How Does It Sound to People If You Recount Being Shot at, Mortared or Bombed? Can Anyone Truly Understand What Our Brave Troops Go through at War? in a Highly Personal Account on Armed Forces Day, Alan Hawley, Who Served in the Forces for 34 Years, Explains Why Nothing Can Truly Portray the Horrors of Conflict
Byline: Alan Hawley
WE HAVE all been there - that moment when you are asked "What did you do in the Army?" It's an innocent enough question and seems quite simple to answer. Don't be deceived; it can be really difficult to tackle.
How do you answer? Do people really want to know or are they merely being polite? I have got my response wrong on so many occasions now that I am wary of any answer. Why is this? Why is it so difficult to explain what I did in 30 odd years of my life? Is it me or is it deeper than that? One of the problems is the separation between the normal and the ordinary that we all experience in everyday life and those activities that soldiers routinely undertake. Mercifully for most of us being shot at or bombed is unlikely to happen.
As for death or traumatic injury, these are things that we see through the sanitising lens of films or TV dramas.
However, for many in uniform this is an everyday occurrence.
Afghanistan and Iraq have seen levels of fighting and engagement that whole generations of our country have not witnessed.
If you believe that pictures from the TV can give that picture, then you clearly haven't been there. The violence of modern small arms fire is shocking.
Even if it misses, as the round hits a tree or the ground it is quite simply incredible.
No doubt the physics of this energy transfer is fascinating, but for the soldier at the receiving end it is a shock.
Don't believe the dramatics of cowboy films as people are shot. The reality is an emotional and physical jolt.
To see others around being hit is disturbing. The wonder is that the Army continues to fight with all its skills and enthusiasm.
This is proof that the men and women in the Army are of the highest calibre.
This experience sets soldiers apart. I now understand why my grandfather refused to talk about his war experience.
How can you describe something that is so far removed from the ordinary? It is a process that complicates relations with civilians including one's family. Only those that have been there know what it is like.
They are the ones that you share with. They understand.
They also feel the isolation that operational experience can bring.
Happily, the Army is a society that helps share these feelings.
The fact that your duty has been done is appreciated by those around you.
It is an extended family. Many of my civilian friends I know want to understand.
They sympathise, empathise and encourage.
But to talk about what you have done or seen is to risk being seen as bragging. …