New Boots and Ponchos! (amended)

I have had a number of emails and comments from people regarding the debate about how will equipped the forces are in Iraq and Afghanistan.  It is always a difficult question to answer, because since the dawn of time if you give blokes kit they want more and better kit and you never really get an accurate picture of what they have or don’t have in the field.

I have no doubt, that in cave man days you could hand out a fearsome club only to hear blokes moaning that such and such unit has flint headed spears and bear skins.  Personally, I don’t think you can go wrong having your club in your hand and slipping into a nice warm beaver, but I digress.

The thing in the papers at the moment is, that this government has cut corners and not bought essential kit.  I have no doubt that it is as true today as it was under Mrs Thatcher and the conservatives.

The talk at the moment is about the use of the snatch landrover but going back to the tories there were a few examples of equipment fiascos.

The poncho is one of the best bits of kit an infantry man can have.  It keeps you and your kit dry when it is raining and with a few bungees and some crafty know how it turns into a basha (which is a sort of bivi/tent).   Absolutely essential part of our kit and a trendy fashion statement too!  However Mrs Thatcher cancelled them and other essential bits of kit so as to help pay for trident missiles.  Do you remember those?  It doesn’t matter if the cannon fodder gets wet because we would have Trident or more to the point MrsT would have her tongue up the arse of President Regan.  Of course the more cynical might suggest that certain people close to MrsT and her government got fat back handers for buying something we were never likely to use.  You might say that, I couldn’t possibly comment.

The second example is footwear.  A very basic but essential bit of a squaddies kit.  In the Falklands trench foot was a big problem because the boots just were not right for the conditions.  They were shite in fact, total and utter bollocks, but that didn’t matter because the truth was nobody in government really cared.  Oh yeah they said the right things “I have sent Mr Parkinson down to Dolcis and he has bought some new loafer for our boys”  but the truth is it was and is too little too late.

In the first gulf war and most blokes had to buy  their own goggles and desert boots, because there were not enough to go round.  OK it all happened a bit quick like by then there is gulf war 2 and fuck me the same thing.  Duh lets fight a war where there lots of sand,  but they don’t need the right boots or goggles because the enemy will run away when they see us coming.  Yeah right!

In fact almost all my unit bought their own kit and specialist always buy their own stuff.

So you see nothing much changes despite the party colours, they talk a good job and make the right noises but in reality the talk falls short of being meningful.

However some things have changed so much and are so readily available that people have lost the ability to function without them.  Night vision equipment for example.  I will accept that it sure beats eating two tons of carrots a day in the hope they will help you see in the dark, but like all things there are pros and cons to them and one should not rely on them 100%. If you do you are stuffed should they fail or for some other reason they are not available.

The same way with air support.  I dont want to comment on individual cases but expecting a helicopter with a winch to turn up at a moments notice in the middle fo a fire fight aint too realistic.  It might be in Rambo films or dies hard 96 but in real life – sorry.

We often find ourselve in less than than favourable situations and you can do one of two things.  Number one is to out think and out fight the opposition and number two is to make what we refer to as a “Tactical withdrawal and regroup” ie fuck off to a safe distance and have a rethink.  We rarely have the luxury of air support.  Mind you, in my experience, if you are relying on the Americans, god bless ’em, you  are generally safer without the gunships.

I suppose the fact that these wars are now fought under the media spotlight has also changed things and we do seemed to have lost sight of the little fact that in armed conflict soldiers get killed.  It is a pisser when it happens and I know I have been lucky and several great friends have not been so fortunate, but it is the nature of the job I am afraid.  We see stuff ion the news and try to balance it with things we have seen in action films.  You would be amazed at how many people do not realise that films are entertainment, fiction and that they use so much artistic licence.  I am talking about professional people like barristers, doctors and coroners.

As I said, technical kit and communications have changed so much both in the military and civilian worldthat we have all  come to rely on it so much.  I mean how long can you go without checking your email or mobile phone.  If you cannot get hold of someone on their mobile everyione thinks something dreadful has happened not that the phone is out of juice, broken or even just in a drawer somewhere.

I accept that it is very useful and I admit to using gadget and gizmos and it can be very useful, but I am beginning to think that people have almost lost the ability to function without it.  The following examples illustrate not just how we rely on this technology but how it can actually be detrimental and just how unrealistic we are about real life situations.

I was recently asked by a company if I would help in recruiting and training “private security” personnel or “Contractors” who would be working in Iraq and Afghanistan.

They are a responsible company as far as they can be, bearing in mind the theatre of operations that they work in and I know and have worked with most of those running the show.  However it is a awhile since I have been actively involved in recruitment and training like this so I was interested to see the clibre of the person being taken on.

The applicants who were either still serving soldiers or had left the military in the last twelve months would have three days of assessment.

I was sent to a location in Hampshire with two blokes and a lady who together run the company’s personnel department or is it called the  HR department, I forget.

On day 1 they  held a series of interviews and aptitude tests with the applicants.  It was all very scientific and asymmetric.  I just stood around being “part of the team” and “Impartial observer” whilst the lady and two chaps got stuck into their roles.

Day 2 I was joined by BF, SB and Boris and we moved on to the practicals such as first aid, weapon handling, unarmed combat and some basic field craft and procedures which were overseen by the “personnel team”.  Needless to say some of the applicants were better than others.  There was a Geordie who was miles ahead of them and a bit of a wit to boot and all of us in my team had him flagged as being top notch.

At the end of the day had a de-brief.  I addressed the group and decided to highlight a couple of weaknesses that had been identified.  I looked at the list and said something along the lines of “Some of you weren’t to hot a creeping through bushed quietly.  Mister….” but before I could go any further the woman stood up and said quite loudly “What are you doing, you cannot single somebody out in front of the group, its humiliating and degrading”

With that the Geordie spoke up “Why aye man just like you’ve hooomilieighted the bossman like.  I say man want to be suing her for emotional trauma and all like”  The group started laughing and so did I, but she did not see the funny side.  “You need to feed back individually so as to encourage rather than disappoint”  she scolded.  Naughty Norman in your basket, bad boy!

I handed her the folder “Sounds fine by me, get on with it then and feed back individually I am sure you will be make a better job of it than we will” and sat down  I waasn’t being huffy just accepting this is her field.  The group looked on. she smiled and then said her smooth management style “Everyone can go except Smith Riley, Jones and Brown”.  So much for sparing their feelings!

The group stood up and Geordie said “Excuse me pet but I feel like these lads is gettin summet special and I feel hoomilieaighted at being excluded like”

She did not see the funny side but we did.

The night of day 2 we did a field exercise.  They were woken up at 2.30am and herded into the wet cold night and had to walk about half a mile before being made to pile in to two transit vans and then dropped off around the training area.  They were given a map and a compass and told to make their way to  point X – which was only 5 miles away- in less than 4 hours.

Out of twenty four applicant only eight made it in the alotted time.  The first back in a time of 90 minutes was the Geordie. Despite being cold wet and tired he was in good spirits. The second bloke was about 30 minutes slower but still ready for a laugh and a brew.

To be fair there  were a couple who were ten minutes over time, but the rest……….bloody hopeless.

The training area was a bit hillyish with scrub, gorse bushes and trees and should have been familiar to them as it was stones throw from bloody Aldrershot,  It was not  the rain forests of the Amazon for crying out loud. Words fail me and I can tell you that’s a rare event.   It was not a hard task, they knew they were not being hunted or going to be attacked.  All they had to do was to go from A to B using a map and compass.  The area is festooned with paths and tracks worn down by thousand of brutalised soldiers of ther years.

The reasons they gave for doing so badly and this is in no particular order was that it was dark, wet, they couldn’t see, it was tough terrain, they didn’t know where they were, they were tired, the map wasn’t very clear, the compass didn’t work right,  but the reality was that every man jack of them was no longer used to using a map and a compass because they had all expected to use GPS.

Day 3 started with a briefing.  This was going to be a movement of vehicles which would end with them deploying to a training area where they would patrol and carry out property searches.  They knew they would be attacked at some point on the exercise and of course we didn’t disappoint.  They weren’t bad to be fair and worked well as a team and moved well.  However the Geordie stood out like set of dogs bollocks when it came to leadership and initiative plus he spoke French and Spanish.  At one point we had engaged them and BF shouted something to me in French and the Geordie quick as a wink had it translated and shouted our intentions to his team and got one of the others to relay it to team B.  When we tried the same trick in Spanish he was on the ball again.

Amongst us and the other applicants they knew he was either SAS or SAS material not because he is a super man or well ard like, but because he has that something.  In the end the applicants did a really good job despite never having worked together and having come from different units etc.

We sat down with the personnel people to go over our notes and observations.  Whilst there was nobody who was truly terrible there were some who were weak and who you knew would become casualties, but that’s the army.  To cut a long story short, they liked the weakest candidates best.  I suppose they wouldn’t moan or be too bolshie and cause them the company any grief.  The only candidate they rejected was – you’ve guessed it the Geordie – because he showed too much initiative and was outspoken and rude.  Clearly this woman didn’t feel a grunt should hoomilieight her when she is on 100K +.

But you know one mans poison is another mans nectar and his rejection by them was good news for us because we snapped him up.

The second example is the mobile telephone.  A massive number of women who are attacked or run over were talking or texting on their mobiles at the time.  Why? Because they are not paying attention to their surroundings.  Everyone goes on about people using their phone when they are driving and just think that you can yak away when walking, but it just isn’t so.  And ask yourself this, what is so important.  I suggest that if you have to walk and talk take a leaf from Harry Hills book and kept the message brief and omit non  essential words.  For example “Taggart TV no spare tape” “Home in ten kettle on” or even better still “Norwich”.    Is Taggart still on TV?

There have been cases of US troops being killed whilst on the dog and bone to their loved ones.  I cannot imaging what would posses anyone to use your mobile while on patrol or in a fire fight, but then I am an old fuddy duddy but a live fuddy duddy none the less.

The last example is to do with email.  Below is an extract of a report submitted to a team invetigating the hacking of an internet system used by American military personnel in Iraq. The contents of the emails were quite explicit and have caused familly problems which have in turn have not helped morale…

I know there are a few exceptions, but by in large blokes take a dim view to their best mates fucking their wives and as for sending them photos….the words salt and wound spring to mind.  There have been unfortunate consequencesWhy do we need to have email and internet access in a war zone?  Because if we do it helps for people to stay in touch and for you to see what they are doing while you are away being shot at.  Call me old fashioned but what the eye dont see and ignorance is bliss are just two expression that I can think of.

Got to go the mobile is ringing and I am trying to look at the sat nav and work the indicators of this damend car.

Beam me up Scotty and dont forget my ipod.

4 Responses to “New Boots and Ponchos! (amended)”

  1. dl says:

    Hi UN. Another really good post.

    I’m often astonished at how satnav manages to turn bright people into morons. If I had a pound for every time I’ve heard someone say, “I couldn’t live without it”, I’d be quite comfortable by now. Of course they could: we all managed perfectly well before satnav became available to the masses. My secret formula for getting to places is… look at a map before you set off. I reckon the reason most blokes claim it’s indispenible is that they bought it just because people (men, mostly) are unable to resist buying the latest techno gadget and, having bought it, they then have to justify it.

    You’re probably well aware of squaddies’ view of their super(-ish) new BOWMAN radio system: it stands for “Better Off With Map And Nokia”.

    Must admit though, one aspect of new technology that I’ve become totally reliant on is the mobile phone. I use it all the time for juggling keeping in touch with both work and family (5 kids, who rarely seem to be in the same place at the same time), and I reckon things would be much more difficult without it.

  2. JH says:

    Norm you are right, the kit is always rubbish and in short supply. Crimea, WW1, WW2, Korea and of course the Falklands. Mr Cameron is a funny bloke because he says that a Tory government would look after our lads but they were in power for almost every war this country has been involved in. Politicians have vivid imaginations but short memories!

  3. Bendy Girl says:

    Norwich! I’ve not seen that expression for years but it has such happy memories attached! BG

  4. havingmycake says:

    LMAO. Are you sending me subliminal messages because NORWICH came into my head unexpectedly as I was cycling at about 2.45 yesterday afternoon and I have no idea what triggered it!

    I have a row with my satnav pretty much every time I use it as it seems to want to send me on some of the most extraordinary routes. And she sounds so disappointed when it says ‘Recalculating’…

    As a civilian, it just seems beyond belief that any army should be improperly or inadequately equipped… but then I also wonder at the state of the Health Service, the privatisation of all our transport networks and utilities and then them being sold off to foreign companies…

    … and dont get me started on the pc concept of human resources. Although your transcription of Geordie had me in stitches because I could hear him speaking in my head. I love an accent, me. Fabulous stuff 🙂

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