Last week in Crikey, Jeff Sparrow asked how high a price are we willing to pay in Afghanistan? The wife of a solider serving in the strife-torn region — and with the two Australian diggers killed last week — says those serving believe in the cause. She wrote this before the deaths of three more troops yesterday.
I’m the wife of an EOD technician presently deployed in Afghanistan, and the mother of his children. Considering he is one of those soldiers currently “poking for IEDs on a road” over there (except he’s not in Kabul), I should probably have a view on our role in Afghanistan. I really don’t.
But I want to speak on behalf of our soldiers. My husband lives in a tent most of the time, eats dust with every meal and carries upwards of 50 kilograms of stuff in 50-degree heat every time he walks off the base (and they do LOTS of walking).
He had been doing EOD work with Sappers Smith and Moerland the day before they died, had been training with them in the months previous to their deployment and heard the blast that killed them. He also lost another mate over there last year.
He knows that each time we speak might be the last. He knows all too well the realities of the Afghanistan conflict and “fighting terrorism”. Despite this, he’s not under any illusion that this is their only mission — he is smart enough to know that there are myriad reasons for them being over there.
However, when he is asked, he tells you that he does what he does because his skills can keep his colleagues alive. He does what he does because he’s bloody good at it and somebody needs to be. He is there because he really believes that the NATO mission will make a difference to the Afghan people.
Sure, that may seem naive to the critics but that doesn’t make his reasons any less valid. I think that it just makes them honourable — that he would do all this in the belief that, somehow, it will make a stranger’s life better.
He has spent the past 12 years of constant exercises and training and time away from home crafting his ‘trade’. Imagine training in your given field for over a decade and never actually getting to practice it for real. The boys have trained for this and this is what they want to do.
I doubt there is anybody over there who doesn’t want to be there. They have chosen this career and they just want to do the job they have trained hard for. They want to do it for real. For themselves. For their mates. Maybe for what some would say is a misplaced sense of honour. And to “make a difference” to people they see as needing help, because they truly believe that what they are doing there IS helping, in some way.
To simply state that the soldiers have been “lied to” cheapens their intelligence. It makes them sound gullible, and they aren’t. It infers that the years, the blood and sweat, the time spent away from family and the torment that they suffer when they finally come home is really not worth it in the end, that it has been a worthless pursuit.
Maybe to some commentators it is a worthless pursuit. However, the boys know their reasons for being there. Ask my husband — he fully understands that part of their mission is as a “national insurance policy”, among other things. But he is OK with that, because he is there and is seeing what is actually being achieved on the ground in the meantime. And that, for them, is often worth it.
They have volunteered to do a job that most other people wouldn’t do under sufferance. They don’t see themselves as heroes and they don’t like the title. They just believe that they are doing a job that needs to be done, whether it was them doing it or not.
They — and their families — are very aware that they may not come home. They know that they could easily die and most have come to terms with that. And, as silly as this sounds to some, I know my husband would much rather die “in his boots”, than being hit by a bus, for example. They think that what they are doing is worth the sacrifice.
So, can we please stop writing as though our ADF personnel are just some unfortunate pawns with no say in their plight? If you want to make a point, do it without bringing the troops into it — it only serves to dampen their morale, and they don’t need that at the moment.
Sure, it is unfortunate that we are losing our sons, our husbands (and daughter and wives) and our friends in this conflict. I absolutely dread receiving the fateful knock on my door. But they chose this career and they know the dangers better than anyone, as do their families.
If they don’t understand, then they should investigate alternative employment options.