Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Colour Sergeant Mike Saunders, 2 MERCIAN, blogs from Helmand - Part 16

Greetings friends and readers at the Marwood, Worcester!

Today we have received an influx of new soldiers fresh from the UK and soon they will be sent forward to join what will become their close friends and colleagues. In the history of learning curves this must rate up there with taking over a plane when the pilot is taken ill. You can tell that they are new both to the Army and particular to the theatre of Operations as they have the fixed expression of a rabbit caught firmly in the headlights.

In days gone by the Colours that are the standards of the Regiment and are gifted by the Royalty were paraded through the assembled ranks. This is so that they could be recognised and become a rally point is the fiercest of battles. Today the Colours are not present on the battlefield as they once were, but I believe the soldiers of the Regiment eventually become the embodiment of the Colours and what they mean to those who have served under them.

To see these young soldiers of the Mercian Regiment is comforting as we know that the future of the Regiment will ultimately rest with them. New recruits joining the Colours in difficult surroundings and circumstances is not a new thing, since the formation of the first Regiments young men have answered the call to arms and found themselves far away from home in strange, unfamiliar and dangerous surroundings.

It is vital then that these young soldiers are given support from home and are given strong support by the Regimental chain of command. This they will receive from the highly experienced and operationally seasoned Sergeants and Corporals who will become their new family for the time being.

What then is the difference between these young men and those new insurgent recruits who have been sent up country to get blooded and experience in combat? The main difference I suppose is that our soldiers have received the best training that can be provided and they will have been made aware of the risks associated with this operation. Also they will be given the best equipment available to protect and support them in their task.

The training given to the young or old new insurgent must be rudimentary at best and non existent in most cases. It is sometimes possible to feel almost sympathetic towards these men who may be sacrificed in the name of other people’s higher ambitions.

The existence these insurgents live must be one dominated by fear and to live in fear must bring great pressure and stress. They are rejected by the majority of the community and are given no quarter by coalition forces or the Afghan forces. This is entirely right as any man who holds human life in cheap regard must count his own as such.

Regularly now we see young men who were like these new soldiers not so long back passing through our location on route to well earned leave. They are unrecognisable from those very young looking men they were before, now they look, talk and have the actions of soldiers who have seen soldiering at its toughest and can now class themselves as fighting men.

Often at night I sit and listen to music and contemplate the scale of what we are doing here, at times there seems to be no dawn from the dark and we are in a state of high tension, just waiting for the next incident or tragedy. For those on the front line living amongst the population and within striking distance of the insurgents, it must be much harder to maintain positive momentum and they have my greatest respect for their mental fortitude and personal discipline. It is perhaps the truth that our troops are not braver than everyone else, rather they are just braver for longer.

In the calm of the evening as the sun sets and the heat continues to radiate from the iron hard sand it is easy to almost romanticise the nature of conflict here and to try and somehow balance the nature of what we do and in its doing what we have become. To question the morality of intense fighting in an attempt to secure peace is futile and will raise perhaps more questions than answers. All I know as a simple soldier is that your soldiers are the very best of men, fallible, often crude and prone to aggression but there is no other way for them to be and still exist in this turbulent world.

Having a conversation with one of the OMLT Commanders the other day he reminded me that it is not always the big things that can make a difference. He reminded me how it feels to be eating rations every day and not having a fridge to get a cold drink from; even a normal toilet can be a luxury if you have spent enough time away from one, how easily we take certain things for granted in our frantic lives!

We have already taken part in several high intensity operations and we will see many more in our time. The Afghans we mentor are increasing in capability and skill which coupled with their enthusiasm and determination will make a difference.

Soon those new soldiers of you Regiment will be in the thick of it, learning the ropes from their commanders and becoming true Infantrymen. In doing so they will join the thousands who have gone before them, upholding and adding to the traditions, standards and history of this fine Regiment.



  1. A brilliant and honest piece of writing that sent a shiver down my spine. I have the utmost respect and admiration for what you guys do and have to endure, and how you do it all with pride and professionalism.

    Keep up the good work, and keep your heads down.

  2. Brilliant and just in awe of our guys on the front line.
    Any idea how I can send papers and mags out to our guys as I've get one every day and it's the least I can do and will hopefully help with morale. I asked on the army website a month ago but still no reply. Harv

  3. I've been following events in Afghanistan for some time now, I've also watched Ross Kemp's Documentarys, but, until now, I've never really got any kind of insight into exactly what its like to be a soldier on the front line. As I've started reading this blog, I find myself, abeit slowly, coming to some kind of understanding about just what it means.
    The mainstream media just seems to be obsessed with casualty figures without mentioning (or even caring about) the personnal sacrifises that are made by these fine young men.
    I cannot begin to describe my admiration for the British Soldier, who, without any shadow of a doubt, is the finest in the world.
    God bless each and every one of you, and may you all come home safely, when the job is completed.

  4. great post, can you help[ me help your lads and lasses, i have plenty of shoeboxes from members of public and need some addresses can you go on www.operationshoebox.co.uk and contact me
    regards ian whiteway

  5. Well done and thank you for all you are doing. You have the respect and admiration of the whole population of UK behind you. I'm proud that 2 MERCIAN has inherited and is upholding the traditions of its predecessor regiments: Worcestershire Regiment, Sherwood Foresters and WFR. All the best and a safe return.