Saturday, 28 July 2012

Bed too late, up to early...

This week has been a strange one.

I have been pottering along as always but I have been just the right side of shattered to reminisce about things.

There has been a lot of stuff in the news about servicemen having to take on extra duties for the Olympic games but there has been a lot of misreporting and always remember that not everything you read is true... but I thought to myself... this isn't the first time this sort of thing has happened and it certainly won't be the last. From ambulance driver strikes, to firemen strikes. From foot and mouth exterminations to the BSE crisis, British service personnel have stepped into the breach to 'save the day'.

I remember a long time ago, we packed up some helicopters to fly to Mozambique to help out during the terrible floods. Rescue operations, peace time charitable actions, peace-keeping operations, showing the corporate face of the armed forces... a serviceman earns his pay.

The redundancies that have been going on, the reduction in aircraft and regiments...and ships that have been retired.

It would be very easy to say that we were not appreciated and expected to drop everything to help one minute before being shown the door the next.

One event this week proved to me that we are lucky and privileged to be in the armed forces. It wasn't the Olympics. It wasn't the leaving do I went to for a long standing friend who has been posted. It was a wake for a departed colleague.

To cut a long story short, a colleague of ours died. He was 39. He'd been about, visited some not so nice places and done jobs that not everyone enjoyed. Throughout his career he had shown an awful lot of people his 'inner light' and people loved him for it. I'm not suggesting the kiss on the lips sort of love, I mean the love that is shared when you are apart for ten years and when you meet again, it was like you had never been separated. Shared comradeship. The kind of love that you get from being to hell and back whilst still being able to share a smile.

He was as fit as a fiddle... fitter than I would ever hope to be, even ten or 15 years ago. He just stopped living abruptly and passed on.

My saddest feeling is that I didn't know this giant amongst men. I didn't attend the wake because I didn't feel it was appropriate but he got a good send off. From the tip of Scotland, to the depths of Somerset... people came. Even some from overseas. Service, ex-service and civilian. The bar was packed, stories were shared, tears were shed... and a few stomachs were emptied... Many a toast was drank and if he needed a light to guide him on his way, this send off was a roaring beacon.

We are a proud bunch. We go where we are sent, we do what we are required to do, we sleep in whatever we are provided with and we work beside whoever we have to. Through it all, we have the strength that only friends and colleagues and training and a big dose of 'stiff upper lip' can give us.

Yes, we'd love more money! Yes, we'd love our old pensions back! Yes we'd love to think that we were protected from redundancy like we always used to be when there were many more of us in an uncertain, nuclear age. Times have changed. Money is tight and it was only a matter of time before we were going to have to compromise. Civvies have had to do it for years!

If I was told I was being made redundant tomorrow, I would be heartbroken. Why? It must be that I would lose the home I am renting or the decent wage or the opportunities that I am offered... maybe even the variety of jobs that I have to do when other agencies fall down?

No. None of that (although it would be VERY easy to miss all that).

Shared experiences build the best of friendships. Working as a team strengthens those friendships. Sharing troubles and triumphs alike makes those friendships last for ever. But what makes service life different is the continuous posting of personnel. Old friends leave and new ones arrive. You don't know how long you'll be with them so you have to get in quick and find out about them... you never know when you or they may be moved on.

When I retire from the forces, I will be leaving all that behind. All those people who have touched my soul, who have shared the best and worst of times with me. Those who know me by many nicknames (normally along the lines of 'crazy' or 'silver'... or worse)... that is why I would be heartbroken.

I know I have rambled a bit but I felt I wanted to just say a farewell to a fallen colleague.

Safe travels to a wonderful colleague who I sadly never got to meet.

See you from the garden of remembrance.

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