I’M THE FIRST RESPONDER

CAUTION: This post contains self-indulgent content.

For the last decade and more, aside from a few minor scrapes and bruises, I’ve skied injury free but, through the misfortune of my skiing companions, I’ve given the Trois Vallees Medical Centres lots of business. A couple of ACL tears, a broken collar bone, snapped achilles, concussion and, most notably in 2012, a heart attack. I’m even on first name terms with some of the Doctors.

Consequently, I’m alive to the risks and rigours of backcountry skiing and I train hard in the off-season to prepare myself but, in my mind at least, the role for which I have been caste in the drama of a mountain accident is always that of First Responder. The lead role of Casualty is always another actor, sometimes known to me, sometimes not.

Skiing the pow last week I sustained a knee injury when I double ejected from my bindings after my skis connected with an unseen, immovable object under the snow. Right up until that moment I was having a blast but in the instant that I parted company with my skis I knew I was in big trouble.

It turns out that, despite all my training and experience, I’m ill prepared for playing the Casualty and I’m not enjoying the experience at all.

In a sport that eats knees for breakfast, lunch and dinner I have to acknowledge that I’m lucky this is the first such injury I’ve sustained. I’m also trying to remain optimistic that my season isn’t over in the hope that I can return to my previous role as First Responder as soon as possible.

SPIN ZHIRA: Old Man in Helmand. A true story of love, service and incompetence.
Over-matched, over-ruled and over-weight, Spin Zhira is a tale of one man’s personal battle against the trials of middle age set on the front line of the most dangerous district in Afghanistan. Guaranteed to make you laugh and cry or your money back.¹

Ten reasons to read SPIN ZHIRA.

‘Brims with authenticity and dark humour.’
Patrick HennesseyThe Junior Officers’ Reading Club

‘A must read.’
Richard DorneyThe Killing Zone 

‘The best book by a soldier concerning the Afghan War that I have read.’
Frank Ledwidge, Losing Small Wars 

‘First Class.’
Doug Beattie MC, An Ordinary Soldier

 ‘Absolutely fantastic’
Dr Mike MartinAn Intimate war

What others are saying about SPIN ZHIRA.

¹Check the small print first

 

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BE AFRAID

The avalanche risk estimate is currently set at five in the Trois Vallees. It’s the most extreme level of risk on the avalanche danger scale and indicates that large and very large avalanches are certain to be triggered by skiers travelling in avalanche terrain, which is any slope between 30 and 45 degrees (the slope angle on which slab avalanches are most likely to occur).

Since I don’t really fancy my chances in an avalanche I stayed home today and surfed the web, where I stumbled across Greg Hill’s Mountain Rules.

Greg is a Suunto sponsored ski mountaineer and guide who has five simple rules for mountain travel that I really identify with as follows:

  1.   Be Afraid
  2.   Be Prepared
  3.  Have a great team
  4.  Have a plan
  5.  Be vigilant

Greg’s five rules are the product of  20 years experience in the mountains. By contrast, I have just three rules for backcountry travel which were developed in 50°C heat on the plains of Afghanistan. But I reckon they’re just as good and there’s plenty of similarity:

  1.   Hope for the best
  2.   Plan for the worst
  3.   Prepare to be surprised

Of course, ‘Be afraid’ was not a rule in Afghanistan. It was a given.

SPIN ZHIRA: Old Man in Helmand. A true story of love, service and incompetence.
Over-matched, over-ruled and over-weight, Spin Zhira is a tale of one man’s personal battle against the trials of middle age set on the front line of the most dangerous district in Afghanistan. Guaranteed to make you laugh and cry or your money back.¹

Ten reasons to read SPIN ZHIRA.

‘Brims with authenticity and dark humour.’
Patrick HennesseyThe Junior Officers’ Reading Club

‘A must read.’
Richard DorneyThe Killing Zone 

‘The best book by a soldier concerning the Afghan War that I have read.’
Frank Ledwidge, Losing Small Wars 

‘First Class.’
Doug Beattie MC, An Ordinary Soldier

 ‘Absolutely fantastic’
Dr Mike MartinAn Intimate war

What others are saying about SPIN ZHIRA.

¹Check the small print first

DEAD TERRORISTS CAN’T HARM BRITAIN

Gavin Williamson, talking to the Daily Mail, declares that “a dead terrorist can’t cause any harm to Britain.”

A soundbite that will delight jingoistic Daily Mail readers, no doubt, and which may even briefly distract from uncomfortable BREXIT headlines,  but one that also exposes the inexperience and naivety of  our new Secretary of State for Defence.

It’s clear from his comments that the man  now charged with Defence of the Realm has invested little, if any, time learning lessons from history or even understanding that killing one terrorist only creates more terrorists.

He also fails to appreciate that ISIS, an ideology so repugnant and grotesque that it has been condemned by the Taliban, has its genesis in the western military tactics of night raids, extraordinary rendition, water-boarding, drone strikes, collateral damage and incarceration without trial.

If Gavin Williamson is to successfully defend the realm he will need a slightly more joined up strategy than simply killing terrorists. If we have learned anything in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001 it is that the supply of willing insurgent foot soldiers in that part of the world is infinity.

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.

Amazon Five Stars A JOURNEY OF LOVE, SERVICE AND ADVENTURE. EXCELLENT!

Amazon Five Stars A MODERN WARFARE LITERARY CLASSIC! OUTSTANDING READ.

Amazon Five Stars ENTERTAINING, THOUGHT-PROVOKING AND COMPULSORY TO READ.

What others are saying about SPIN ZHIRA 

HINC LUCEM ET POCULA SACRAL

The Chief Library Assistant at Cambridge University Library has kindly been in touch to inform me that the library, which has been loaning books for over 600 years, now holds SPIN ZHIRA in its catalogue of over eight million books.

It’s doubtful SPIN ZHIRA can live up to the University’s motto, Hinc lucem et pocula sacral  (‘From this place we gain enlightenment and precious knowledge’) but it’s nice to know it’s keeping good company.

Unfortunately, I won’t be able to borrow a copy because I don’t qualify for a CU Library card.

SPIN ZHIRA: Old Man in Helmand. A true story of love, service and incompetence.
Over-matched, over-ruled and over-weight, Spin Zhira is a tale of one man’s personal battle against the trials of middle age set on the front line of the most dangerous district in Afghanistan. Guaranteed to make you laugh and cry or your money back.¹

Ten reasons to read SPIN ZHIRA.

‘Brims with authenticity and dark humour.’
Patrick HennesseyThe Junior Officers’ Reading Club

‘A must read.’
Richard DorneyThe Killing Zone 

‘The best book by a soldier concerning the Afghan War that I have read.’
Frank Ledwidge, Losing Small Wars 

‘First Class.’
Doug Beattie MC, An Ordinary Soldier

 ‘Absolutely fantastic’
Dr Mike MartinAn Intimate war

What others are saying about SPIN ZHIRA.

¹Check the small print first

“IRISH UP AND OVER!”

At 06.30 hours on this day in 1915, on the command “Irish Up and Over!”, Riflemen Frank Edwards lobbed his football into the No Mans Land which separated the British and German positions at Loos-en-Gohelle. Frank, along with his London Irish team-mates, Mickey Mileham, Walter ‘Jimmy’ Dalby, Bill Taylor and Bert Coward spread out like a line of forwards and went after the ball, “all the while shells bursting among them and shrapnel screaming overhead”.

So started the Battle of Loos, the first large scale British offensive of the First World War, referred to at the time as ‘The Big Push’. Despite heavy casualties, there was considerable success on the first day in breaking into the deep enemy positions but the reserves had been held too far from the battlefront to be able to exploit the successes and succeeding days bogged down into attritional warfare for minor gains.

The football continued in play, ending up somewhere on the German wire, but Frank was not so lucky. Going down wounded, it was Micky Mileham who stopped to fix the tourniquet that saved his pal’s life.

In a different war in a different century, fighting for our survival, trapped and cut off from our resupply chain and slowly but inexorably running out of supplies and ammunition, I experienced the same sense of belonging that sustained my London Irish forbears and which had convinced them it would be a good idea to “charge across No Man’s Land passing the ball forward” .

capi041_youbelong_6sheet_fin_uk41

 

It is such a potent force that the British Army has harnessed it for its latest advertising campaign. “Belonging sees you through whatever life – on or off the battlefield – may throw at you.”

SPIN ZHIRA: Old Man in Helmand. A true story of love, service and incompetence.
Over-matched, over-ruled and over-weight, Spin Zhira is a tale of one man’s personal battle against the trials of middle age set on the front line of the most dangerous district in Afghanistan. Guaranteed to make you laugh and cry or your money back.¹

Ten reasons to read SPIN ZHIRA.

‘Brims with authenticity and dark humour.’
Patrick HennesseyThe Junior Officers’ Reading Club

‘A must read.’
Richard DorneyThe Killing Zone 

‘The best book by a soldier concerning the Afghan War that I have read.’
Frank Ledwidge, Losing Small Wars 

‘First Class.’
Doug Beattie MC, An Ordinary Soldier

 ‘Absolutely fantastic’
Dr Mike MartinAn Intimate war

What others are saying about SPIN ZHIRA.

¹Check the small print first

MY WAR GONE BY, I MISS IT SO

On this day five years ago my war ended. It would be another 24 hours before I departed Afghanistan for the very last time but, having handed in my weapon systems, I was now a bystander rather than a combatant in the fourth Anglo-Afghan war.

On this day five years ago
As a schoolboy I recall listening to a Battle of Britain veteran recount his experiences as a World War Two RAF Fighter Pilot as “the best years of my life”. Later, having served in the Balkans myself four years earlier, I read Anthony Lloyd’s personal account of that war and his descent into heroin addiction: My War Gone By, I Miss It So.

Both men reveal a secret I guiltily share. War is the ultimate frontier of human experience. Paradoxically not to be missed but not recommended for your children either.

SPIN ZHIRA: Old Man in Helmand. A true story of love, service and incompetence.
Over-matched, over-ruled and over-weight, Spin Zhira is a tale of one man’s personal battle against the trials of middle age set on the front line of the most dangerous district in Afghanistan. Guaranteed to make you laugh and cry or your money back.¹

Ten reasons to read SPIN ZHIRA.

‘Brims with authenticity and dark humour.’
Patrick HennesseyThe Junior Officers’ Reading Club

‘A must read.’
Richard DorneyThe Killing Zone 

‘The best book by a soldier concerning the Afghan War that I have read.’
Frank Ledwidge, Losing Small Wars 

‘First Class.’
Doug Beattie MC, An Ordinary Soldier

 ‘Absolutely fantastic’
Dr Mike MartinAn Intimate war

What others are saying about SPIN ZHIRA.

¹Check the small print first

Words and deeds are not aligned.

We are told that President Donald Trump changed his mind about sending more troops to Afghanistan after a campaign by his national security adviser H.R. McMaster which included showing the president a photograph of women casually strolling through downtown Kabul dressed in miniskirts.

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The picture from 1972 was used by Mr McMaster in an effort to demonstrate to Mr Trump that Western culture could return to Afghanistan if he sent more troops. It appears to have been a winning argument. On the campaign trail last year, Mr Trump had vowed to end America’s longest war calling it a “total disaster”.

If the President was moved to change his mind by the prospect of Western culture returning to Afghanistan it is not clear why he would lie about his motivations to the American people but he did. In a widely publicised speech to troops at Fort Meyer in Virginia he insisted, We are not nation building again. We are killing terrorists.

It seems the British government are equally eager to see the return of Western culture to the streets of Kabul and “welcome” the President’s change of heart.  Prime Minister Theresa May is prepared to approve a surge of special forces personnel to hunt down Taliban leaders and the Isis and al-Qaeda militants they are sheltering.

Theresa May

It’s curious because, only last year, speaking at the Republican Convention days after Donald Trump was inaugurated as President she declared, “there can be no return to the failed policies of the past – the days of Britain and America intervening in sovereign countries in an attempt to remake the world in our own image are over“. Or perhaps not.

Western rhetoric, policy and strategy on Afghanistan are contradictory and confused. Words and deeds are not aligned.

SPIN ZHIRA: Old Man in Helmand. A true story of love, service and incompetence.
Over-matched, over-ruled and over-weight, Spin Zhira is a tale of one man’s personal battle against the trials of middle age set on the front line of the most dangerous district in Afghanistan. Guaranteed to make you laugh and cry or your money back.¹

Ten reasons to read SPIN ZHIRA.

‘Brims with authenticity and dark humour.’
Patrick HennesseyThe Junior Officers’ Reading Club

‘A must read.’
Richard DorneyThe Killing Zone 

‘The best book by a soldier concerning the Afghan War that I have read.’
Frank Ledwidge, Losing Small Wars 

‘First Class.’
Doug Beattie MC, An Ordinary Soldier

 ‘Absolutely fantastic’
Dr Mike MartinAn Intimate war

What others are saying about SPIN ZHIRA.

¹Check the small print first

INSURGENT ALGEBRA: 10-2≥20

The Sunday Times has learned that the SAS are being readied to return to Afghanistan as part of Donald Trump’s planned military surge.

According to Whitehall sources, “Theresa May is prepared to approve a surge of special forces personnel to hunt down Taliban leaders and the Isis and al-Qaeda militants they are sheltering.”

It seems that we are, once again, walking with eyes wide open into a flawed strategy of night raids and drone strikes.

As General Stanley McChrystal, a former ISAF  commander explained: “From a conventional standpoint, the killing of two insurgents in a group of ten leaves eight remaining: Ten minus two equals eight (10-2=8). From the insurgent standpoint, those two killed were likely related to many others who will want vengeance… Therefore, the death of two creates more willing recruits: Ten minus two equals twenty, or more, rather than eight (10-2≥20).”

McChrystal’s insurgent algebra is correct but it is Albert Einstein, author of the most famous algebraic formula of them all, who is alleged to have said “insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”.

albert-einstein

SPIN ZHIRA: Old Man in Helmand
A true story of love, service and incompetence.

When Chris Green became disillusioned with his seemingly perfect existence he didn’t buy a sports car, run off with the au pair or snort cocaine from the breasts of prostitutes.

Instead he went to fight the increasingly unpopular war on terror in Afghanistan.

In the process of discovering himself he unwittingly discovers that the courage and heroism of the soldiers he fights alongside are confounded by incompetence and corruption, not to mention “an industrial strength counterterrorism killing machine”.

It’s a world where the dipsomaniac governor is in the pay of the illicit opium trade, the Chief of Police is a pederast and all round bad guy and the locals still haven’t forgiven the British for the occupation of 1842, or for the Russian Invasion of 1979. All infidels look the same so you can’t really tell them apart.

Missing his two young sons, unable to influence policy and just a phone-call away from a brawl he can only lose with the elite SAS, Chris dreams of epic powder days in the High Alps a world away from Afghanistan. But before he can return home to a hero’s welcome – and his wife’s divorce lawyers – he must first complete one last mission to Zumbalay, the Taliban Heart of Darkness and an unlikely reunion with an old man in Helmand.

Guaranteed to make you laugh and cry or your money back*, Spin Zhira is a rare insight into the male mid-life crisis. What every woman needs to know and why every man should be careful what he wishes for.

Ten reasons to read SPIN ZHIRA.

‘Brims with authenticity and dark humour.’
Patrick HennesseyThe Junior Officers’ Reading Club

‘A must read.’
Richard DorneyThe Killing Zone 

‘The best book by a soldier concerning the Afghan War that I have read.’
Frank Ledwidge, Losing Small Wars 

‘First Class.’
Doug Beattie MC, An Ordinary Soldier

 ‘Absolutely fantastic’
Dr Mike MartinAn Intimate war

What others are saying about SPIN ZHIRA.

 * check the small print first

Riddle of the Waves

Steven Price Brown, or PB as he was known to me, called me a ‘fucking cunt, Sir’ when we first met. He was feeling aggrieved as I’d just fallen on him from a great height. I can’t say I blame him. He’s now published a book of his own, The Riddle of the Waves about his descent into and recovery from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

His platoon suffered appalling losses in Afghanistan and as advance team medic he was at the centre of the most horrific incidents. Unbeknownst to me, after leaving the forces he retreated to Africa but became increasingly ill. Diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in October 2014 he returned to the UK but ended up homeless, living in a hostel and undergoing therapy. In October 2015, he was introduced to the military sailing charity Turn to Starboard, and discovered a new love of nature and a new purpose in life.

9781472945785

It is commonly the case that the strongest, most dependable soldiers, those that hold the team together in times of crisis, are the ones that suffer the most and do so in silence. It was obvious to me from the start that PB was one of the strongest. I regret that, having relied on him so much, I didn’t also anticipate he might subsequently succumb to post traumatic stress.

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.

‘Brims with authenticity and dark humour.’
Patrick Hennessey, bestselling author of The Junior Officers’ Reading Club

‘First class’
Doug Beattie, bestselling author of An Ordinary Soldier

‘Absolutely fantastic. Vivid. Tragic. True. This is the book to read on service in Afghanistan.’
Dr Mike Martin, bestselling author of  An Intimate War

‘A must read.’
Richard Dorney, bestselling author of The Killing Zone

‘The best book by a soldier concerning the Afghan War that I have read’
Frank Ledwidge, bestselling author of Losing Small Wars

‘Five stars’
SOLDIER The official magazine of the British Army

‘Not just for soldiers’
William Reeve, BBC World Service and Afghanistan Correspondent

Ten reasons to read SPIN ZHIRA.

What others are saying about SPIN ZHIRA.

 

TRUMP RULES OUT AFGHAN EXIT

President Donald Trump has ruled out a hasty US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, America’s longest war.

Trump had previously tweeted “We have wasted an enormous amount of blood and treasure in Afghanistan. Their government has zero appreciation. Let’s get out!” but has now been persuaded that America must remain in Afghanistan to “fight to win” vowing to avoid the mistakes made in the past.

“We are not nation building again, we are killing terrorists” the President said. Unfortunately, if ISAF learned anything in Afghanistan, it was that the supply of willing insurgent foot soldiers in that part of the world is infinity. My friend Niels Vistisen, Political Adviser (POLAD) to the Governor of Nahr-E-Saraj in 2012, observed It became increasingly obvious that even though ISAF won all of the battles, NATO was not winning the war.’

General Stanley McChrystal, a former ISAF  commander explained: “From a conventional standpoint, the killing of two insurgents in a group of ten leaves eight remaining: Ten minus two equals eight. From the insurgent standpoint, those two killed were likely related to many others who will want vengeance… Therefore, the death of two creates more willing recruits: Ten minus two equals twenty (or more) rather than eight.”

McChrystal was infamously sacked in 2010 by President Obama after his motor-mouth got the better of him in the company of a Rolling Stone journalist. While his media skills may have been deficient his insight into counter-insurgency warfare was not.

Killing terrorists is not the winning strategy that President Trump now seeks or that America now needs to end the longest war in its history.

SPIN ZHIRA: Old Man in Helmand
A true story of love, service and incompetence.

When Chris Green became disillusioned with his seemingly perfect existence he didn’t buy a sports car, run off with the au pair or snort cocaine from the breasts of prostitutes.

Instead he went to fight the increasingly unpopular war on terror in Afghanistan.

In the process of discovering himself he unwittingly discovers that the courage and heroism of the soldiers he fights alongside are confounded by incompetence and corruption, not to mention “an industrial strength counterterrorism killing machine”.

It’s a world where the dipsomaniac governor is in the pay of the illicit opium trade, the Chief of Police is a pederast and all round bad guy and the locals still haven’t forgiven the British for the occupation of 1842, or for the Russian Invasion of 1979. All infidels look the same so you can’t really tell them apart.

Missing his two young sons, unable to influence policy and just a phone-call away from a brawl he can only lose with the elite SAS, Chris dreams of epic powder days in the High Alps a world away from Afghanistan. But before he can return home to a hero’s welcome – and his wife’s divorce lawyers – he must first complete one last mission to Zumbalay, the Taliban Heart of Darkness and an unlikely reunion with an old man in Helmand.

Guaranteed to make you laugh and cry or your money back*, Spin Zhira is a rare insight into the male mid-life crisis. What every woman needs to know and why every man should be careful what he wishes for.

Ten reasons to read SPIN ZHIRA.

‘Brims with authenticity and dark humour.’
Patrick HennesseyThe Junior Officers’ Reading Club

‘A must read.’
Richard DorneyThe Killing Zone 

‘The best book by a soldier concerning the Afghan War that I have read.’
Frank Ledwidge, Losing Small Wars 

‘First Class.’
Doug Beattie MC, An Ordinary Soldier

 ‘Absolutely fantastic’
Dr Mike MartinAn Intimate war

What others are saying about SPIN ZHIRA.

 * check the small print first

Old Man in Helmand