In the latter part of 2007, top military author and ex-Special Forces soldier Cyril Clunge flew to Helmand province, Afghanistan to spend some time with the RAF's elite guard specialists, the RAF Regiment, at Camp Bastion. Clunge - no stranger to action - spent a total of eight weeks on the front line with 'The Rocks'. What he experienced makes for sobering reading.
As an ex-soldier, I'm no stranger to the discomforts and dangers of service life. But what I experienced in Afghanistan has left me in no doubt as to the mettle of our fighting men. I spent two months with the RAF Regiment and by the time my brief 'tour' was up I was ready to throw in the trowel.
The heat, the sandstorms and the odd Taliban bullet was the easy bit. But eight weeks of stagging on, out-of-date newspapers, the same ol' DVDs and jazz mags left me with eyes like saucers I can tell you.
And what these boys endure beggars belief. The facilities were terrible. The sangar stank of piss and someone had left their wank sock pinned to a sandbag. It was humiliating. Others on camp poked fun and even the local kids used to bring us lollipops. I've never experienced anything like it before and I hope to God I never do again.
Corporal 'Smudge' Smith had been out at Bastion for four months and the strains were showing. That last time I'd seen a soldier with such a severe 'thousand yard stare' was a Lance Jack in the RPC who was retiring after twenty two years' service - twenty-one of which were spent staring at the same sandbag. But these guys were the professionals and they were edgy.
'Smudge' admitted it was difficult to turn off from the job. 'I've done five tours out here so far and it does get to you. 'When I'm home on leave I tend to stand outside on the driveway and check the postman and milkman's ID. 'I even shopped my ol' feller as his Mondeo didn't have a valid vehicle pass.'
But 'Smudge' was soon back on tour in the 'Stan' and it was back to normal. 'It's great to be back in the swing of things, but the novelty soon wears off' he admitted. They're made of tough stuff these 'Rockapes', but thankfully, my time was up.
After two months of incessant and almost interminable boredom, I eagerly boarded the Chinook for the flight back to the UK. I was glad to be leaving, but will sleep safer knowing that there are those out there who stag on for our freedom. In the words of John Milton 'They also serve who only stand and wait'.
Also a nicer way of saying "Fuck Off" using the phonetic alphabet. Foxtrot Oscar and its close relative Tango Sierra have been used by generations of squaddies and were derived from the use of the phonetic alphabet during voice procedure in radio communications.