Lieutanant Colonel David Eastman writes from Task Force Helmand Headquarters about a novel concept for capturing the thoughts of soldiers within Task Force Helmand.
History is replete with stories of soldier poets and artists using their work to try to portray the extreme and unusual circumstances that ordinary people face daily during conflict situations, and the ability of human nature to accept and function under these conditions. Afghanistan is no different, and during this deployment we have been fortunate to have a number of artists with us aiming to capture the essence of our work here.
One of the more unusual is a former paratrooper, Derek Eland, who has a novel concept for capturing the thoughts of the soldiers within Task Force Helmand. Derek has set up boards in a number of patrol bases across our area of operations with the idea that soldiers would be able to write their thoughts, feelings and emotions on cards resembling post-it notes and place them on the boards. In this way, he hopes to capture the reality of life for a soldier in Afghanistan.
This is an unusual concept, and one that you would think hardened infantryman would be exceedingly sceptical about, if not downright hostile. I must admit to being amongst those that were concerned about the type of comments that might emerge. I will be clearing these notes from an operational security perspective, and if I am honest, I was half expecting to have to remove graffiti-style comments, and the usual “close to the bone” squaddie humour from the boards.
However, my faith in the average soldier has been restored and it would appear that our soldiers are more cultured than I anticipated, and have taken very well to the concept. So much so, in fact, that many of them have written much longer anecdotes rather than just short, pithy notes on their feelings and emotions, and what it is like to live, work and fight in Helmand.
Once the stories have been collected, Derek will recreate the set-up that he had in each of the bases within the Imperial War Museum as part of the on-going “War Story” project which aims to capture the reality of life for the average soldier. I am very much looking forward to the results.
Interestingly, I have also received a number of poems from soldiers deployed in the patrol bases, most notably from the Royal Irish Regiment. The perception of 16 Air Assault Brigade as a purely war-fighting machine seeking a fight could not be further from the truth. I am constantly amazed at the compassion shown by our soldiers when dealing with some horrendous situations, and the lengths that they will go to, to prevent civilian casualties or save lives, especially amongst the children, even if it puts their own lives at risk. Whilst most of our soldiers necessarily exhibit a hard exterior, it is clear to me that underneath they are also caring, thoughtful and selfless.
The humanity shown by our forefathers during both the first and second World Wars is well documented, and I have to say that, in my humble view, their legacy lives on in the young soldiers fighting for a better life for the people of Helmand and seeking to prevent Afghanistan becoming a base for those who wish to undermine and terrorise our way of life.