In the first of a new series of articles, our special columnist tells what life is like after swapping the Borders for Afghanistan.
Although from the Borders, where he lives with his family, security concerns still mean our correspondent has to use a pseudonym – ‘Union Jack’.
He takes up the story:
The official letter arrived on Thursday, September 12, asking me to mobilise the following Monday.
So I went from driving tractors in the Borders one week, to driving to Portsmouth the next and, 21 years to the day after I first joined the Royal Navy, I found myself back at naval stores.
This time, however, I wasn’t drawing naval uniform, but several thousand pounds-worth of the latest multi-terrain pattern clothing, including body armour and my general service respirator. After dealing with the paperwork required to rejoin the navy, it was off to Plymouth for weapons training, as it had been 10 years since I’d last fired the SA80 rifle.
It’s had extensive redesign to improve it, while my eyesight has not.
However, I still hit the target enough times overall to pass, as I did with my 9mm Glock pistol.
It was then back to Portsmouth for pre-deployment training – compulsory for all naval personnel deploying to Afghanistan.
Our group included intelligence officers, surgeons and a pilot, as well as me, a public affairs officer.
We also had a special operations Royal Marine, who helped me adapt to living in the field, as opposed to ploughing it.
Given our ultimate destination it was not hard to remain focused, whether learning to locate Improvised Explosive Devices, respond to insurgent attacks or providing emergency first aid.
The second week culminated in a sustained night assault on our forward operating base.
After thousands of rounds of blank ammunition and simulated rocket attacks, future Guy Fawkes Nights will seem tame.
Suitably trained, I had just a couple more days to pack, travel to London for briefings, as well as trying to spend a final few hours with my family.
Six weeks after receiving that letter, I would be driving away for six months.