My two year old daughter has a teddy. He’s called Scruffy. He’s a rageddy, floppy, well loved ball of fur that she loves and cuddles. He gives her a bit of security I guess. And it’s normal.
She takes him to bed with her; she takes him to her nursery school â€“ only when she arrives there she puts him straight in the ‘drawer’ there with her name on. Scruffy stays there all day. He only comes out to be brought home. He’s about, but unseen. To provide her with security at ‘school’ she doesn’t need to see him, but just to know he’s about will do the trick. It allows her to get on with her busy day of playing, and painting and doing all the things that kids do at nursery school.
I have my own Scruffy. But it’s not a teddy bear. I get that same warm and fuzzy feeling when I am out on patrol. But it comes from a funny source. It’s a helicopter.
The Apache. The AH Mk1 attack helicopter, as flown by the British Army.
When you go out on patrol, you have all sorts of things going through your mind, you look for ‘ground-sign’ of IEDs. You scan the area around you for people potentially ‘dicking’ you and reporting your position to Insurgents. You look for potential firing positions. You consider what you are going to do if there is a contact. You scan for cover positions as you walk. You think about arcs of fire, and where you are looking with respect to the rest of the patrol. You consider everyone to be a bad-guy. You are on edge.
But then. You patrol down through a field and suddenly hear a chop-chop-chop sound. You hear a helicopter. You look up and there’s an Apache. And you can relax just a little bit more. There is nothing like the feeling of going out on patrol and seeing an ‘Ugly’ over your head, wandering about the sky lazily, snaking ahead and behind you. Flying across your path, moving left and right of you. Almost like a mosquito or a moth that circles around a lightbulb. It stays within a certain distance of you, but flies about in a random path always keeping you in the centre of it’s route across the sky.
Occasionally you’ll see it stop and hover, obviously checking out something ahead of you, looking out for you. Like a guardian angel it is there, watching over you. Like Scruffy, it doesn’t need to actually do anything to provide a sense of security. Just being there in the background is enough.
And when you look up and see the Apache, you know straight away exactly what it is for. Just by looking at the shape, the rockets and missiles, the big gun under the nose of the fuselage â€“ you know what it is designed to do â€“ and so do the Taliban. They hate them you see. The Taliban fighters hate the weight of fire and the pin-point accuracy that the Apache can bring to bear. They hate the way it can follow them through the fields of long grass, down alley ways, behind compound walls. They simply can’t melt away and hide like they do when engaging ground troops. They can’t hide from an ‘Ugly’.
On the morning of Op Omid Haft, we were moving north into an area that was still held by the Taliban. As we moved forwards, the idea was that we wouldn’t necessarily engage them and fight them, but rather our presence would force them back. That way, the locals living there wouldn’t be caught up in fire-fights that would put them at risk. Instead, the idea was that the Taliban would see us coming â€“ and coming in numbers â€“ and would run away. Pretty much this is what they did.
But as we were standing outside the compound that we were taking over to be used as a new Check Point, and I was negotiating with the owners about the rent that we would pay, it came over the radio that the call-sign to our north had seen a couple of people on the roof of another compound about 200m away with ‘long barrelled weapons’. They were seen to be looking in our direction and were a clear threat to us.
So rather than wait to be engaged by them, rather than wait for them to open fire and for there to be a firefight, the Joint Tactical Air Controller â€“ the man on the ground who talks to the men in the air â€“ arranged for the Apache that had followed our patrol closely to go and take a look.
Within seconds of the helicopter arriving over the compounds, it reported back that the crew had seen two men on the roof looking at us. But as soon as the men had heard and saw the chopper, they dropped their weapons and fled. The helicopter followed the route of the two bad-guys away into the desert in the north.
Just by being there, the Apache had solved our problem. Its reputation and its potential got rid of the enemy without having to actually fire a shot. We were safe, the locals we were talking to were safe and no-one had got hurt, and the enemy had been removed from the area.
There is nothing like the sense of security that this gives you. Just knowing that something that powerful with that ability is there, is wonderful when out on patrol. You know when you see that Ugly, that any Taliban in the area can also see it, and they know that if they try anything the Apache will go after them. The insurgents simply won’t try anything when an Apache is about. They are not that stupid. They see an Ugly and run away.
And you feel safe. Ok, they won’t stop you from stepping on an IED, but it takes one thing off your mind. You can relax just a tiny bit more and you have a bit more spare mental capacity to concentrate your efforts on the other things you need to watch out for.
Just like my daughters teddy, Scruffy, an Ugly doesn’t have to actually do anything to make you feel secure. Just knowing it is there, in the background and ready to help you should you need it is enough to give you a nice warm and fuzzy feeling of security.