Mazdurak is a village in the Kajaki District of Helmand Province, Afghanistan and is the setting for one of the most important episodes in ‘On Afghanistan’s Plains’. This section of the book focuses on the action that is fought by the men of ‘C’ Company when they mount an audacious raid into a village that is suspected to be a focal point for enemy activity in the area. On previous patrols to that area, the soldiers have often been subjected to heavy suppressing fire from Mazdurak. In a conflict characterised by frequent patrolling activity to dominate the ground, if this corner of Afghanistan is to be successfully pacified, the enemy will need to be dislodged from the village.
The action takes place on the morning of May 5th 2007 and begins with a tense approach march, conducted under the cover of darkness to get around 150 heavily armed British infantrymen into position under the enemy’s nose to conduct a systematic clearance of the village; compound by compound, room by room.
Once the men have breached the intimidating maze of half destroyed buildings and rubble-strewn alleyways, it is not long before the Taliban fighters realise that there are intruders in their midst. In the opening shots of the ensuing 3 hour engagement, a British soldier is wounded, followed by four more over the course of what becomes a protracted fight for domination of the ruined village. As the battle rages around him, one man is locked into a different fight. As he weathers the storm of fire, the narrator, military nurse Barry Alexander, does all that he can to save the lives of the wounded; doing his utmost to ensure that his patients stay alive to make the perilous journey by ground and air to the safety of the Field Hospital at Camp Bastion, a forty minute helicopter ride away.
If saving lives is Alexander’s primary role, staying alive himself while maintaining an inner core of decency, humanity and compassion comes a close second. In some respects, this battle of the soul is more demanding than the physical battle that Alexander is mainly on the periphery of, but is sometimes party to. Years later, it is only after counselling, therapy and through writing about his experiences that Alexander is able to come to terms with what he has witnessed and experienced.
The fighting in Mazdurak on that May morning inspired Alexander to write the poem ‘Care Under Fire’, which featured in the 2011 anthology ‘Heroes: 100 Poems from the New Generation of War Poets’, (Ebury Publishing). Having written poetry as a younger man, penning ‘Care Under Fire’ proves to be the spark that leads to Alexander’s writing many more poems and the book ‘On Afghanistan’s Plains’.
Through publishing early versions of his work using the online writing platform ‘Wattpad’, Alexander has been discovered and mentored by Mary L Tabor, former adjunct Professor in English at George Washington University and a Woodrow Wilson Visiting Fellow. Tabor writes:
“His is a moving memoir that reminds us what it means to be human and humane in the face of war. He never writes as if he is a hero but it is the sense of his heroism through the vivid, and, yes, often wry telling of what he’s seen and done, how he’s healed others while trying to maintain his own well-being, both physical and mental, that define why you should read Alexander.”
‘On Afghanistan’s Plains’ is scheduled for release on Amazon and Kindle on ‘Mazdurak Day’, May 5 2016