The Daily Mail, my ex-father-in-law’s favourite newspaper, reports that ‘scores of war hero dogs have been put down because they are old and worn out’.
I can only hope that Soya, the military working dog who accompanied No.2 Company into Zumbalay and who succumbed to PTSD was spared this fate:
The day after Davo’s death I found myself bedding down in a squalid outbuilding with a military dog handler and his charge, Soya, a beautiful fox red Labrador. Somehow, Soya’s master had become separated from his kit and had no rations either for himself or his dog. We divided one of my own meagre ration packs between us and, with stomachs still rumbling, chatted quietly long into the night. After the events of the previous day only Soya, it seemed, could find solace in sleep, periodically farting heinously into the already foetid night air.
The following day all three of us were tasked to accompany a patrol to a nearby compound of interest. From the moment we stepped off we came under the unwelcome scrutiny of the Taliban. As the thermometer rose, so too did the intensity of the gun battle between us. Finally we were pinned down by a long range DShKM heavy machine gun.
The Dushka, or ‘Lover’ as it’s affectionately known in Russian, has a fairly low rate of fire but each round can punch a hole in all but the very thickest of armour. The human body could not survive being struck by such a round and our foot patrol had nothing to match either the range or the lethality of the big gun. The Talib team manning the Lover knew this and made no attempt to conceal their location as they rained fire down upon us.
It was time to call in the Fast Movers.
As we hunkered down behind a compound wall our Joint Tactical Air Controller (JTAC) talked two American F16 pilots onto the enemy position. Moments later they appeared, as if from nowhere, seemingly skimming across the ground in a heat haze of their own making, before rolling up their target.
The Lover was silenced.
As the F16s screamed overhead, firing chaff countermeasures, something snapped in poor Soya’s eager doggy brain. Unable to distinguish between friendly or hostile fire, it became all too much for him, and he howled plaintively before collapsing at his master’s feet, shaking fearfully.
Soya was never quite the same again after that patrol. Whenever things kicked off, which was often, the sound of gunfire would reduce him to a quivering wreck. No longer able to perform his duties as a counter‑IED dog, he would spend his days hanging around the command post. Even when rations were running low he was never short of scraps or love, willingly provided by the men who worked there manning the radios 24 hours a day.
The hapless dog was as much a part of our close‑knit team as anyone else and it was agonising for all of us to see his distress. None more so than his handler who was clearly heartbroken.
SPIN ZHIRA: Old Man in Helmand is a unique account of the Afghan war as seen through the eyes of a middle-aged man thrust onto the frontline by a failed marriage, financial ruin and the words of John Stuart Mill (1806–1873). A true story of love, service and adventure, it is a compelling examination of choice that explores the landscape of war and commitment to cause and honour, juxtaposed against heartbreaking love for family and the persistent call of the untracked snowfield and its descent into the unknown.
‘The best book by a soldier concerning the Afghan War that I have read’
Frank Ledwidge, bestselling author of Losing Small Wars and Investment in Blood
‘SPIN ZHIRA vividly conveys the disjointed essence of modern warfare and the impossibility of balancing the adrenaline of combat with ‘normal’ life. This book brims with authenticity and dark humour.’
Patrick Hennessey, bestselling author of The Junior Officers’ Reading Club and Kandak
‘If you want to read about political and military success in Afghanistan, this book isn’t for you. If you want a fresh perspective from someone who is not a career officer and who is brave enough to bare his soul, then SPIN ZHIRA is a must read.’
Lt Col Richard Dorney, bestselling author of The Killing Zone and An Active Service
SOLDIER The official magazine of the British Army