I JOINED a day after my 18th birthday. I joined in 1988. I was chomping at the bit to join the army. My recruiter told me to wait till I was 18 as I was so keen.
It gave me a bit of time to think about it. At the time I was studying A level art and music. I did my aptitude test when I was 17.
I wasn’t interested in academics at all. I messed around a lot at school. I was impatient. I always felt there wasn’t enough information coming out of teachers’ mouths.
It was tough. The training was pretty tough. It’s three months of just getting shouted at, running around a lot and getting shouted at. Getting shouted at wasn’t my thing. I had a bit of attitude.
I got through the training. Phase two is where I learnt my trade as a mechanic. The things that got me into the army were watching ‘Soldier Soldier’, wanting to travel and peacekeeping. I had an idea that I was going to change the world in a good way. My time in the armed forces showed that this wasn’t the case.
I was in it for six years. I enjoyed it. But I realised it was bullshit. It wasn’t right. So my experience of the army was clubbing, training and having fun and doing adventure exercises. I enjoyed it, but I didn’t quite fit in.
My experience was pretty positive … then it came to the war in Iraq in 2003. We went out in February while we were talking about negotiating with Saddam Hussein. We were sat in Kuwait, all 200,000 of us. So we worked out it was going to be war.
I wasn’t aware of anyone protesting against the war. They had the BBC on, but they must have filtered it out. I thought I was the only one. I felt alone.
A month into my deployment I signed off in the desert in Kuwait, just before we went to Basra. I had to lie. I said I wanted to go to uni, but really it was the nonsense. It was the bullshit. It wasn’t right.
We would pick up the bits of vehicles, which happened more often than not because the Americans were blowing us up – not the Iraqis. I would see a car with a front missing. We didn’t really think of what had happened to the people who had been in the cars.
There was one case when we were asked to retrieve remains from a blast site. We went out there and we collected the ashes of the crew for the relatives. We didn’t know what was ash, what was a piece of metal and what was a body.
We scraped it into a jar so we could send it to them. That was my experience of Iraq and the army. I left because of the war. It took me a while to understand what was going on.
Afterwards, I did a brief study of why we go to war. It turns out that we’re always wanting things. It’s oil or minerals or power. Overall, my experience of war wasn’t bad. It was the politics that was wrong.
My brother joined the army because of me. He joined as a tanky. His experiences were a league away. His accommodation was poor and his commanding officers didn’t really care about what they did in their spare time – which was nothing.
They lived in huts with lots of asbestos. It was in Germany. There was a brothel right outside the camp. That’s what they did in their spare time. They had money and they were bored. You can buy gadgets, you can go to brothels, you can take drugs. That’s it.
It didn’t end well for him psychologically. They didn’t invest in him. He was worthless to them. They invested more in me. I guess with the other guys there they just sat and stewed. When he came back, myself or my other brother couldn’t get sense out of him.
He was paranoid and he was lying. We don’t even know what happened to him in the army. I guess because he didn’t have a physical disability from the army the system didn’t want to know and people didn’t want to know.
I knew him before the army and I can see he still had his traits, but after the army I don’t know … we just didn’t believe what he said.
I helped to set him up with a project in Europe. We were there with him. I was the last one of our group to leave him there for the work he was going to do.
He met someone there. A few months later my brother killed him. He strangled that guy. He was messed up. He only got into that situation because he was in a different world. We couldn’t help him because we didn’t know where he was.
He stayed there with the body behind him and fished. The police picked him up a few weeks later and put him in jail. He didn’t know what was going on.
I’m telling you this because I want to show you that the army can make or break you. It isn’t simply this or this – it deals with human beings so it’s complicated. But the army doesn’t recognise this.
There are a lot of people out there now – a lot of homeless people out there, a lot of people who want to commit suicide, a lot of people who have committed suicide.
I was going to talk about technical aspects of army recruitment. They talk about ‘fun’ in the adverts. They jump off cliffs in the adverts into water. Shooting guns in the training exercises – not in Afghanistan.
I had fun, but my brother didn’t have fun. No one talks about that and that’s what we need to talk about.
Geoff Martin is a member of Veterans For Peace UK. This article was first published on www.commonspace.scot
Well done Geoffrey, this is a bold article. I think many ex soldiers will relate to your experience. As an ex ‘tanky’ based in Germany, I certainly did. My overall experience too was a good one but as you’ve pointed out, it’s not black and white. Peace.
Moral injury is a condition that causes real pain, confusion and illness.
This subject needs to be discussed and brought out of the shadows.