Monday 22 August 2011

A proper book review

I pulled the pin on being a part time soldier 20 years ago. I was silly enough to volunteer to serve, and no one ever shot at me. My service had the usual ups and downs - being in the infantry was the most physically and mentally challenging thing I have ever done, and there were nights when I was woken up to man the gun and I was soaked and frozen and utterly knackered and I cursed the day I signed up. On the other hand, when the sun came up and the exercise finished and we stood around and had a beer or 20, it was great to look back on what we'd achieved.

I guess it was like doing a marathon - utterly awful up until the point where you cross the finish line, and then it becomes very fulfilling. Apart from the leeches and the ticks and the flies and the mosquitoes and the hypothermia and the heat exhaustion and the buggered back and the life expired rations and worn out equipment left over from Vietnam and the warm beer and the lack of sex and sleep and the blisters and the cam cream that you couldn't wash out of your ears for weeks, it was great. Really - I thoroughly enjoyed most of my service. If you have a certain kind of mindset, the Infantry can be perversely enjoyable. I couldn't get enough of doing contact drills - I guess that says it all. But if you don't have that mindset, I reckon it would be worse than a penal colony in a malaria infested swamp.

But my service was at my discretion - the Reserves were desperate for men, so they didn't get upset if we decided to go to the pub instead of to a parade, or went to birthday parties instead of showing up for the occasional incredibly boring weekend camp. And I could leave any time I liked. The longest stretch that I was in uniform was about 3 weeks at a time - when I did advance party and rear party for an exercise. I got to try it to see if I liked it - and when I found that I like it, I stuck around. Plenty tried it and hated it and we never saw them again.

I can't imagine what it would be like to have no choice in the matter - to be told you were serving no matter whether you wanted to or not, and knowing that there was no way out. You were just stuck with it for a period of time that was not your choice - and tough shit to that. Your life, your dreams, your future were all buggered up on the whim of a ball in a barrel. Plus there was the small problem of being sent to a war where a lot of very determined people were trying very hard to kill you.

So I take my hat off to those that were called up and went and did their duty whether they wanted to or not. We are so used to having the freedom to choose what we want to do - Nashos didn't have that luxury. You can do yourself a favour by buying this book and reading about it for yourself.

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