Written by Alex Jones, check out more of his articles and full profile here at Linkedin
I was recently asked, “Do you miss it”?
It’s not the first time I’ve been asked it, and it’s a question every veteran is asked at some point.
The answer is always the same, for most anyway…. “Absolutely”
“But why”? Is normally the response to my answer.
Now that question is harder to answer, because if I’m honest, I really don’t know why myself. Normally I just shrug it off by saying “the buzz” and not think too much into it.
However, having left the army nearly 4 years ago now, I still can’t help feeling like I’ve lost a huge part of my life.
People join the army for various reasons, financial reasons, lack of other job prospects or in some cases, just because its family tradition. For me, it was just something I felt I needed to do, a sort of calling, because as far back as I can remember, I had always wanted to be a soldier. It was never a career choice that was forced in to my mind and I don’t come from a family with a military background. It’s just something I always wanted to do. I guess it is just a sort of calling for some and so I joined the military when I was 17.
I wasn’t an underachiever at school and could’ve chose a trade, gone to university or even chose a more technical role within the armed forces, but nothing appealed to me more than being an infantry soldier.
The infantry are the fighting force, always at the front and in the thick of the action. All wars are won by the infantryman, regardless of an army’s arsenal, it is the infantryman that ultimately raises the flag and that’s where I needed to be.
Anyone can be in the army, but just being in the army doesn’t earn you the title of soldier. That title is a privilege and one that must be earned through combat.
So I became an infantryman and that’s where I remained for nearly 11 years. Was it everything I hoped it would be, as a naive young recruit standing in the selection centre?
80% of my military career was spent training and being cold, wet, tired and shouted at, as we’ll as standing around waiting a lot. There is rarely a day that goes by when a soldier doesn’t complain about something, and I was no exception.
I hated the bullshit that came with being in the army and that is definitely a part of it I don’t miss.
These days I do love being (for lack of a better word) a civilian, and the freedom to make my own choices that comes with that title. So why do I constantly feel this sudden urge to soldier again?
Not just an urge be in the army again, but to be deployed in an operational theatre of war. Why do I crave that so much?
Am I crazy, sick, or am I just so institutionalised that my mind can’t escape the need to carry out what I have been trained for, over and over again?
These are questions I often find pondering to myself. Is there something wrong with me, am I broken?
Why the hell would any normal person want to go back to a war zone, right?
When you live every day being drilled to conduct operations, to close with, engage and kill the enemy, then I suppose that just becomes your normality after a while.
Now I’m not saying every soldier is psychotic, like a robot programmed for war and set to kill mode, because that is obviously not true. It’s just when you spend your life training for something, it’s only natural to want to put that training to practice. Yet nobody knows the true consequences of war better than those who have fought them.
So again, why this feeling of nostalgia when I think of it?
When I reflect on my own experiences of Iraq and Afghanistan, I remember the intense feeling of apprehension every time we walked outside the relative safety of our patrol base, knowing that where we were situated we were highly likely to be fired upon at some point. Not to mention the fact that the area was littered with improvised explosive devices and in most cases, we were probably no further than 50 meters away from one at any time.
I have witnessed first-hand the horrors of war, the blood, the death, the carnage and the devastating impact on the innocent population that are unfortunately caught up in the madness. I have witnessed humanity at its very worst.
After being shot, blown up and mentally battered by the enemy, why on earth would I want to return to such an environment?
These are the things that should stand out in my mind, as a reminder of why I should never want to return, yet they don’t. In fact, the horrors of Iraq and Afghanistan are things which rarely come to the forefront of my mind on reflection.
I have learned to push these images and memories aside, focusing more on the good times. This is the reason why I miss it so much, because although there were definitely bad experiences, there were also some amazing experiences during my deployments.
When most people ask themselves why they miss it, they always assume it’s due to the buzz you get. That surge of adrenaline which pumps through your body during a contact. It’s unlike anything else, and nothing even comes close to it off the battlefield. True, this is something which most soldiers spend their life trying to replicate once they leave, but it’s not just that buzz alone which I miss.
Being on tour is a lot more than just being pumped with adrenaline. You experience things you would never get in a normal environment. The comradery and the bonds you build with those alongside you, it’s a sense of brotherhood you won’t find anywhere else.
The shared experiences between those involved in such situations are things which no one else will ever understand. This alone makes you feel a sense of detachment from anyone who wasn’t there when you come home, leaving you feeling like at sort of outcast.
I miss my brothers!
The feeling you get when you find an IED, knowing that it was planted there with the intention of killing you, your brothers or some poor civilians. The realisation you prevented the device from committing its intended purpose and potentially saved a life, or lives, in the process. It’s a feeling of purpose, a sense that you are making a real difference, regardless of what the media would like people back home to think.
I miss saving lives; I miss stopping the bad guys and miss that sense of achievement.
Being a soldier has taught me many things, both about life and myself. It’s made me realise that life is too precious to squander and too short to worry about bad decisions or missed opportunities.
By the time I was 25 years old, I had already experienced things that very few will experience in their entire lifetime, and things that most never will experience.
I have endured things that most people would believe they are incapable of enduring. Even now, the thought of operating in +40c heat whilst carrying upwards of 65lbs of equipment, weapons, ammunition and water, in boots, body armour, helmet and full combat attire, and through some of the most inhospitable environments on the planet just seems crazy to me.
Had it not been for the fact that I had done that, then I would swear I would never be capable of doing it. War has shown me what I am capable of achieving and I’m thankful for that.
Everyone asks themselves the “could I do it question”? Or tells them-self “I couldn’t do that”, and I was guilty of this myself, but now I know. I can do that and so can you!
I have restrained myself in situations where most would think they’d lose control, and I have unleashed myself in situations where most would think they’d freeze. I have pushed myself to what I thought was my limit, and then blasted my way through the wall. I have admitted when I’ve been defeated and then dragged myself back up, out of the dirt. I have survived through situations most would think impossible, and it is these experiences which have made me.
People say “you’ll never come back from a war zone the same person”, it changes you”.
I agree, but not that it changes you for the worse. True, I have seen the terrible acts people have inflicted on their fellow man through war, but I have also seen the amazing and selfless acts carried out in order to prevent such terrible acts.
War has the ability to bring out the worst in people, but it also brings out the best in others. There is no better life tutor than war and it taught me some valuable lessons. It forged my personality and made me who I am today. After telling myself “I will never make it home from here alive”, and accepting my fate, I now have a new appreciation for the life I’ve been granted.
After seeing those poor souls who live every day in a war-torn country, children who know nothing other than being in a country at war and those whose lives have been turned upside down by it, I now have a new appreciation of what I have. Those privileges that we all too often take for granted back home, we are the lucky ones for sure.
These things I’ve experienced, bad and good, I now know that I am lucky to have had the opportunity for and I am grateful for them. These lessons and experiences have ensured I will live my life to the fullest now, and appreciate every day for what it brings, good or bad.
As I’ve already said, life is way too short and too easily taken away; it’s definitely not a gift to be wasted. Enjoy every day and make the most of.
After all this, I now understand why I miss it.
It’s not war that I miss, but who I was during war, and those I was with. It brought out the best in me and those I served with.
It’s not the buzz I miss, it’s the lessons learned about myself and life that war taught me. Every day is a school day!
It’s the sense of true purpose you feel during operations, the notion that you are truly making a difference to people’s lives that I miss.
A Samuel Johnson quote, which was lost on me up until now finally makes sense.
Every man thinks meanly of himself for not having been a soldier
To 99% of people this quote means nothing, because how could anyone who is not, or never has been, a soldier understand what they have missed out on?
Even to those serving a, quote like this is laughable, because who in their right mind would want to do this shit for a living, right?
It is only now, after living that life, I can truly appreciate the meaning of this quote, because knowing what I know now, had I not have chosen to be a soldier then I would most definitely think meanly of myself.
So next time you ask a veteran why they miss it, don’t just take their answer of “the buzz” as a reason, and next time you as a soldier wonder why you miss it, know that it’s not because you’re crazy, just look a little deeper to find the answer.
Remember who you are and what you used to be!
This great article was written by Alex Jones. Alex is a Accredited Freelance Trainer and Consultant. Article is reposted with his permission.
Check out more of his articles and full profile here at Linkedin
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