We crowded around the Special Reconnaissance Vehicle, or SRV, to chew the fat. The SRV is a cut down and improved version of the land rover vehicle the Military has had in service for many years. The roof was chopped off, bigger wheels attached, the suspension bolstered, a gun turret added and, of course, a fridge securely positioned in the back.
It was March in Afghanistan, Helmand Province. It was cold and rainy. We’d just spent the previous night recovering a number of vehicles bogged in the red clay mud that was an integral part of this beautiful countryside.
We were all tired and dirty, but in good spirits. We were in Afghanistan, a number of us on our first deployment and we’d been in our first bit of action a couple of days before. I had a Red Bull in one hand, a Mars Bar in the other and I was talking to some of my good mates with whom I had passed Commando Selection less than 12 months before…
And now we were killing it in the Ghan… what was not to love!
The ‘Iron Maiden’ crew I was talking with were a great bunch of lads. Two of them I went through Special Forces Selection and the reinforcement cycle with, while consuming copious amounts of beer to aid in the journey. The third guy at the vehicle was a 2 Commando legend and great bloke. I’d gotten to know him reasonably well over the last six months and it was comforting knowing he was around if a firefight broke out.
All three men were subsequently killed in different operations over the next few years… such is the nature of war and the profession we'd chosen.
At this moment, however, I was enjoying talking some shit with these boys until suddenly…
Crack, crack, crack…
Incoming small arms rounds started whizzing over our heads and we hit the deck instantly, crouching behind the vehicle. One of the lads jumped up into the gun turret and took control of his .50 Cal machine gun and began returning fire.
I wanted to do the same, but my vehicle was positioned about 30m away in the 7 o’clock position of our company harbour. I was going to have to make a dash for it.
Just as I was about to break position and make a run back to my vehicle, I noticed gunfire coming from within the centre of our harbour. I took a closer look and realised a couple of guys from the very centre of our position were on their guts firing their weapons in the general direction of the incoming fire. Not only had these guys no idea where the enemy fire was coming from, and were basically shooting blind, they were firing their weapons from inside our position with the bullets travelling through a narrow gap between our front vehicles.
These guys were not qualified Commandos, but were support staff who were with us on this particular extended operation to provide specialist skills… running and gunning was not one of them. I casually (and by casually I mean vehemently and frantically) tried to catch their attention to provide them with immediate feedback of their gun-fighting skills, or lack thereof, and get them to cease firing so I could get back to my own vehicle and the Mark 19 automatic grenade launcher that was waiting in my gun turret.
I finally got the attention of the killers in the centre and they held their fire long enough for me to muster all my sprinting ability. Feeling like Usain Bolt, but no doubt looking like Samwell Tarly (Game of Thrones) I dashed the 30 or so metres back to my own vehicle, almost pulling a hammie in the process.
I clambered my way up the vehicle and muscled awkwardly into the turret with my now tightening hamstring. I gripped my Mark 19 with both hands, ready to unleash hell on the idiotic insurgent who decided to interrupt my nutritious breakfast.
I quickly glanced at my gold tops (the grenade launcher’s ammunition, consisting of 40mm high explosive rounds with their customary gold coloured front ends) and grinned slightly, knowing the devastation these bad boys would shortly deliver.
With both thumbs depressing the butterfly trigger simultaneously, I held my breath…
And isn’t this just how life plays out sometimes? You’ve trained hard, you’re prepared, you’ve done all your lead work and planning, you’re mentally in the game and ready for action…
…You’re inoculated to stress, you’re battle ready, your fine motor skills are still functioning, your breathing is controlled and you’re thinking as clearly as possible, you’re primed…
And shit just doesn’t turn out the way you’d like. Life gets in the way, changes the rules and delivers its own game play.
Murphy’s law rears its ugly head and you miss out.
What can you do? What do you do?
You deal with what’s in front of you. You rectify the situation and move forward, ready for your next opportunity.
With rounds continuing to whizz over my head, I got down to business unjamming my weapon and attempting to get into the fight.
The Mark 19 was jammed good and proper. The bolt was fully forward and the big girl was not budging. It took a number of minutes just to pry the weapon open and pull the bolt back before going into the stoppage drills of unloading and reloading.
By that time, the engagement had fizzled out. The enemy had completed their small harassing job and had disengaged and disappeared. I hadn’t fired a single round and it was over.
Just. Like. That.
I was given the obligatory roastings by my teammates who had a good laugh about my misfortune. I certainly couldn’t blame them or get upset as I would’ve done the exact same thing and enjoyed every second had the roles been reversed.
All I could do was learn from the situation, analyse the fault and what went wrong to ensure it didn’t happen again. Nothing else needed to be said; nothing else needed to be done.
I fixed the stoppage, actioned the weapon and was good to go, ready for the next opportunity.
I didn’t have to wait too long.