Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Colour Sergeant Mike Saunders, 2 MERCIAN, blogs from Helmand - Part 15

Greetings friends and readers at the Marwood, Worcester!

As we are now approaching the middle of our tour here I have been in a reflective mood this week. In situations as I find myself in now I believe it is important to take stock of what is being achieved and at what cost.

Over the last few weeks we are all too aware of the high cost of operations in this the most dangerous of provinces. We have collectively lost friends and many more have been injured, some very seriously.

While reading a paper the other day I was forced to pause at a picture of villagers in Wooten Bassett turning out to pay their respects yet again for another fallen soldier. Many would say that the community spirit in these darker times is diminished; however I believe such public demonstrations of solidarity show that we have not gone completely in to isolation and can still recognise great sacrifice.

Many of those assembled were dressed in blazers showing a vast array of Regimental ties, berets and an impressive haul of medals. It is interesting to me that many of these men had most likely seen conflict themselves and in doing so a line of shared experience was continued and acknowledged.

The photo reminded me that while the nature and methods of conflict have changed almost immeasurably, the British soldier had changed very little. Those men stood proud and with a respect that is rare in these turbulent times. You could see in many faces the recollection of personal triumphs, failures and great loss. All of this started me thinking on what made the British soldier and also what marked him out from everyone else around him or indeed her.

Having served over 16 years in the Army to date I have met almost every type of man and almost every type of soldier, many of whom are the finest of people and a few who were unfortunately cruel and without saving grace. The soldier is normally the person to be found in the corner of your local with his back to the wall, laughing and telling stories about some outrageous stunt or someone who was “the craziest person he’s ever met” with examples!

In writing this blog and my book I have remembered many personal events long lost to the memory and like a map they point the way my life has gone hand in hand with my service, the two being inextricably linked. Those older gentlemen on parade must have similar memories that occasionally at reunions are dusted of with the medals and are given a new shine in the telling.

It is difficult to explain to those who have little experience of soldiers why we are as we are and at times I am forced to wonder what it will be like when I must let all this go and embrace the fact that I will be an ex soldier. To sum up the events that make up a life in the Army is to tell story that is almost impossible to sum up in words. I do not consider myself extraordinary in any way and in many ways my service could be classed as routine, however such things I have seen that most could say they had done.

As I am constantly around soldiers it is easy to forget what a collection of people we are, most of whom would never normal meet under normal circumstances. And are those circumstances so different from the soldier fifty years or even 100 years ago? I am sure that those soldiers right back to the days of the foundation of the Worcestershire Regiment still moaned the same way that we do, yet in the same breath fought equally ferociously.

The core of it all is that soldiering is quite unlike any other profession as Philip Massinger said:

“To dare boldly,
In a fair cause, and for their country’s safety;
To run upon the cannon’s mouth undaunted;
To obey their leaders, and shun mutinies;
To bear with patience the winter’s cold
And summer’s scorching heat, and not to faint
When plenty of provision fails, with hunger,
Are the essential parts that make up a soldier.”

On the news and in the papers it must be easy to see the Army and its soldiers as grim faced, serious individuals. At times this is very true but there is also great humour and perhaps a large measure of humanity that comes with seeing the very best and the very worst that man will do to one another. Ultimately we are a reflection of the society that we were recruited from and we remain proud to serve that society even in these hard times.

We will continue here and we will endure the attacks from the enemy as we do what we have done before many times. Others will follow us in this place and will make memories of their own, but for now as I sit here I am thinking of home that for us, for now, will remain one more day away.



  1. GoodLuck and god speed too all our lads present and past who stand firm for our dear little country,you make me proud to be british....!
    Keep up the good work boys

  2. Dear Mike,

    I found my way to your blog via the British Army website. I had to read something about Afghanistan from a soldier's perspective, having become profoundly frustrated and irritated by the output from journalists and politicians.

    You mention the media presenting the army as 'grim faced, serious individuals'. Actually, the men and women of the armed services that appear in the media seem to me to be professional, not discouraged, and above all determined to get on with the job. I would rather listen to a soldier speak in his own words about the situation in Afghanistan, or Iraq, than any number of politicians and journalists, people who have (I believe) let you all down.

    This is not a comment on helicopters and armour - I don't know enough about the issue to comment - rather it's that the politicians have made a pretty poor job of explaining why you guys are out there. Fortunately, I think more of us civilians back in the UK are beginning to work it out. I was encourged to see that the percentage of people who think we should conduct operations in Afghanistan has gone up recently, I think this links to a general understanding of why what you are all doing is so important.

    But in my opinion it's the media who have been the biggest culprits. When a member of the Armed Forces dies in the line of duty this is a tragic event. Nothing can replace a son, brother, father, colleague; and it is right that the loss is noted and observed. Unfortuately the only headlines we now get are an abstract reporting of these tragic deaths, as if this was some kind of industrial accident that we should have avoided if only we had not been so stupid as to be in Afghanistan.

    The media provide no context to these reports, no discussion of the wider campaign and its objectives, no rational discussion of why British Armed Forces are in Afghanistan. I can only assume that these things are not able to be incorporated in to a sound bite. I think this sort of reporting misleads the public, and cheapens the service and sacrifice of the men and women who serve in Britan's Armed Forces.

    Too few people have heard of Panthers claw, and so the recent rise in fatalities will have left them alarmed and confused; few will appreciate that the operations come in the context of elections in Afghanistan next month. A little more reporting in context would go a long way to aiding people's understanding.

    But please be encouraged! The vast majority of people in the UK respect and admire the work of military personnel in Afghanistan, and I think more and more of them understand why you are there, and why this is so important.

  3. As an ex soldier myself, reading your blog has probably just rounded off exactly how a soldier is and how an ex soldier feels and reacts to times of hardship, reunion and reflective thought.

    Couldnt have put it better myself..

    Proud to be British, Proud to say ive served, and so very very proud of you all serving no matter where you are in the world, On deployments or not.

    Thankyou for a very uplifting and thought provoking blog... !!

    God Speed and return home safely.

    Mrs Williams, Ex R Sigs.

  4. Thanks for the article on Helicopter crew award...

    I posted it on


    "Warriors Always Find a Way!"
    Gem State Chapter - AUSA...