Padre Robin Richardson is an Army Chaplain currently deployed to Afghanistan with 3rd Battalion, The Parachute Regiment (3 PARA). In his latest blog he recounts the Remembrance Sunday service and meets Paul, a 24-year old soldier on his second tour.
On Sunday, I conducted our Remembrance service here at Shahzad. As the Regimental Sergeant Major spoke those ageless words, ‘They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old,’ I glanced up and saw the battlegroup stood there, united not only in remembering the fallen, but also in our mission and task today. And though we moved, we stood, we reflected as single body, we did so also as individuals. Our own thoughts, our own memories and our own stories to tell. Stories as individual as the lives that have framed them and every one of them more precious to God than we could imagine.
Paul is 24, he’s been in the Army for six years and this is his second tour of Afghanistan. He’s known Jess since they were tiny and her patience is amazing. When plans made months in advance get changed because Paul’s needed for this task or that, she gets frustrated, but she understands, and that’s a precious thing. Paul tells me this without taking his eyes from his arcs. He notices everything. What’s normal, what’s out of the ordinary, even the strand of wire 40 or 50 metres away. He knows how it should be, and he would know in an instant if anything were wrong.
Paul’s wise for his years and he appreciates what is important in life. Before his grandmother died, she gave him some money and instead of buying a flash car or an exotic holiday, he put the deposit down on a flat. He’s got himself on the property ladder and this tour will mean a chunk of his mortgage is paid off. And if he keeps on working hard, getting the courses he needs to out of the way, then he’s got a couple of ideas for a posting that would give him and Jess some stability for a while. He’s thought it all through, and it makes a lot of sense. Movement to the left – but it’s just livestock, they’ve been going backwards and forwards all afternoon, nothing to worry about.
Still without losing concentration, Paul tells me of the brain haemorrhage he had when he was 6, and how he has no memory of anything that happened before it, and he quietens. He remembers how one of his grandmothers visited him in hospital whilst he recovered and just for a second, as he half turns towards me, I can see the love and the pain in his eyes. It was when he was in Afghanistan last that his Gran died. He turns back to give an instruction to another soldier and it seems like a natural break.
When the instruction has been delivered there’s a moment or two of silence. ‘We can’t fail these people,’ Paul says, as we watch a motorcycle pass. A father with his young son safely nestled between his knees is just getting on with life and on his way home. The local elders have said how grateful they are for the improving security and Paul reflects; ‘I think some people at home think we out here trying to change these peoples’ lives, we not, we’re just giving them the option.’ And he means every word of it. A young man willing to give his all half way around the world so that people can have choices that we so often take for granted.
And then it’s farewell for the time being. I thank Paul for his time and I walk on, grateful for the time we had shared and as I walk I pray for him, for his family and for Jess and I know that there isn’t a moment in this extraordinary young man’s life that isn’t known and treasured by God, and it warms my heart.