I met a man on the train yesterday. I don’t normally like talking to strangers because I’m quite shy when it comes to conversation, but he was a very talkative man and it didn’t take long before I found out that he had just got back from Afghanistan that morning. He was a bombardier and he’d had a nine month post out there. I must admit, I was quick to judge when he walked on the train, as he sat in the corridor next to me (the train was very very very full) and cracked open a bottle of beer with his teeth. In my mind I was thinking, ‘Oh great…’ but he turned out to be very sweet, and that had been his first alcoholic beverage in nine months.
He was a pleasant man, and I found myself asking him lots of questions. Not just about his time in Afghanistan, but what he thought about the coverage that they were receiving from press such as the BBC. This seemed to hit a nerve, as he didn’t have a single nice thing to say about any journalists covering the war (at this point I decided not to mention my career prospects and settled with ‘I want to be a teacher’). He made an interesting statement that media very rarely covers positive actions taken by the military in the Middle East. For example, he mentioned how the media had gone wild over the fact that soldiers were being investigated back in January for sexually abusing two children but hardly anything in the press about the other 9,998 soldiers who are actually making a difference.
But he definitely wasn’t standing up for the soldiers (he did happen to know one of them well. Apparently he got beaten up by colleagues pretty badly). He was terribly ashamed to admit that stuff like that happened often in the army; for example, with the French and American army. Of course, the whole world has seen the footage of the US soldiers urinating on dead Afghan bodies. But he said it was shocking stories like this which is making society – here and there – lose faith in them. He said ‘we are seen to be acting the same way as the Taliban. The civilians won’t want to trust us if we are seen to be acting like the Taliban’.
It was also lovely to hear what he got up to in his spare time as well. As he was located in Camp Bastion, he said it was like living in a little city. For example, there was an American KFC, and he excitedly told me how he was dared (and offered some money) to finish a whole super size to himself. He admitted he couldn’t.
This conversation was an eye opener in many different way. Firstly, I have now realised that I should not EVER judge people by their first appearance. Little did I know when I first saw him swigging beer that he had been away from his family for nine months serving our Queen and country. Secondly, maybe the media should be more positive when it comes to their coverage of the war. It might make this country less cynical and realise that positive things are taking place in the Middle East due to our soldiers. Thirdly, I should strike up conversations with strangers more often. I could have gone that whole train journey thinking that 21 year old to be a good for nothing chav. I hate to admit it but it’s the truth, and he turned out to be a wonderful and incredibly interesting human being.