Lance Corporal Joshua Crook, of Y Company 1st Battalion The Royal Regiment of Fusiliers (1RRF), joined the Army in January 2011 and attended the Infantry Training Centre Catterick for the six-month Combat Infantryman Course. He joined 1RRF in September 2011 and since then has completed countless exercises. Joshua attended and passed the Fire Team Commander’s Course in January this year and was promoted in Afghanistan in April.
I just want to start by saying how impressed and grateful I am at the response and feedback from the first blog. Thank you!
Seeing as this is my first operational tour, I thought I’d try and describe how it felt coming out here: What I expected, what I was met with and challenges I’ve faced so far – leaving family, girlfriend and friends at home; the atmosphere in a battalion that hasn’t been on tour in five years; and a bit on the feelings I had on arriving out here in Afghanistan.
Both my family and I knew that a deployment to Afghanistan was almost inevitable when I joined the Army and, as is to be expected, the thought of it left concerns with everyone. It felt like it took forever to get here and as far as I was concerned, it couldn’t have come quick enough. After all, this is what a lot of my training was to lead up to: an operational deployment.
The weeks leading up to deployment was leave for me; I spent the best part of the first two months of this year away on a promotional course so couldn’t spend as much time as I would have liked back home, but pre-deployment leave of nearly three weeks was enough (as well as the knowledge of a pay rise for promotion out here) and when I arrived back at Battalion, 1RRF, I only had eight days to push before my flight out here.
‘See you in a few months’
Everyone back home took it well; I guess they had it planned out for a while, me leaving for tour and all. A ‘see you in a few months’ meal was in order with the family, and everyone wished me luck for the tour. I’d say it was emotional, but it wasn’t really like that. Some members of my family expressed their nervousness to me, and I reassured them of how I’d be fine – but ultimately, you never know. Anything could happen on tour; after all, this is a conflict zone.
Those thoughts don’t enter your mind though. I’ve found that throughout my time in the army the only thing you think about is the job in hand and what effect that will have – not on you, but the men and women around you and on the mission itself.
I’ve been out here for two months now and of course, because of the environment you are living and working in there are always dangers that come with the territory. However it helps to remember and reassure those back home that you are part of the best army in the world, and rock solid in situations like those that arise in Afghanistan. This seems to keep family and friends back home content, and although the “best army in the world” line is cheesy as hell – you say what works!
The same situation goes for my girlfriend; she knows what is going on out here and is more than aware of the dangers, but like family, she is extremely supportive and no doubt puts on the “brave” façade to keep me thinking everyone at home is fine. There are bound to be, and have been moments where people back home find it difficult and it is down to you, thousands of miles away, to bring them back around. I think it’s the not knowing that is often the most difficult. For me over here I know what I’m doing, more often than not on a day to basis, but it might take a few days for me to relay that information back home.
One great thing off the back of this is the bond it brings back home between the family. As you can imagine, there are times when all you can fit in is a quick phone call to one person in the family, and a great system in place back home is if one knows; everyone knows. It keeps everyone in the loop and they gain reassurance just from that.
So, I’ve done my best to try and put into words what I ‘imagine’ people back home are thinking… I could be completely wrong, but that’s the overall impression I get (ha!). Now, I’ll try and put into perspective what it’s like being over here. For some, this will be the first time they have spent more than a few weeks away from their family and friends. I like to think of myself as quite a strong person mentally, but still I find I have days where all I want to do is go home, and I think it’s because of how unfamiliar this place is. Yes, we’ve seen it all before in training but in that case, it’s only a few weeks. You begin to miss the small things, and they can get to you easily.
I miss carpet. And porcelain.
It’s those kinds of things you take for granted, strangely. Obviously, not being able to wake up to your girlfriend in the mornings is a killer, but you cherish the lack of knees in the back after a while (she’ll kill me for this). In all seriousness, the worst times out here are the quiet times, when all you have to do is think. There have been many Friday/Saturday nights where I haven’t realised what day it is, only to log onto Facebook or call a friend to find out that everyone back home is out on the “lash” having a whale of a time. That burns! But, again, this is my job, and everyone else who’s out here and it’s something we grow accustomed to, and proud of.
Mail days are morale days, as I’m sure most of you know. You can send ‘shoebox’ parcels out here with a maximum weight of 2kg for free, and thanks to my family, girlfriend and friends, I’ve not been left wanting nor needing anything. In fact, I have about ten boxes by the side of my bed space with enough sweets, toiletries and coffee to last me a year! But along with the boxes come letters and photographs and walking around the block you see a multitude of ‘home-made morale boards’; boards with photographs of people’s children and families on them. Pictures and paintings children have drawn their dads. It’s great to see and mail days definitely bring morale to all!
Is Afghanistan what I expected though? The answer is simple. Yes. It’s hot, covered in sand and occasionally smells awful. Inside the wire, unless the threat of an attack looms, it’s just like being back in the UK only, depending on where you are, the conditions are worse and you’re walking around everywhere with a weapon system, not to mention the heat. Outside the wire is different. Of course, over here the culture is so different from ours and they have grown up and lived in times almost unimaginable to us in the UK. I have crossed paths with many children out here, eager to ask for pens, sweets and water and it is hard to comprehend that all these kids know is war. Nothing else. You can see in adults’ eyes the hardship of continuous labour, especially here in Helmand, the agricultural hot-spot of Afghanistan. Out here the people rely on the land and farm for their living. It looks absolutely back-breaking, not to mention exhausting in this heat.
I have done a lot of work on developing an understanding of the ‘human terrain’ as part of my role in the Company Headquarters and what local nationals out here have to endure. It is clear that for some there is a daily struggle for clean water and money and of course the continued threat of attack from the Taliban.
Always somebody to listen
1RRF last went on tour as a battalion in 2009, Operation Telic 12 (Iraq) and this is its first of Afghanistan. Yes, there are members of the battalion that have been out here before, but it’s a first for the battalion as a whole.
There were mixed feelings about coming out here for those of us whose first deployment this is – but it’s fair to say we were excited overall. After all, this is what we train to do. But there was nervousness and anxiety, especially in the younger soldiers. Nothing that isn’t to be expected – Afghanistan is a dangerous place and I would question anyone who said they weren’t nervous. For some of us, the next six months mean a lot, the amount you miss back home – the birth of children, anniversaries, friends’ weddings, Christenings, birthdays – the list goes on. Everyone deals with it in different ways, some keep themselves to themselves on a bad day, which everyone has, and others are quite keen to express it and get it off their chest – rest assured, there’s always somebody to listen and more often than not, you find that when one person starts talking about home, it’s not long before a full platoon are sat around a bench all talking about it together!
R&R (Rest & Recuperation, two weeks leave allocated) has started to kick in now and there are quite a few lads from Y Coy enjoying themselves back in the UK with their family and friends. It’s a much needed break, not just from work, but from the sun! I’m counting down the days to mine and there are ‘chuff charts’ as we like to call them, all over PRICE. Charts of how many days are left until R&R and end of tour. I look forward to writing about mine when I’m back, but there’s a short while before that yet!
Well, on that note, and the fact that Y Coy have just been tasked with a Force Protection operation, I’ll leave you be! Again, I hope you have enjoyed it and any feedback is much appreciated. I’ll have a brand new op to tell you all about when I’m back.
Catch you next week,