Last Night Another Soldier
It was going to be another long night. The Taliban weren’t giving up those poppy fields as easily as we had first thought. We were now eight years on from when the British Army first rolled into Afghanistan, and we were still aggressive camping, that’s what we call fighting, on both sides of the Helmand River. The whole area was known as the ‘Green Zone’. Basically, hundreds of miles of green fields where the local lads grew maize and poppies.
Sergeant MacKenzie told us that Afghanistan supplied ninety per cent of the world’s heroin and made the Taliban shedloads of money. He said it was up to us to stop it. Clear. Hold and Build was what the Americans wanted us to do. Kick the Taliban out of the area, take control, and then maybe the farmers wouldn’t have to grow poppies for the Taliban no more. Good plan, but the thing is MacKenzie forgot to tell the Taliban. They just kept on coming out of the maize, shooting at us like they never wanted to stop.
That night was my first ever fire fight, and we’d already been hard at it for over four hours. Up until then, I’d only ever practised being a soldier back in the Army Training Centre in Catterick. I’d never actually done it for real.
I was eighteen and had only been in Afghanistan for three weeks. And there I was, stuck behind a mud wall for cover, in a major contact with the Taliban. Not that I’d actually seen the enemy yet. It was so dark out there in the fields, and the maize was so thick, that all I could see was the flash of their weapons pointing towards me when they shot at us. What made it worse was that the flashes seemed to be getting brighter and brighter, which could only mean the Tali were getting closer and closer.
Out of nowhere, a lightning flash from one of their rocket-propelled grenades streaked across the sky. It headed straight towards us. Some of the lads yelled out, ‘RPG!’ but none of us needed the warning; we were already taking cover. After a rocket flash, there was always a couple of seconds of nothing, then boom … you never knew where it was going to hit. Or whether, that time around, it was going to be you.
I got lucky. The rocket hit some rocks about ten metres away from where I was crouched down. I waited a couple of seconds, then got the weapon back onto my shoulder, ready to fire again. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Toki do the same. Even though he was only a couple of metres away, he needed to yell above the sound of the Apache attack helicopters overhead.
‘Briggsy, they’re closing in on the left. They’re nearly on top of us. Move up on the parapet. Go!’
I did what I was told. Toki was my corporal, and when he told you to do something, you did it. He was a big giant of a man from Fiji. Cool, calm, with the world’s flattest nose and hands like shovels. He’d joined the army to make his fortune, he told us. That was a laugh. He’d be hard-pushed on what they paid us. But I was glad he was my boss. I liked him. Even though he was in charge of our patrol, it still felt like he was one of us.
I ran up to the top of the parapet to join Si and Flash. I could hear the Taliban hollering and shouting at us from the other side of the mud