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Behavioural Conflict Blog

Why Understanding People And Their Motivations Will Prove Decisive In Future Conflict

The Cenotaph 10 November 2013 - jokers and old soldiers

on in General Posts

imageIn the great US series ‘Band of Brothers’ Major Dick Winters, in an interview to camera, recalls a letter he received from Sgt Mike Rannay:  ”I cherish the memories of a question my grandson asked me the other day when he said, ‘Grandpa, were you a hero in the war?’ Grandpa said ‘No… but I served in a company of heroes.’”

This weekend I had the privilege of marching alongside over 10,000 heroes who descended on Whitehall from every corner of the world.  It was both a humbling, emotional and hugely fun day. The banter amongst the assembled marching platoons was full on; the now rather elderly ladies of the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry (F.A.N.Y) blushed red as they moved onto parade to the sound of wolf whistles from chaps who really were old enough to know better and the Navy PTIs marched to cat calls of ‘feet together - begin’ (you have to be ex military to understand that).  But as Big Ben chimed eleven, quiet descended and people were left alone with their thoughts.

And then the march past - with huge crowds lining the pavements of Whitehall to applaud. I was much taken by a very elderly man with the white beret of the Russian Convoy association who was supported either side by much younger ladies.  He was clearly determined to pay his respects despite his obvious difficulty with walking. From behind me one of my former C/Sgts snorted that it was typical that a ‘matelot had got the girls’.  Such is service banter.

Afterwards I was asked to speak with the BBC about 15 (UK) PsyOps presence on parade and with whom I was marching. I found myself stood next to Private Heath Jamieson from the Australian Army.  Heath has been shot through the head, the bullet passing through his neck and ripping out the top discs of his spine. Whilst we were waiting to go live the BBC’s Sophie Wrayworth asked him how much pain he was in today. He told her that he wasn’t going to discuss that on air (although admitted he was in huge pain) as he wanted to focus on the walk to the arctic he was doing for ‘Walking with the Wounded’.  Typical proud soldier and a true hero.  A giant of a man I suggested he had made a school boy error in forgetting to duck in Afghanistan. Sophie looked shocked; Heath laughed  his head off but we were saved from further banter by the producer waving frantically that we were about to go live.

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When I got back home I sat reading the weekend papers and found that former rock artist Bryan Adams is launching a new photographic exhibition and book of photos of the wounded from Iraq and Afghanistan.   If anyone wonders why so much effort and time is put into the Royal British Legion poppy day collection they have only to look at the photograph of Rifleman Craig Ward who aged 18 suffered terrible injuries in Afghanistan.  

Long after the TV cameras have gone home and people have forgotten about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan Craig and many more like him will be battling everyday of their lives.  

Very occasionally the reputation of the Armed Forces is questioned. The actions of a tiny number of individuals such as the Royal Marine found guilty of murdering a Taliban fighter are not representative of the many hundreds of thousands who have served with such dignity and respect.  They are owed a huge debt of thanks by our country and it was a privilege to march alongside them.

This photo I found on Twitter seems rather apt:

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