the familiar yet pulse raising sound of bullets whizzing over my head. The Taliban clearly had identified our position and began engaging us with small arms fire. At this stage it was fairly ineffective. We of course returned fire.

We continued to have little skirmishes with the Taliban for the next two hours that morning which involved me taking cover in the many irrigation ditches. At that time of the morning it was fairly cold and crisp, so it wasn’t the best laugh to be soaking wet.

I recall listening on the radio that one of the other multiples had discovered a suspected IED near one of the compounds. No sooner had this message been passed I heard a massive explosion, maybe three hundred meters to my west. We all froze and I remember exchanging eye contact with one of the other lads, his eyes were wide and fearful. I am sure my eyes were the same.

We then heard the chilling words through our headsets…”Man down!”. As a medic that was trained in advanced battlefield trauma I felt an urge to leave our position and to go and assist. They would of had their own medic of course but I still felt so guilty that I wasn’t running to help. I later found out the medic who tended to this injured man had indeed provided life saving treatment in the minutes after the explosion.

The operation didn’t stop there though, why would it? We were all expected to just crack on. The injured man’s multiple set into motion their casualty extraction plan, which was difficult at best. They succeeded and he was collected by a Chinook and flown back to Camp Bastion for surgery.

Meanwhile my multiple were then tasked to push North-East, to locate and deal with further Taliban firing points.I remember feeling as if my body was over flowing with adrenaline. It felt like all the equipment I was carrying weighted nothing.

Having reached the uppermost North-East section of Loy Mandeh we could not locate any further Taliban positions. Our section commander then decided that we patrol back south, to regroup with the other multiples . I recall us all being lined up in a large irrigation ditch with a large muddy field to our right side. One by one we climbed out of the ditch, turned around and in single file began patrolling down the field, this time with the ditch on our right. I was the fifth or sixth man to step out of the ditch. What happened next will never leave me. It sounded like it was raining bullets. We took a massive rate of incoming fire. We had stepped right out into a Taliban ambush.

I vaguely remember jumping to my right and landing on my knees back inside the ditch. I was completely unaware of where the rest of my multiple where. I heard loud bangs that I suspected to be grenades going off that the Taliban often fired with their underslung grenade launchers. I managed to position myself into a sitting position with my back against the bank of the ditch and my legs infront of me on the other bank. I could see dirt kicking up around me. I then seen that three of my mulitple where still in the field. I began firing my rifle in the direction of the enemy fire but I could not see any obvious firing points. My eyes kept closing due to the dirt kicking up around me. I was sure I was going to die.

Miraculously those caught in the field managed to get into the ditch and none of us had sustained any gunshot wounds. To this day I have no idea how none of us had been killed. We all suppressed the enemy and it fell silent. The Taliban must of withdrew to fight another day.

Nine days later just as we were preparing to head into the Loy Mandeh area again were devastatingly informed, that Pte Tom Lake had been killed. This career isn’t a game.

Never forget.
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