Their bravery is a credit to our island of Ireland


A Soldier's Diary:It has been a pleasure to get to know these men, a privilege to command them.

IT IS a hard thing to hand over 7 Platoon after two years of commanding them. For a month before I have been preparing myself for it, but that does not make it any easier.

In the army, there comes a time to move on, to make way for those coming in behind you, and now it is my turn to move on. I tell myself this as a blackened Sangin [ town] drops away from my view and alone, in thought, I soar into the Helmand [ province] night sky. Still, it feels like desertion.

In the Royal Irish, the officers and soldiers have a uniquely close relationship bound by a collective sense of humour. The officers do not see themselves as superior to those they command.

Due to this closeness, after two years at the helm, I feel like a schoolteacher who is letting go of his class when I say goodbye to 7 Platoon.

I know these men intimately. I know whether they have financial problems; whether their marriage is in difficulty. I know their pasts and their hopes. I have shared shell scrapes and bus journeys with them from Kenya to Cape Wrath. I have sweated and bled with them, cursed and laughed. People have tried to take our lives and together we have taken life.

In my time as a platoon commander I have seen many humbling acts. Ferocious in the face of the enemy, I have seen a section commander from Belfast lead his men through a red hail of bullets to secure a helicopter landing site, to extract a casualty. Another commander exposed himself to the wrath of enemy fire to get his young Rangers to keep moving, to keep them alive.

While you are reading this, young Rangers from Belfast and Kerry, side by side, are sweeping dirt tracks with metal detectors in an IED- [ improvised explosive device] infested town, fully aware of the critical game of dice they are playing every day with their lives and limbs. Their bravery is a credit to our island of Ireland.

And in the midst of the destruction and danger, I have witnessed great tenderness. Jokes and laughs shared with people from the other side of the world who don't know our tongue. Rangers rushing, unarmed, to treat injured civilians and police, with complete disregard for their own safety; doctors battling to save an infant run over by a tractor, air crews risking everything to get her extracted.

And tenderness towards their comrades also: a 19-year-old from the Shankill comforting an 18-year-old from Derry suffering from uncontrollable battle stress.

Throughout it all they have maintained their distinctly Irish sense of humour, and their ability to have the craic no matter what has brought a smile to many faces in Sangin these last six months.

Helmand province is a hard place. While security is improving, it will take years to end the corruption that plagues the civil administration and therefore undermines the elected government. There is a huge gap between the UN-mandated International Security Assistance Force mission enabling the increasingly capable Afghan security services, and the almost non-existent Afghan judiciary.

At the moment, those caught in the act of undermining the state are often released due to lack of courts and prisons.

While personally dubious about the term "global war on terror", in my experience the British presence in Helmand makes operating in these areas harder for terrorists and, therefore, the streets of London safer. The same goes for the heroin industry.

I accept that you might not think that a just cause for an Irishman.

The dangers to which these young Irishmen willingly expose themselves are ever evolving and increasingly lethal. They do so with an attitude and character that I am proud of as an Irishman.

It has been a pleasure to get to know these men, a privilege to command them, but above all else, it has been an honour to serve with them.


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