Realities of War…. That would technically be the wrong choice of words, as we’re not at war we’re helping to restore democracy and stability in Iraq. As such we’re a peace keeping force with rules of engagement, but as a peace keeping force we can still get shot up or blown across grid squares by the insurgents… we have our hands tied with what we can do about it or how we respond to it, we’re here for security and there are set rules of engagement to follow. From what I’ve been told by the ex regulars we have amongst us in Cambrai Company it’s much the same as Northern Ireland but here the rules of engagement are even stricter. How ever I’m no expert on Northern Ireland that’s just the impression I’ve got of the old sweats amongst us.
Rules of engagement don’t exist for the insurgents as they plant IED’s loaded with anything they can find, nuts, bolts, staples, rocks, anything that will maim and kill… but they are far from stupid as the amount of small arms contacts is virtually nil these days, they know they don’t stand a chance in a fire fight against us, as they have found out against the British and the Americans all over Iraq. They’ve realized the best way for them to fight is by planting a bomb on a road, disappearing and detonating it from a safe distance out of sight, were they can’t get killed and will live another day to plant another bomb. As infantry soldiers we talk about traditional war fighting, referring to being in our greens (temperate camouflage) “the enemies situated here, we’re situated here we attack at dawn” typical infantry fighting, what we train for back in the UK. In reality that’s never going to happen again the last war we had fighting in a temperate environment was the Falklands, the other conflicts have mainly been won by air power resulting in long term peace keeping commitments. The British army has got the right background for this kind of conflict after being in Northern Ireland for so long, Bosnia, Kosovo etc and it shows if you look how well we’re doing in Southern Iraq with minimal numbers. The area is relatively happy and if you compare it to the north, our casualty ratio is very small, we loose more soldiers through injuries in road traffic accidents than from Insurgent attacks.
As I’ve explained before one of our roles is to provide an ARF(Armed response force) 4 man team to go with the Navy’s Sea King born IRT(Incident response team, medics) When we get a shout we take allot of heavy kit and the medics have allot of kit as well, the equipment we take is communications and other equipment that enables us to provide protection to the medics and chopper crew whilst on the ground, as when there’s been an incident there is a high risk of follow up by the insurgents and a Sea King is not really the easiest of things to conceal, so it attracts allot of attention. Once it’s dropped us and the medics off it might have to get airborne again to provide top cover, as it’s going to take to long to stabilize the casualties before they can be loaded on the chopper. The last thing you want is a Sea King parked up on the ground in that environment. Once on the ground we’re then basically on our own with the medics and any other call signs that may be at the incident, our role then kicks in providing ground protection for the medics. The best example of this was during the rescue of the 2 SAS soldiers from an Iraqi police station in Basrah city, IRT was crashed to go and deal with the subsequent casualties, the medics and ARF ended up being left on the ground for at least an hour, the situation on the ground got very hostile as you probably saw on the news, pictures of the warrior getting petrol bombed and the crew being attacked by an angry crowd. The Robuck company lads who were doing our job before we got here were then left with a public order situation and had to join the line to try and control the public order situation while the medics did there thing with the casualties. Every situation is different, the location, the casualties and the threat level no incident will unfold the same way so what happens and what actions are taken are always dictated to you at the time by the situation on the ground it self.
Recently we were crashed on IRT (incident response team), it was our first serious incident to respond to. Luckily in the morning we’d been up in the Sea King practicing our drills entering and exiting the chopper and winching drills so we were confident with what we had to do, the last thing we would want is to be crashed and proceed to flap around not knowing what we were supposed to be doing.
When we got crashed it was mid afternoon I’d just drifted off to sleep and woke up with a jump as I heard the metal steps outside the room clattering with some one flying up them. That sound wakes me up with a start every time, when ever I’m sleeping at IRT I’m always lying there wondering if it’s going to happen. Will we get crashed out or won’t we? Even when I’m asleep my senses must still subconsciously be waiting for some one to come up the steps and though the door giving us the news “you’ve got a job!” every time I hear bumping or banging I wake up with a start ready to fall into my kit and out the door and every time its either nothing or some one popping in with dinner, breakfast or just to say hello on there way to the ops room. This time though it was a real job not lunch.
We all jumped out of bed and picked up our kit which is always packed ready to go. Ever thing is always kept close to hand as we need to move straight away and board the heli, speed is essential as the medics have to get to the casualties as fast as possible to give the patients the best chance of hospital treatment within the golden hour.
Once we got on the heli we don’t know where we’re going or what sort of incident we’re going to. The pilots, medics, loady and our team commander have headsets linked into the Sea King so they can all talk to each other but the remaining 3 of us don’t, we remain relatively in the dark as to what’s happening. As a four man team we do have our own comms that we use once we’re on the ground but that’s no use t o us on board the sea king. The team commander usually puts the mouth piece of his comms with us inside the headset from the sea king leaving it on permanent send so we can here what’s happening but over the roar of the sea king it’s very hard to make out through our small light weight headsets. So really we rely on a bit of charades and shouting with Chris our team commander. We were first told on the strip running towards the chopper we were going up as top cover, so the heli would fly round above the incident incase it was needed but this time it turned out we were going to land.
Chris shouted to me we were landing in 2 minutes, there were some serious casualties and then gestured a chopping motion over his leg implying one had lost a limb. My thought process then went into preparation, mental preparation bearing in mind I’d never seen or experienced any thing like I was about to, the last thing I’d want is to freeze or puke and lots of other ridiculous things that flashed through my mind. I new I’d be alright though as I did have the right frame of mind, dig in and get in with it, think about it later, once it was over.
The sea king rolled round steeply, we could see through the windows we were flying low over Basrah city along the river, from up high Basrah looks just as I’d imagined, dry and dusty a random patch work of squares walled areas that may be gardens or courtyards, small houses made from rough brown dusty brick, lots of grey shades to them as breeze blocks seem to be the popular building blocks over here. From up there the roads were just thin dusty strips randomly weaving between the buildings. We were flying low enough to see children running around and rest of Basra’s populous going about there business, its hard to picture what it would be like to live in this environment. In the UK if you saw a sea king flying low above your homes with a gunner hanging out the side all the children would be out in the street, staring up in amazement but here they just carry on as if nothings wrong, they’ve all seen and heard so much in there lives already I’m sure nothing surprise’s them.
The heli started banking steeply again and there was several large bangs as chaff was fired from the heli’s defenses, we new this was nothing to worry about its activated automatically by sensors all round the heli as soon as a threat is detected it dispenses chaff but this can be caused by reflections off the water hitting the sensors. After a quick cursory glance at the loady I new it was nothing to worry about, if the loady looks calm enough hanging out the side door with his gpmg (machine gun) you know its ok. Eventually we came into land, Chris shouted to me we had landed at he Shat, the Shat being the Shatal Arab hotel, now a British base location for the Basrah battle group, the Highlanders. There were no signals to get out yet and as we can’t hear what’s going on we sat tight, we could see they were all talking over the sea kings comms and the medics were getting there kit ready so we just made sure we were ready to jump out as soon as some one gave us the signal. After what seemed like an eternity we were ushered out of the heli, the medics jumped out first and as we jumped out we could see we were on a secure landing site surrounded by hesco (huge wire baskets filled with sand and stones to provide blast protection), so we had landed in the Shat not outside it. My first thoughts had been we were landing on a road outside the shat as an IED had been detonated hitting a call sign and we would have to get out and provide all round protection for the medics and help with casualties. As I climbed out the down draft from the propellers was throwing dust up into my face luckily I had my goggles on so I could still see, so I kept my head down and semi blindly ran forwards till I was a safe distance from the chopper. It took a few minutes before we new fully what was going on as the medics were in discussions with people already on the ground. As we weren’t being used we were out of the loop for the time being, eventually Chris came back to us and explained. A civilian close protection team had been hit by an IED(road side bomb) about 800m away form the Shat, being non military they don’t have communications with the military and no one new they’d been hit until the injured members of the team had been brought to the front gate of the Shat by Iraqi civilians. The fact Iraqi civilians brought the injured men to a British camp shows how the mood towards the multinational forces is good, as in the past there’ve been incidents of bodies being dragged round city streets as I’m sure you’ve seen on the news at times.
Now we new what was going on we then found out what the plan was, the casualties were being stabilized in the tiny med centre at the shat so the medics jumped in some transport and went down to the med center to deal with the casualties and assess what to do, who to move first etc. While the medics did that we had to wait, as we were within the protection of the shat we didn’t need to do anything so we just waited until the first ambulance came with the more serious casualty on. We got up and ran over to the back doors, we new we’d be needed to lift the stretcher of the ambulance onto the heli. I had a million things going through my mind, we were about to deal with something none of us had experienced before, I had a churning feeling in my stomach almost like butterflies before a public appearance. The back doors to the ambulance flew open and we all got our first slice of reality pie…..