Lieutenant Colonel David Eastman, spokesman for Task Force Helmand, writes from Afghanistan with thoughts on the work of young soldiers he has encountered and how, as Operation HERRICK 13 draws to a close, they will be helped to return to normal life when they return home.
We pushed out a press release this week about a young soldier from Wakefield, 26 year-old Guardsman Lewis Wilby from 1st Battalion The Irish Guards, who chased and caught an insurgent through an area seeded with Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs). You may also have seen the story of Private Grant Barrow of the Parachute Regiment in The Sun last week. 18 years old, not long out of school, let alone training, but now the lead Vallon (metal detector) man for his team – responsible for clearing the way for his colleagues and ensuring that they do not become victims of the Taliban’s desperate attempt to prevent progress in this part of Helmand through indiscriminate IED-laying. Although these particular extremely brave soldiers were publicised in the national press, they are but two of many such individuals that carry out these actions every day across our area of operations.
The nature of the insurgency means that many of our younger soldiers are facing this level of danger on a daily basis. And yet to a man they remain ever stoic, always ready with a laugh and a joke, supremely confident and willing to lay their lives on the line for their friends, for the families of this war-torn country, and ultimately, for the sake of all of us.
Of course, being exposed to danger and traumatic events in this manner for prolonged periods will inevitably have an effect on some of these young soldiers, and this is an area that the military takes very seriously indeed. We now have a system known as Trauma Risk Management, or TRiM, in which soldiers are encouraged to discuss incidents immediately after they have occurred with their colleagues – it is helpful to know that you were not the only one who was scared when the rounds were being fired in your direction, and sharing the experience can help to release the tension and anxiety that may accompany such experiences.
The more senior officers and soldiers maintain a close watch on their charges and are on hand to provide advice and guidance if they believe that there could be problems developing. Clearly this is just the first part in a process that aims to ensure that these young soldiers remain mentally healthy despite their unusual experiences.
On our return home to the UK we will all pass through a decompression camp to let off steam, talk about our experiences and try to “normalise” as far as possible before returning to our loved ones and friends. There will be a number of support mechanisms to help our soldiers adjust, especially those who have seen almost constant action over the last 6 months, and we will continue the monitoring process in order to ensure that our extraordinary youngsters are able to come to terms with their experiences as far as possible.
To say that my faith has been restored in this young, much-maligned generation would be a huge understatement. I have the deepest admiration and respect for these men and women, many of whom are barely out of their teens, and whose selfless actions often go unreported, such is their regularity. They seem to exude relentless optimism, endless cheerfulness and dedication to each other and I for one feel privileged (and just that little bit younger) for being in their company. It remains incumbent on us to look after them.