What war does to us: Afghanistan - a soldier's view

"You'll see things you wished you never saw. Carry them around too long and you'll end up praying for a lobotomy" 

Kenny Meighan served in Helmand, guiding his patrol through mines and ambushes. He survived, but would he, like his soldier father before him, struggle to find peace back home?

John had seen the world, known bravery and sacrifice, inspired unflinching loyalty among men. But he could not escape the drumbeat of his past. The things he had seen were destroying him.. For the past 12 years, he would lie in bed and wait for the memories – the torso of his friend Big Jim Houston twitching on a South Armagh road after being gunned down by the Provisional IRA. Houston had a chin like Bruce Forsyth and hours before his death John had stroked it teasingly, just like he always did. Now in the night, Big Jim's long face lay staring back, pale and wide-eyed on the Irish tarmac.

For 14 years and 47 days, Corporal John Meighan served his country with distinction. But he had seen what most could never imagine. He left the military because he couldn't risk seeing another corpse. The images of big-chinned Jim and mutilated Iraqis grew more real over time; they began visiting him in the morning, when he woke, in the afternoon and on the way to bed, gradually eclipsing everyday reality. John tried to obtain psychiatric help – counselling, medication, anything – to shoo away the dead, but no one wanted to know.

In broad daylight, out shopping, he became lost in his visions. The waft of drains transported him outside a sewage works in the pissing rain. The smell of meat from a butcher's would make him freeze, incapacitated by the stench of death. During this period he stopped eating bacon because it smelt like burning flesh. The simplest things felt beyond him. His taut nerves failed him during the most mundane tasks. John overcompensated, planning trips to collect the morning milk with military precision.
Even then mysterious figures would appear from behind, forcing him to cross the road until the mother and child or the dog walker passed. Navigating the city grew increasingly terrifying. On 21 August 1996 he reached breaking point. That night was worse than any other. Big Jim, his brain like a grey cauliflower hanging from the side of his head, asked why? Why did you send me to the checkpoint that day?...

Kenny's "Bait Platoon" were sent out to lure the enemy into the open, where they would try and kill as many as possible. But the Taliban weren't biting. The only movement was the mechanical plodding of the platoon. Yet even then, before any of Bait Platoon had died, Kenny remembers feeling that the war was starting to touch him in a way that might be irreversible. He knew that he had gone through nothing compared to the horrors his dad had seen, but he also knew that was likely to change.

Read more: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/apr/01/point-man-soldier-afghanistan

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