GREEN LINES

Army Sergeant Major Glenn Haughton, the senior non-commissioned officer in the British Army has recently published a set of six ‘Green Lines’. He describes them, not as a code or test but ‘the lines that I try and live by every single day’.

Glenn was the “Sarn’t Major” in Afghanistan, a man I feared and respected in equal measure.

glen-haughton-on-fitness

I see from his lines that it must be from him that I developed a deep mistrust for any man in uniform whose appearance might indicate an inability to meet mandated fitness requirements:

‘TEN MONTHS AFTER returning from Afghanistan I attended an Armed Forces Day parade at which I found myself standing next to two hugely overweight TA captains from another unit. To me they looked ridiculous, bulging out of their uniforms, Sam Browne belts straining to contain enormous bellies, rolls of fat flowing over their shirt collars. By this time I’d been conditioned by the Grenadiers to take an instant dislike to any man in uniform whose appearance might indicate an inability to meet mandated fitness requirements. These two were so vast they would struggle to find Taliban Hunting Club t‑shirts in their XXXXL size.

Given the occasion, and in the interests of inter‑unit cohesion, I bit my tongue and introduced myself. Ignoring my rank seniority they looked me up and down and resumed their conversation. Standing beside them I could not help but overhear their discussion. Unchecked by my presence they were making offensive and deeply critical comments about a female senior officer who was leading their unit’s marching contingent. It was clear they both felt that a ‘lumpy jumper’ was not up to this task and that they could do a better job themselves. Since they were not only obese but also overtly and crudely sexist, I was unable to resist the invitation I felt they’d just given me. I interrupted them, asking which part of the HQLF directive on physical fitness they had failed to understand.

They looked at me blankly.

“Come on fellas”, I said. “Take a look at yourselves. When was the last time you pulled on a pair of shorts and went for a run? No one’s going to let you lead a parade while you both look like Mister fucking Blobby.”

Both men wore Afghanistan medals, along with a clutch of others that indicated many years service in the reserves. For all I knew they performed some vital role, repairing shattered lives in the Bastion hospital perhaps. It was possible they had once been flat-bellied, steely eyed killers who had let themselves go – although this really was stretching credulity. I should certainly have exercised better judgement myself, admonishing them for their inappropriate comments rather than countering with a few of my own, but HQLF is right. Physical fitness is an indispensable aspect of leadership. These two, however crucial their individual efforts were in the defence of the realm, had long ago relinquished the right to lead or command soldiers, even on a public parade in central London, let alone anywhere near the sharp end of British foreign policy.

Their stunned reaction to my outburst was to be short‑lived. I observed them a couple of hours later merrily stuffing their faces at the buffet lunch laid on by the local authority to celebrate the ‘outstanding contribution made by our Armed Forces’. I knew I was a victim of my own prejudice, just as they were of theirs, but I couldn’t help but feel resentment that these two were cashing in on the heroism of others. I uncharitably reckoned that their outstanding contribution had most likely been to Pizza Hut revenues at Camp Bastion.

Later that day, as a media trained officer I was tasked to give a television interview to Ria Chatterjee for ITV London. Ria is a very attractive young woman and I was a little distracted by her beauty. I stumbled through a series of rambling responses to her questions, full of ‘ums’ and ‘ers’, all of which I knew would be unusable in the two minute segment she was preparing. Concealing her frustration at the incompetent spokesperson with whom she’d been saddled, Ria eventually asked me why Armed Forces Day should be important to the people of London. I told her it was an opportunity to show some solidarity with the men and women of the armed forces – who put themselves in harm’s way to keep others safe. It wasn’t a perfect delivery but it was a good enough answer and Ria used it to close out her report.

Even as I spoke the words I couldn’t find it in myself to apply them to the two chauvinist Blobby’s gorging themselves in the marquee behind me.’

SPIN ZHIRA: Old Man in Helmand is the unauthorised, unvarnished and irreverent story of one man’s midlife crisis on the front line of the most dangerous district in Afghanistan where the locals haven’t forgiven the British for the occupation of 1842 or for the Russian Invasion of 1979. Of course, all infidels look the same so you can’t really tell them apart.

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