In his latest blog, Padre Robin Richardson “chews the fat” with Matt, a senior Signaller who keeps the battlefield communications flowing.
There’s so much of life that we can take for granted because it’s always there. Clean water for instance, electricity, phone lines, fuel for the car. But out here, none of those things are ‘just’ there. To get drinking water to us takes planning, risk and effort. Out at the smaller Check Points the lads keep a tally of how much water they use. Every half-litre bottle used gets marked down. Nothing is wasted, it’s a precious commodity and it’s the same with so many other ‘everyday’ aspects to life.
Matt is one of the most senior men in our unit; he’s been in 18 years, 6 of which he’s been away from home. Iraq twice, Kosovo, Northern Ireland 3 times and this is his second trip to Afghanistan. Add in the exercises and training and you realise that here’s a man who’s seen a lot. His responsibilities now are focussed on the ever-more complex world of communications and of the signallers who keep the information infrastructure up and running. Much like running water back at home, there are many people who only really notice the importance of our comms network when something goes wrong. Thankfully that’s rare, and that’s because Matt monitors it, he makes sure there is a back-up plan if any of the networked elements fail, and he keeps one step ahead of the game as regards training the guys and implementing the latest upgrade or change.
If the comms were to drop out at any point that could potentially leave a patrol out on the ground without the ability to speak to higher command or let them know their progress. Whatever they were doing, they would have to stop and return to their CP or PB immediately. It really is that vital. But Matt’s been around longer than most, and he knows his stuff and he’ll make sure that won’t happen.
As Matt and I sat yesterday afternoon chatting I noted that the Army can be an odd place to be. Here, within our unit, Matt and I are considered reasonably old men, but to the world outside our work we’re really still relative youngsters. We are both in our late thirties and we have young families; Matt’s son is only 18 months old. Yet when we put on our uniforms things change. Matt puts the interests of young soldiers who look up to him first; he works until everything that needs to be done is done; he doesn’t need to be told or asked to do something, he knows what’s needed and he will make it happen. It means long hours, attention to detail, unstinting determination to make sure the lads on the ground have the equipment they need, when they need it, and systems in place to keep them safe and able to fulfil their mission.
As we talk about Matt’s responsibilities to maintain our ever more complex battlefield information systems and of his last 18 years of service, the tours, the highs, the lows and the sacrifices that his wife and now young son have had to make, we look forward. Four years to push. Hopefully in that time an Open University degree and then a new career. There are a number of things Matt’s got his mind on, and whichever one he decides upon, you know he will quietly excel at, that’s just the kind of understated but determined man he is. As for now, we sit, thinking of how much we miss our families and of how when we’re away we see how skewed some of the priorities sold to us at home are. It’s our families we want to see, and the thought of a walk with the dogs and having the time be the best dads and husbands we can be. I’ve enjoyed our time, just chewing the fat; and at the end of it I don’t have a deep theological reflection to offer. I just thank God for my family, and for people like Matt, who make the Army a good place to serve.