Comrades share families' grief for soldier fatalities
Reporter Paul Bradley recently joined Midlands troops in Afghanistan. Here he describes how the soldiers will be coming to terms with the deaths of 15 comrades in little more than a week.
In the middle of Afghanistan’s lawless desert, comrades of the latest British soldiers killed in action said their solemn goodbyes.
Thousands of miles from home, away from the political and media furore, exhausted troops will have stood to attention to witness the bodies of their friends being loaded on to a military aircraft destined for England.
Just days earlier, these courageous young men and women, many of whom are just teenagers, were fighting shoulder to shoulder to ensure the safety of the British public back at home.
But bloody battles with the Taliban, who use roadside bombs as their weapon of choice, put an end to the lives of their fellow servicemen.
The Improvised Explosive Device is the faceless enemy so difficult to detect and defeat.
Left behind, back in Britain, are the families of the fallen servicemen who will never see their loved ones again.
Heartbroken wives and partners who will never again kiss their sweetheart. Baby sons and daughters who will grow up without their fathers.
And mums and dads who will face the excruciating heartache of out-living their children.
For British soldiers, coming to terms with the death of a comrade is a task they hoped they would never have to undertake.
The “ramp” ceremony, held every time a British soldier’s body is repatriated, is the military’s opportunity to say a farewell away from the gaze of the public.
It is a tradition that I had the sad opportunity to take part in during my visit to Camp Bastion, the British base in Helmand Province, a month ago.
During my week-long stay, three British soldiers were killed.
In the same time period this month, a total of 15 British soldiers lost their lives.
The process of dealing with the loss of a fellow soldier can be understood to some extent by the actions of Castle Bromwich Rifleman, Joseph Murphy.
The 18-year-old Aston Villa fan had been carrying his injured “battle buddy” to safety when a second bomb went off, killing them both instantly.
Rifleman Murphy was doing exactly the same as any other soldier would have in his situation.
If you ask any squaddie why he is fighting in Afghanistan, risking his life on a daily basis, they will tell you: “We are just doing our job.”
Ask them who they are fighting for and they will say: “We are fighting for each other.”
So far from home, the military becomes a soldier’s family.
Overcoming fear together, coping with the heat and dust, and facing the Taliban side by side, galvanises them.
With months of their operational tours left, our troops will turn to each other for the strength to crack on with the job in hand.
Of course, many will question why they are there and some will decide they have had enough.
But many will become more determined and more resolute.
In return for their courage, our brave heroes ask for two simple things.
The equipment they need to do their job, and the backing of the public.
It is the least they deserve.