2008
06.12

“What we are doing is running around an apple tree and as those apples drop we are catching them. There will be one apple that will hit the ground. “

Soldier Magazine
An Interview by Stephen Tyler

TAKING note of the old adage that authors should write about what they know has proven to be a lucrative line for ex-soldier Andy McNab.

The former Royal Green Jacket’s experiences behind enemy lines as part of the ill-fated Bravo Two Zero patrol in the Gulf War kick-started a writing career that has propelled McNab to the top of the fiction charts.

But although his own experiences have stoked the imaginations of the British book-buying public, McNab insists that readers wanting modern-day tales of bravery need look no further than the average squaddie.

“The private soldier now doesn’t compare to the private soldier at any other time in the Army’s history because the standard now is without doubt the best it has ever been,” McNab told Soldier, adding that his latest book, Crossfire (reviewed in Soldier in February), is based on his time in Iraq with troops from the 2nd Battalion, The Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment.

“You get to these battalions and the standard is phenomenal. I was with 2 Rifles in Basra last year and we went on a strike op in the city. Number one through the door was a 19-year-old rifleman. About ten years ago that would have been a specialist role, but now you have infantry guys who are able to do it. The Army is in a strong position because of the experience and knowledge they are getting on board.”

The ever-increasing number of stories of bravery in the face of adversity filtering back from theatre forms the basis of Andy McNab’s Tour of Duty, a hard-hitting six-part series airing on ITV4 this month.

Using videos, pictures and first-hand accounts from soldiers on the ground, combat camera teams and intelligence sources, McNab takes an in-depth look at the challenges facing troops and how they are being overcome.

Interviews with everyone from infantrymen to company commanders on their return from theatre explain each story’s context and McNab said that talking to the troops convinced him that suggestions young people were being tricked into signing up were extremely wide of the mark.

“The media like to use the Army to attack Government and in doing so they make it seem as if everybody’s waiting to hang themselves, that it’s all depressing and people want to come home because they didn’t know what they were getting into,” he said. “They forget that actually these lads are exactly the same as their next door neighbours.

“The difference is that they have been motivated enough to get off their arse and do something and if they don’t like it they can get out.

“People forget that these lads do know what they’re getting into. They are volunteers, they are more educated and worldly aware than soldiers have ever been and it’s not as if this war is being kept from them because they can watch it live on Sky if they want.”

With operational commitments reaching an unprecedented level, McNab is pleased that previous problems with kit and equipment have been ironed out.

Indeed, rather than the horror stories that emanated from the first Gulf War about the SA80 not firing due to the heat, today’s front-line troops are almost universally positive about the equipment available to them.

McNab, pictured above, said that he is aware of foreign armies casting envious glances at British kit and thinks the reliability and effectiveness of the weapons is allowing young soldiers to concentrate on developing their skills.

“This whole thing that some people seem to be hooked up on that the equipment is rubbish is just wrong,” he said. “There’s some really good gear that’s so good that the Americans are going to start buying it.”

Although Nick Stone, the character in McNab’s books is fictional, the author believes that a lot of his character’s missions are now being successfully completed in real life by Regular soldiers. Ally that to the increasingly “Gucci” weaponry available to infantry battalions and it is no surprise to hear that McNab believes the nature of front-line soldiering today is both challenging and rewarding.

“They are getting more kinetic kit and heavy weapons stuff in Afghanistan than I ever saw when I was in the Green Jackets – the lads these days have an amazing array of quality kit and the responsibility that a young NCO or officer has these days is awesome.”

McNab’s training and unique military manoeuvres around the world have placed him in hot demand from private companies wanting to learn from his experiences. Hollywood has already come knocking and he has served as a technical adviser on films such as Heat, while his own stories are currently being reworked into a film script.

The Distinguished Conduct Medal and Military Medal winner also works closely with the counter-terrorism community and said that Great Britain is well prepared against attacks on home soil. “I think it’s a lot better than people think,” he said.

“The problem is that it’s seen as a massive threat, but actually the system does work.

“The Israelis have a great analogy that what we are doing is running around an apple tree and as those apples drop we are catching them. There will be one apple that will hit the ground and that’s a fact because you can’t stop everything, but we have huge experience in dealing with it and we are well prepared.”

You can find the article in Soldier Magazine here

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