I was not in the infantry or special forces – I was in the Corps of Signals but this is a bit of fiction that occurred to me after meeting, reading about and hearing some stories. You could not make up some of that stuff. Like when I was on attachment to RLI on the Moz border and one of the guys (he has a bravery decoration) described having to run for their lives up a sandy rise with rounds striking at their heels. He said, laughing about the ludicrous insanity of it “…we just ran up that hill with the rounds hitting everywhere behind us, just like a fucking movie….!” (The quote may not be EXACT but close enough).
So I created this bit of fiction – because my own basic training probably saved my life once or twice and I certainly used my signals training all my working life after leaving the army. Often the question that was asked, “Where did you learn that?”, was answered “In the Rhodesian Army, starting in 1964!” and got me some odd looks!
So here is my fiction…no reference to any person, living or dead…
“What did you get the medal for?” asked the trainee.
“I got if for paying attention” the instructor replied.
The squad were sitting around with the instructor near the end of their training – out in the sticks, mission completed and awaiting transport back to base.
“I was a recruit once,” he said “just like you guys”.
I had to learn drill, and drill and drill and drill.
Then drill with a rifle – also over and over and over.
They only taught us ONE THING about rifle handling at first – how to make safe. …and we had to clear the rifle EVERY TIME we got it from the armoury even though we KNEW the armourer would never issue a loaded rifle and we had to show it was clear on handing it back. EVERY TIME.
Then we started learning to FIRE THE RIFLE and the drills around safety and handling became more painfully repetitive. There was a chuckle from the men.
Then we had combat training and learned to use hand grenades. That was interesting – preparing the grenades, carrying them and throwing them. And learning, as you have, that they do NOT make a bang and explosion of flame and debris like a 500-pound bomb. Another chuckle.
Skirmishing and patrolling and leading and walking tail end. Setting and initiating ambushes and all those boring things called training, training, TRAINING.
The tedium and the repetitiveness, the punishments. And why did they put so much emphasis on CLEANING YOUR KIT. Why did knives and forks and mess tins have to gleam?
And then I was told I was a qualified soldier.
I reported to my unit and was treated like shit! I was treated like a recruit – like an untrained useless add-on.
After a while I was gradually accepted and given certain responsibilities – responsibilities that I still thought were a bit beneath me.
One day though, I realised I was one of the team and that I had been accepted and that I belonged.
Then we were deployed on operations and I was shit-scared. Realising that nobody was free of their private fears made mine manageable.
And when the shit hit the fan on one deployment and I had to perform – it was no longer me, it was the training. All that instinctive rifle handling and obedience to shouted commands – THAT kept me alive.
And one day they presented me with this medal and I was a bit bewildered and even vaguely embarrassed. I was not the only one on the scene and I felt that, like everyone else, I had just done what I had been trained to do.
The citation that came with the medal seemed to be about someone else and I understand why people laugh and joke about these things – it is how you deal with it.
But, you asked how I got the medal? I got it because I paid attention and when I was caught NOT paying attention I was pulled up short – punished if you will. But I DID get trained – tediously, repetitively until I could handle the weapons in the dark, understand instructions and react to commands instinctively but still use my own brains.
I became a trained soldier.
The TRAINING got the medal. The instructors earned the medal for me.
No one goes into this to be a hero and when they get called HERO they are generally confused and bewildered – because they did what they had been trained to do.
If your intention is to be a hero and get a medal you are in the wrong place – you need to be a functioning soldier first.
No matter what you do in the army – pay attention to the training and you will do it well. That is all that is required. You do your best and you do it well.
Oh, and keeping your kit clean means you do not get sick – it is as simple as that.