Care Under Fire

Fast jets scream in with cannon and bomb, breaking up the enemy attack

Blast reverberates through my entire being, rendering me deaf and dazed

Beneath my body armour a film of mud and dust lies gritty against my skin

An explosion rips through the compound, followed by shouts of ‘man down’


I have been a spectator in this gallery of hellish images, now my work begins

I believe the first man is dead, rolling him to check brings a low animalistic groan

With help from two of his mates, we drag him into cover

I start to check him over when I am told of another casualty


‘That’s four this morning.’ ‘How many more?’

‘Are we going to get out of this alive?’ ‘Will I be next?’

Unanswered questions left hanging, pushed to the back of the mind

Get on with the job at hand


The village is shrouded in smoke and fire as the company fights for its life

Surrounded by comrades in this maelstrom of battle, I am alone

Sheltering in the lee of a compound wall as if from a mighty storm, ignoring the chaos

I kneel between the two living corpses and start my battle for their lives


Ashen faced and pallid, if I don’t act fast he will bleed out

Reaching into my map pocket I pull out an emergency care bandage

Sweating, shaky hands fumble and slip on the glossy plastic wraper

Gripping it with my teeth I rip it open and the grey and white roll is free


Pressing the white pad against the groin and wrapping it tight, I stem the flow of blood

Binding his legs with cas straps and a jimpy sling*, all seems good, radial pulse present

‘No morphine, boss’, he tells me. I turn to the other man, he is getting worse

Gasping for breath with a look of terror in his eyes


Removing his body armour shows the peppering where a thousand minute metal shards have ripped through flesh and sinew, crushing lung, lacerating vessels

The chest seal will not stick, it slides on a body slick with sweat and blood, I inwardly curse the maker of a device not fit for purpose.  Go for a chest drain or leave it?

Sitting him upright brings an improvement – leave it for later – dress his other wounds

Unwell, but not getting worse, I am winning my battle – I pause and observe the other


An overheated barrel brings a machine gun to a stop;

‘Who needs a piss?’ the gunner asks

Three men stand over the barrel, the yellow streams sizzle on the hot metal and vaporise

The stench of urine mingles with hot oil and gun smoke; a sharp tang in the back of the throat

The gun roars back into life to cover our extraction, carrying stretchers out under fire


Two live casualties are strapped to the CSM’s quad bike and taken to meet the helicopter

I have earned my pay and return to my role as spectator, the amateur playing soldier

Once contact is broken I trudge back to camp at the rear of the platoon

A film of the action replays in my head, I hope I have done enough


In camp, a debrief, rifle cleaned, med kit replenished and scoff

Minimise in force – can’t phone home; even if I could, what would I say?

Sleep comes hard, tears are shed, images of the wounded on my mind

A prayer for the boys on patrol tomorrow and the ones that are left behind


Barry Alexander 2011


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