- Special Guest -
Welcome to a feature and interview with a writer, currently working in Afghanistan as a security operative.
Welcome, 'YL' ...
TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT YOURSELF AND YOUR PROFESSIONAL JOURNEY.
I come from the North East of England which is notoriously riddled with unemployment, this even more so when the government of the day closed the coal mines which were the main source of employment and income in Durham and the privatisation and sale of the ship yards in Newcastle. These two events more or less killed the North East of England at the time. So, as a child, growing into a young man, you had very few choices, factory work or joining the Armed Forces, all this as staying on in the academic world and going to college and university was not as “trendy” and acceptable as it is nowadays. I hated English Literature, with a passion during my school days. I recall going on my school break time for my last Christmas period as a legally obliged student without a care in the world. At this age, 6 months down the line, where normal school would be finished was light years away. The final day of these Christmas Holidays arrived. I went into my wardrobe, in my parents house, in my tiny bedroom, I opened my school sack, with total horror, I had forgotten all about the two books, which I forget their names now, but, both in conjunction with each other, I was due to have read and wrote an epic of an essay on. Obviously, I had not bothered my backside, being far to busy to read something as unimportant as an English assignment.
I went down stairs to my parents, my father sat in his usual chair, next to the open coal fire, my mother on the sofa, both engrossed in something on our TV. Engrossed, that is, until I dropped the bombshell on them, “I don’t think I will go to school tomorrow, I think, seeing as I don’t have long left at school, I should start looking for a job, I think I will go and see about joining the Army” This statement I will never forget. I can hear even today, with my own voice, which had barely broken at the time saying these exact words, in as non committal manner as I could produce. No questions were asked that I remember. I recall, being taken to Darlington, escorted in by my parents to the Army Careers office, to be faced by the hugest Sergeant I had ever seen. After blagging my case that I wanted to join the Army ever since I could remember he seemed suitably happy with the answer. Not once did I mention, the only reason I was there was due to two English essays I had forgotten about. I was, after many visits and tests, accepted into the army, and after them finding out my last date of exams, offered certain placements within the Army. I was that naïve, I never even realised there were different Regiments, Cap Badges, Trades, Corps, Battalions within the Army. I genuinely thought it all came under the same roof. From then on, my attendance at school was next to none existent. I was going to be a soldier, I didn’t need academic qualifications, not having the foresight to realise that my life as a soldier would not last forever.
My final exam was on the 28th June 1988, in the morning. It was Economics. A subject I hated at the time, but these days I am fascinated by. This finished at midday. My bag was already packed with the prescribed kit list issued by the army with very little else. This was way before mobile phones, IPods, laptops and such space age technology. I was collected at the school gates and taken directly to the railway station at Darlington. Darlington train station, I hate more than English Literature, its nothing short of a wind tunnel, its bleak, dreary, and even the Victorian style red bricked arches with glassed window roofs looked grey to me. This is all because this is where I said goodbye to my parents probably, looking back for the last time with them as my full time parents. I think this is why, even today, I am useless at goodbyes, to my fiancée, my daughter and my friends. Its just a rapid, “well, see you when I see you” back turned and off I go, never looking back, no one gets to see the tears in my eyes, I just get to feel them every time I leave home, which is more regular than a normal persons job given my trade.
The Army was the Army, its been written about so many times. I joined in the late 80’s like I said, corporal punishment was not a thing of the past, bullying was rife and the class system was very much in place. My basic training was to be 12 months as I was classed as a boy soldier and wouldn’t be able to deploy on active duties until I was eighteen anyway. This was to be the worst twelve months of my army life. The training staff I met, whose sole job really, was to turn boys in to soldiers and ready them for further working life as a soldier did nothing but belittle recruits, bully them to beyond any bullying I had experienced through my school life, which had been horrendous, another underlying reason for joining the army, to get away from the place I grew up and to a place no one knew me, so the bullying would stop. Bullying that, I have to add, I never faced up to during my school life, I let it happen without repercussions or revenge. Today, with the aid of social networking, which I am not a fan of the major players in this world, but … I have found one of my old training instructors, the Troop Sergeant, the main instigator of Bullies. He had the venomous dislike of northern lads. I know where he is now, for a time if I feel like I need to speak to him about his antics with me. He also knows that I know.
I served Eighteen years in the British Army, experiencing a whole array of emotions, cultures and the like the world over. I felt at this point, I had reached all I had come to want from the Army, I needed to leave. This was 2004 when I started to feel like this. It took me a year to build up the courage to leave the safety net of a full time job for a new path. Leaving the army was almost as horrifying as joining it. September 09, 2005, I was a civilian once more, this time though, as a grown man, who had battled mentally with bullies from the streets of the ghost villages of ex coal mining communities to bullying through basic military training and then bullying through many different parts of my military life. I think I had put quite a lot of things behind me, the bullying for one; I wouldn’t stand for it anymore. I left school at 16 and joined the British Army. I was 6 ft 2 almost and cannot have been an ounce over 154llbs (70 kg’s). I was nothing but skin and bones. A year later, I was 6ft 5, and 224llbs (101kg’s). So, something was working. I am now almost 43 and 266llbs (120kg’s) and not an ounce of fat on me. I don’t need to entertain bullies any longer. I still felt like I had not proved myself though. I felt so unfulfilled, I couldn’t settle, I was empty, I couldn’t call myself a man of men at the time, I was just a shell.
I had decided I would try out the private security industry, which was booming at the time, due to contractors getting jobs in hostile areas like Iraq and Afghanistan. I never thought the whole bodyguard thing was for me, I wasn’t the type. Ten years later, I am still a bodyguard, looking for a way out now, through trying to regain lost time with my misspent youth, I am pushing hard towards gaining as many academic qualifications as necessary. I am also hoping to be accepted on my master’s degree this September, 2014. I have proved myself and my internal metal a million times over by now. I have stood my ground in the face of certain catastrophe. I have watched, up close and personal, very good friends, whom I would call brothers die in my arms during my time as a bodyguard, most of, if not all, have gone un reported, all in the name of political correctness, so the coalition governments do not have to publicly bury another dead soldier who was on foreign fields, fighting a dirty war, over western lies, greed and oil. I am an extremely proud man now.
I have a beautiful daughter, who makes me burst with pride every time I see her. She’s 9. She is my soul mate. I learn every day from her. She has taught me morality, dignity and integrity, more than anyone ever could have. Through the paths of hell I have trodden, all the gun battles I have faced, the amount of times my vehicle has been hit by road side bombs, suicide bombers and the like, you get an invincibility aura and will the next battle on, until, a nine year old grounds you. Making me want to be a better man, as if she whispers to me, “Daddy, you are just a man, you are just my daddy” when things happen around me that normally only are experienced by an audience in a cinema of a Hollywood movie. She humbles me and for that reason alone, I have chose to change my path, to educate myself as best I can and most importantly, due to my time walking these paths, I have to get it into writing so one day, when she is old enough to understand, she can read my book and understand why I chose my path. I did it to give her a better life. So she would want for nothing. All new designer clothes, the newest gadgets on the market, the foreign holidays anything and everything. All the things I didn’t have when I grew up due to the closure of any decent employment in my area. I never knew then, like I know now, that, all these things mean nothing. Don’t get me wrong, they are all very nice, but nothing, money, gadgets, holidays and whatever else you feel should be added to this list, none of it, not one second of it can replace the only thing that was needed, and that was my time, time lost working in foreign war zones, that had nothing to do with me, for false policies. That time has gone now, I cant get it back. My daughter is growing faster than the time I can make up for.
I hope some day, she realises, like I have now, the mistake I made was genuine and was made for what I believed to be for a better cause, not just for the world in general, to take the fight to the “bad guys”, but so she had everything. This is my only regret.
WHEN AND HOW DID YOU BECOME A WRITER?
I haven’t achieved this yet. I am currently writing the book about my life after the Military, like I said, for my daughter sake when she is older.
WHAT DO YOU ENJOY MOST ABOUT YOUR WORK?
I love to travel. Cultures that are alien to me enthral me. I have seen things that even Hollywood cant re produce, for instance, I was in Baghdad when the US Marines arrived in the all new Osprey flying machine. I will let you the reader look this up, but I swear to you, I genuinely thought that the Thunderbirds had come to help us out of a very sticky period of the troubles in Iraq. I also love the thought that, a man whose job inevitably takes him to a hostile place, a war zone, a high kidnap threat area, and, due to me and my team, or sometimes, mainly as I work alone most times now, the man gets to go home safely to his family after doing his job due to my protection. It’s a massive charge to be put on one person, another’s life.
WHAT IS THE HARDEST THING ABOUT YOUR WORK?
The time I spent away from home. I miss my Daughter terribly, to the point of sleepless nights, unashamed crying bouts, albeit behind closed doors. I miss the other true believer in me, my other soul mate, Dyanne. If I think I have it hard where ever I land, Dy has it worse, I can see and feel and tune in to my surroundings, all my Dy has to go on is the news feeds which we all know to be one of two things, 1) Propaganda or 2) In the biggest trouble spots in any country they report from! Not what my better half needs to see when I am away from home for untold amount of weeks.
The other hardest thing, is the lies the companies that employ people like throw at us, mainly about kit, equipment, insurance, down time. This is becoming a more popular pass time for the HQ elements of companies in the Security and Risk Industry to “cut corners” as much as possible. An example of this is for a certain Risk Management company I did some work for in Afghanistan, our “Legal” weapons, of which we were meant to have an assault rifle and a pistol, were delivered to us, in an engine block of a banged up old taxi, in bits and pieces, so we had to build our own weapons from a multitude of split down AK47s. The pistols we have must be the cheapest on the market, Half polymer half soft metal, with a firing pin made out of some thing not much harder than a wet match stick and prone to stoppages, which, in light of us having to use the weapons, is a question of them or us. The same goes for the ammunition they buy for the weapons we use. 9 times out of ten, it’s the ammo that causes blockages and stoppages in the weapons. With all good ammo from both Western and Eastern countries, we get ammo from Egypt, which, for anyone knowing anything about ammo, is as good as useless.
DO YOU TAKE YOUR OWN PHOTOGRAPHS?
Yes, I have found taking photos a great way of remembering events and people. I have a vivid almost unquenchable thirst for photos these days after my purchase of a Cannon DSLR, which I love, the book I am writing is sometimes and will always be inspired in places by the pictures of us being places we shouldn’t be able to be. Photos are an important part of my life and a reminder to me, that I am a father also, so as not to let the troubles of where I am get into my bloodstream too much.
HAVE YOU MET SOME FAMOUS PEOPLE? WHO?
I have, I have been Bodyguard to a few famous people, all of whom, I cannot mention, as we have a client and principal confidentiality clause. Sorry!
I suppose, now that he is sadly no longer with us, that I met Michael Jackson, in the Dorchester Hotel, London which was quite a surreal experience. We had a “principal” there, in the penthouse. Penthouses in the Dorchester, all come off a central area and go off in sort of spider legs. Mr Jackson was in the next leg to the one we were on. It was mayhem as all his fans outside the hotel who were constantly calling his name. The team I was working with at the time, thought it would be quite the giggle for us to go to the local shops, buy some white gloves. We closed the main curtains, opened the windows and stuck our hands out waving to crowds, who went absolutely wild, believing we were Michael! Little things please little minds. If you were one of those fans there to see Mr Jackson in Sept / Oct 2005, I apologise here and now, but it was fun for us.
WHAT WERE YOU IN A PAST LIFE? BE SPECIFIC.
Wow, a past life, I am not sure. Sometimes I believe in this, others I brief myself that its nonsense. I think I could have had a number of lives really, if I think deeply enough about it. Firstly, I think maybe been a gust of wind, as I often get the wildest dreams of blowing rapidly from country to another within in seconds, looking down at the effects we are having on our very delicate planet. Another belief is that I have no doubt at all that I was a Viking. Purely based on the area where I am from, as it’s where the Vikings first settled in England, and because I am taller than most others in my area, with the Scandinavian eyes of blue.
WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO CHANGE DIRECTION?
My daughter. As I have said, she inspires me daily, thanks to the concept of video calling. I have even been duped, by my daughter, to give her a history lesson on world war two via Face time, to her whole school class and teacher, unbeknown to me until after the lesson was finished and she panned the iPhone around to show me her class!
WHAT IS YOUR GREATEST ACHIEVEMENT?
The birth of my daughter, Lara. I cannot explain how much this event changed my life and has continued to change me.
WHAT ARE YOU WORKING ON AT THE MOMENT?
Like I said previously, I am working on my first book, I have no solid title for it, though, I have an idea that it may be called Johnnie Insurgent, as that’s what we nicknamed the insurgency during the worst times in Iraq. I am also working on academic qualifications all leading to my hopeful placement on a Masters Degree this coming September, 2014.
HAVE YOU ACHIEVED MORE SUCCESS THAN YOU ANTICIPATED?
In the Close Protection world, yes I have. Though, there is a new breed of younger Bodyguard coming through, who obviously think they know better than us “dinosaurs” and don’t really believe the things we had to endure during the early days of the birth of this industry.
WHAT BOOKS DO YOU READ?
I read other books within the industry, written by both people I know and people I have either met or heard of. Unfortunately, whilst studying, I am currently reading up on Financial Risk Management, which is destroying my will to carry on!
WHAT IS THE GREATEST JOY IN YOUR WORK?
The day I get home, I love it, the feeling of freedom, and then the inevitable epic journey to Northern Ireland to either collect my daughter or book into a hotel as close to her as possible.
DO YOU HAVE A MENTOR?
I used to have. He can’t be named for security reasons. He is still active in the industry; I shall just call him Mr. Terry. He put me on a very steep learning curve. I have met him in many countries and he constantly tests me.
WHAT’S THE GREATEST COMPLIMENT YOU EVER RECEIVED FROM A CLIENT?
It was not from a client as such. It was from a client’s family. We were hit by a vehicle bourne IED in Baghdad, the client’s neck was hit by shrapnel. There was no doubt, that he was bleeding out, and going to die if we didn’t act quickly. I got out the cars, surrounding his car, whilst our team medic gave first aid, which we are all trained in, and fought our way back to the green zone. The tear stains of thanks on the letter we received were very moving. We saved not only the head of the American lead coalition forces, but a husband and loving father that day.
WHAT WAS THE WORST COMMENT?
Excuse my language, but it was from a Russian millionaire, telling me I am shit. To which, he got a swift trade craft move used on him, he was put back into a car and returned to a safe haven, where he was fully brought up to speed by the company owner, that, saying that to guys like us, will, make no mistake, get him killed. One way or another.
WRITERS ARE SOMETIMES INFLUENCED BY THINGS THAT HAPPEN IN THEIR OWN LIVES. ARE YOU?
Yes, as this is my first attempt at writing, everything is based truly on things that have happened to me and my colleagues. If I am received favourable, I may look at writing more in the future.
OTHER THAN YOUR WORK, WHAT ELSE DO YOU LOVE?
I love mountains, I love being outdoors, sunsets or sun rises, equally are breathe taking. I love the feel of freedom, as when working in hostile places, we can become institutionalised in an open kind of prison for want of a better description. I love walking, when and where I please. I also love silence. None of this compares to my family though.
IF YOU WERE STUCK ON A DESERT ISLAND WITH ONE PERSON, WHO WOULD IT BE? WHY?
Crickey, this is a hard one. I would love to say my dad, but unfortunately, he passed away a few years ago. My reasons for this are quite simple, there would be no one to disturb the time we had stolen from us and I would be able now, to say the things I should have said a million times over.
WHAT WOULD YOU SAY IF YOU HAD THE CHANCE TO SPEAK TO WORLD LEADERS?
Stop lying to the people, stop wrecking what does not belong to you. Do what you said you would do to get the people to vote for you to start with. World Leaders work for the “common people” (which I do not accept that there is such a thing as a common person) not the other way around, so, why do they have the nice clothes, big houses, and expensive cars, when every country known to man in today’s age has a homeless person’s epidemic. Also, stop it with the softly softly approach. Point to note on that, the sad story of Drummer Lee Rigby, a British Soldier, sadly beheaded on the streets on London in early 2014. This was met by an almost blanket ban and media blackout. The two, now jailed, murderers have had several British Prison wardens suspended due to other prisoners punching teeth out of these “terrorists”. When playing with matches long enough, eventually, your fingers will be burned.
WHAT ARE YOUR PLANS FOR THE FUTURE?
My plans, simple, pass my Masters Degree, get a good job, AT HOME and try to forget about the bad times.
WHAT ARE YOUR TOP FIVE FAVOURITE BOOKS?
There’s a book wrote by Robin Horsfall called Fighting Scared. This is an Ex SAS man, who, like me was bullied and he went through and did what he did to prove to himself who he was. I have only recently read this book, after starting to write my own, I have found a lot of similar feelings within the book Robin has wrote.
ANYTHING YOU’D LIKE TO ADD?
This is not just a memoir of an ex soldier / bodyguard I am trying to write for my daughter. Quite obviously, I have been exposed to some horrors no one should ever see. I have suffered inside and out for these horrors, through anger, depression, paranoia etc. I have heard many “brave” men say there is no such thing as PTSD, I can assure you, after locking myself away for 8 months solid, hiding from imaginary terrorists that it is very real. I moved to an area where no one knew me, and made no effort to mix with anyone. I had ripped out my telephone wires in the house I lived. I had no TV, no Radio. I had a mattress on the floor in the back bedroom hiding. I only went out after dark, to collect my weekly shopping. No haircuts or shaving happened so no one, not even my mother or daughter would have recognised me. To say this is a thing of the past is a lie. The Dark times return, without warning to me, my fiancée, Dy, she can tell now when they are on route and prepares herself for the worst. Many sleepless nights, screaming in my rare bouts of sleep. There was guilt, frustration, impatience, loss of appetite, anger, and the need to disappear all hit home, very hard.
Clancy's comment: Thanks, 'YL'. I appreciate your time and efforts to be interviewed under difficult circumstances. Keep writing.
Think about this!