Haunting silence before the attack

By Richard Edwards in Camp Gibraltar, Kuwait

The final countdown has begun – and British forces are today ready for their ‘defining’ moment.

Troops based in Northern Kuwait have spent the last three weeks awaiting their final orders amid political mayhem across the world.

Now the final preparations are under way, the last letters are being written home – and the mood in camp has changed.

An air of cool urgency hangs heavy in the stifling, sweaty air.

Gone is the uncertainty of waiting for a decision; gone the cheery banter of sunbathing, volleyball, reading and pretend pub games.

This is it. This is what the troops have trained for and at Camp Gibraltar, on the Iraqi border, war is literally on the horizon.

Aircraft thunder overhead as they cut through the clear blue skies, generators are droning and camouflaged vehicles are gathering in the shining white expanse of desert.

All around camp there is a strange hush, a subdued but focused silence as the realisation of war dawns on the men.

Lieutenant Colonel Buster Howes, of 42 Commando Royal Marines, said: “This is the defining moment for these people.

“We, as serving Royal Marines, are custodians of a heroic tradition – a fighting legacy that stretches back over three centuries, through Trafalgar and two world wars.

“We are ready for this mission, and know our role may shape history in years to come.” The commander of the thousand-strong unit has already delivered his final inspiring words to his men before they go into battle.

He said: “Our individual paths have been many and various, but our journeys all find a common origin – Commando training.

“It is the common factor and the combining factor. That process forged the steel and reared the DNA of those privileged enough to wear the Green Beret.” In his speech he added: “You must be prepared to risk and potentially lose your life for one another.

“And reflect on those Commando qualities drilled into all of us – loyalty, courage, determination, selflessness and teamwork.” Individually, reactions are varied. The troops are not jingoistic and prefer to be understated, rather than arrogant.

In the tent of Juliet Company yesterday, they were sleeping and quietly reading.

Littered on the floor and beds were letters – probably the final messages back home before the boys risk their lives for their country.

Marine Adam Lions, from Bristol, yesterday wrote his last ‘bluey’ home to his fiancee Emma Beeson, to whom he became engaged the weekend before travelling to Kuwait.

He said: “Everyone’s been expecting war, but now it’s actually going to happen.

“It hits home and things become more serious.

“All the lads are a little quieter, a little more subdued. But it’s a relief that we know it is now in our hands.” The 24-year-old, who was brought up in Paulton, near Bath, said the men would now start their final psychological preparations.

“It is strange to think while you are sunbathing now that in a few days time people may actually be shooting at you. It is not a game or training any more. This is for real.” Waiting is an unchanging reality of war – hanging around in a queue for food, for an exercise to start, for the chance of a shower, and for the real mission to begin.

Now they can sense conflict, smell, see and feel it emerging. The hours are ticking down and men are keeping themselves busy by checking and rechecking their kit.

They seem oblivious to the taste of sand, eating the same stew every night and the chronic grit which clings to their flesh.

Soon, also, the sunglasses and cream will be replaced by helmets and camouflage.

Regimental Sergeant Major of 42 Commando, Zach Printer, said: “There is an air of expectation.

“The boys will have a period of enforced rest, where they get a lot of sleep and take on plenty of water.

“The plan – each individual’s role – will be running through their minds.

“They will still have their laughs and jokes, but now, as we get closer, there is also a period of reflection.

“Naturally there can be some trepidation with what may happen on the other side and this will dull the senses. There is a niggling sense of ‘Am I going to get through this’.

“But they comfort themselves by remembering the hard training they have done, and with the fact they know everyone will look after each other.” On their backs the men of 42 Commando carry weapons, ammunition, food and water in their 13-stone rucksacks. Each one also holds a duty to his colleagues and to the nation.

Professional to the extreme, they carry that responsibility as light as a feather.

 

© Western Daily Press