letter from the field
Aug 23, 2012
recently I looked through a box of letters which I wrote to people on the road to war and which they kindly forwarded back to me. the following is one of them. this is from my first Ex. with 1PPCLI and I was just beginning to learn the basics of infantry training, thus the errors in rank, position, weaponry etc. I wrote thousands of letters and emails over the course of those 2 years and will slowly make my way through them, picking out the little details. my field books are notes not diaries, and so these letters are my de facto diary. what I don’t express in this letter is how physically challenging the environment was on my body and psychologically, how difficult it was on my mind and heart. I went from a cosy cottage and family life straight into the metal, the diesel, the whallop of war. equally tough was the return home, the reverse culture shock. it was a very exciting, but very, very challenging time.
Saturday, Oct. 18, 2008
I write from a rocket range somewhere in the field outside Shilo. I’m here with D company (D Coy) all day, watching the lads take their turns at the Carl Gustave – a hand held rocket launcher [correction: a recoiless rifle] used to punch holes in big things. Big gun, big noise.
I spent an hour on the hill beside the commanding officer and his 2IC [correction: his senior NCO], a MCpl who spent 7 months in Afghanistan. Twenty-three and twenty-four years of age, they can barely grow beards or mustaches as is the tradition when in the field.
When I tell the MCpl. that I am unafraid to go over he said, “You should be … I’ve been there.”
This is my 4th day in the field and I“m quickly spotting who I’d trust with my life and who I wouldn’t. Yesterday, a classic Sergeant – all day in the gunner’s position on top of a LAV (armoured vehicle) watching STAB runs —- shooting rounds [of live ammo], big BOOMS at targets [on a hillside] and machine guns [shooting] while the LAV moves forward. The Sgt. riding in the LAV behind clearly in control of the men – confident – not hard to imagine him at Agincourt or maybe taking the spine of Italy – a big guy, clear-eyed, a voice that could carry – I’d feel safe with him.
The men treat me well. Are wary of me until they know I am not a journalist. Then they are bemused maybe perplexed. Some are so open. Share their food, their water, their candy with me. Others, aloof.
Day 5 (for them) of a 2 week exercise, and fatigue is setting in. Less jokey, they sleep whenever they can – in LAVs on route to the field, while they wait their turn with the Carl Gustaves, after lunch … Some play cards, smoke, chat, others daydream – at leas as much as one can to the unbelievable boom of the Carl G’s. As I write, I’m wearing foam plugs and industrial strength ear phones and still the Carl G punches me in the gut ever time he’s fired.
Actually, it’s the Carl G back draft (pressure) [percussion] of air waves that is toughest. My chest wall and legs are still rattled after standing 20 meters from them this morning.
Two days later
so today, back to the field. tonight I sleep with either Admin Coy or with the cooks. I’m going out on a night manoeuvre with Charlie Company – then getting up before dawn with the cooks to watch them prepare for and feed 600 men.
tomorrow I’ll hang with the officers, go to their BBQ (a field tradition) [a smoker] then come home, unpack, sleep.