Ten years ago, 16th Air Assault Brigade, including 3 PARA, were deployed to Afghanistan.
The government of the day stressed that the British forces were part of a NATO-led peacekeeping force and emphasised the difference between their role and the US-led force that was engaged in hunting militants.
Whatever the intent, we know that the outcome was very different and our troops were rapidly engaged in a very real and increasingly bloody war in Afghanistan while still engaged in Iraq.
Our young men and women, ordinary 'blokes', showed extraordinary courage, they always do. Brian Budd VC died alone charging some Taliban in a field of maize and Mark Wright GC died while trying to save his mates in a minefield. Their citations talk of their almost unbelievable courage and leadership, reading like something from the World Wars rather than actions that took place only a few years ago.
We will always remember El Alamein, D Day or Arnhem but will we always remember Sangin, Musa Qala or Nad E' Ali? They may have been smaller, more focussed actions than the bloodbaths of the Somme and Monte Cassino but to those who fought there the fear, the courage and the banter will have been the same.
None of us can imagine what it must have been like to land on the D Day beaches in 1944 but the film, Saving Private Ryan and its opening sequences give us as authentic a feel as we could get without having to witness it first hand. For the war in Afghanistan there is a film that gives us something of the same authentic experience; Kajaki.
Anyone who saw the film would have been stunned by the experience. The difference for us though, was that the actors represented people who we know, were injured at Kajaki and were in the audience for the premier. The men who went into that minefield are still living with their injuries and Mark Wright's family is still living without him.
Ten years ago our men and women went into Afghanistan, millions of bullets were fired and thousands were killed or wounded. Most came home but Afghanistan will never leave them. Others will have their Afghanistan, their Iraq, their Balkans, their Falklands, their Northern Ireland or any number of easily forgotten, comparatively minor conflicts. They may not rate against the big ones and they may not have made such an historic mark but to those who were involved, they will never be the same as they were. Peacekeeping might have been the intent but it was not the outcome; we are still living with the consequences.
These anniversaries are not publically marked every year, but we must remember the people who are asked to serve and make sure we are prepared to look after them when they need support.
As they grow older, we must ensure that we, the fortunate who watched while they fought, do our bit to help them when they need us. That's not much to ask is it?
Onwards and Upwards
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