2008
09.10

Ray Hurst, President of the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) says in his diary of 1 October:

“That evening I attend the ALARM (what used to be the Association of Local Authorities Risk Managers) recognition dinner in Westminster. Another very useful networking event (even if it doesn’t help the waistline but that is probably beyond saving anyway).

An interesting and pleasant evening perfectly rounded off by the after dinner speaker in the form of the well known author and leader of the Bravo Two Zero patrol in Iraq during the first gulf war – Andy McNab DCM MM.

Now there is a man who knows all about dynamic risk assessment and what can happen if it all goes wrong (although Andy put it a little more colourfully).”

2008
12.09

A two pages interview in the Times Online today. I will give you a part of it here, it’s a bit long to post the entire interview. Allthough it would be worth it. Ah, what the h*ck, we’ll know soon enough if someone objects.

Life after war: when the guns fall silent

Special Air Service veteran and writer Andy McNab talks about the internal battle that begins when the fight is over.

By Robert Crampton

“The first time I killed a lad,” says Andy McNab, “it was 1979, I was with the Green Jackets in Northern Ireland, I was 19, and he wasn’t far away, I could see his eyes. I was absolutely sh****** myself. But you can’t say you were scared.” Did he talk to anyone about his feelings? “Absolutely not. It wasn’t the done thing, you’re worried about peer pressure and promotion and being down as a fruit. Besides, nobody wants to know about any failings, it’s a success, it’s what you do. It says in the manual, ‘The role of the infantry is to close with and destroy the enemy.’ The Army calls it ‘being kinetic’, which means blowing things up and killing people.”

When McNab passed selection for the Special Air Service in 1984, there was, he says, among his new elite comrades, more honesty regarding the dangers of combat. “You’re older and more confident, so you do talk about it more, mainly, ‘F*** that, I don’t want to do that again.’ But there was no system, no counselling, although a couple of lads used to sneak off to a charity in Wales for help. Delta Force [the US equivalent of the SAS] used to have an in-house psychologist. We would take the p***, but actually, it was a good idea.”

After McNab led Bravo Two Zero, the SAS patrol behind enemy lines during the first Gulf War which later gave rise to his 1994 bestseller, he had a couple of sessions back in Hereford with Dr Gordon Turnbull. “His claim to fame was he’d looked after the mountain rescue teams who were at Lockerbie. He talked to us about post-traumatic stress, what the symptoms were and so on. At the time I didn’t think I got a lot out of it.”

But as McNab has grown older (he is now 48) and wiser, he has become fully converted to the idea that some, not all, soldiers suffer post-traumatic stress and need help. His new book, his first work of non-fiction (many novels have intervened) since Immediate Action, the sequel to Bravo Two Zero, deals with the consequences of such stress on several of his former SAS colleagues, the members of Seven Troop of the book’s title. In particular, McNab tells the story of Frank Collins and Charles “Nish” Bruce, both of whom committed suicide several years after leaving the regiment, in 1998 and 2002 respectively.

The catalyst for the mental deterioration of both men seems to have been the death of their colleague Al Slater at the hands of the IRA in Co Fermanagh in 1984. Collins and Bruce (and McNab) were present the night Slater was shot. But whereas Collins blamed his superiors for his mate’s death, and Bruce blamed himself, McNab didn’t blame anyone. “It’s not a science,” says McNab, standing at Slater’s grave in the SAS plot in St Martin’s Church, Hereford. “It was foggy, we couldn’t see ten feet, we had no comms, you make the best decision you can make at the time.”

He walks further along the row. All the graves have flowers on them, some have bottles of beer or wine too. Another friend, Paul Hill, “Hillbilly”, is buried here. He died on a covert operation in Cambodia in 1988. And here are Bob Consiglio and Vince Phillips, two of the three members of Bravo Two Zero who perished in Iraq in 1991. How does McNab feel, being here? “Just that they’re dead, and obviously it’d be better if they weren’t. But it’s all part and parcel of it.” McNab may sound callous, but what is there to say? But for pure luck, a bullet on a marginally different trajectory, and one of these men would be pouring a tot of rum on his grave rather than the other way around.

Nish Bruce is not buried in this churchyard. Frank Collins is, but not in the SAS plot, because he was not a serving member when he died. “The thing about Nish and Frank,” says McNab, “is they thought about it all too much.” He doesn’t think they were more intelligent, or introverted, or indeed extroverted, than others, but they were probably more sensitive, more likely to dwell.

“My wife reckons I’m all right because I only ever think about the next three hours,” says McNab. He isn’t joking. “Today’s today. If it works it works, if it doesn’t it doesn’t. You control what you can and the rest, f*** it.”

McNab believes both his friends suffered from post-traumatic stress, yet their condition was more complicated than guilt over Slater’s death or clichéd flashbacks to other battlefield horrors. Both men were involved in the SAS siege of the Iranian embassy in 1980. Both served in the Falklands war. Bruce told McNab he felt guilty about “killing a young [wounded] Argentinian lad, he’s dying, it was like a mercy killing”. And yet, says McNab, their real problems began when they left the forces. Indeed, “post-career anticlimax” may pose as big a problem for ex-soldiers as post-traumatic stress.

“From the day he left, Frank regretted getting out, but he couldn’t admit it. He was always looking for something, but everything was a disappointment.” Collins found religion, becoming an ordained Anglican priest, wrote a book, then asphyxiated himself with exhaust fumes in a friend’s garage. Bruce threw himself, literally, into skydiving, and then one day opted to jump out of a Cessna 5,000ft over Oxfordshire without his parachute. “I hope he was smiling all the way in,” says McNab.

Neither had prepared properly for leaving the Army’s embrace, but that itself is common. “Blokes know it’s coming but they ignore it,” says McNab. “They don’t realise the military is a tribe, a little clan that nobody understands, a very small part of our culture, and once you’re out nobody gives a f***. People don’t understand your language, your humour.”

McNab has studied the problems faced by ex-servicemen. They are massively over-represented among the homeless, in prison, in the divorce courts, among alcoholics and in the suicide statistics. Besides Bruce and Collins, two of his other close-ish colleagues have also killed themselves, and another tried to. “We’re not dropping like flies, but it’s well above average.” Several years ago, it was discovered that the number of Falklands veterans who have killed themselves far exceeded the number killed in the actual conflict (more than 400 as against 255). When an ex-serviceman takes his own life, the average length of time between his doing so and having left the Forces is 13 years.

Nish and Collins both fit into that time frame. As does a third member of Seven Troop, Tommy Shanks. Shanks, who was awarded the Military Medal during his service in Oman, left the SAS pretty much as McNab joined in the mid-Eighties, but he remained in Hereford, and McNab got to know him there. Shanks was obsessive, a little repressed perhaps, a driven man. He retrained as an anaesthetist, moved up north, and then in 1998 shot his ex-girlfriend dead with two bursts in the back from a Kalashnikov. He is serving life. “It’s not as if we saw it coming, but we weren’t surprised,” says McNab.

One study found that close on 50 per cent of 2 Para, the unit that probably saw most action in the South Atlantic, exhibited some symptoms of post-traumatic stress on their return, and 22 per cent were formally diagnosed. In those days, Army culture militated against counselling, to say the least. Worse, in the years after the Cold War, defence cuts meant that such formal provision as existed to help with mental breakdown was lost, principally “Ward 11”, the military psychiatric facility in Woolwich. Other military hospitals were closed. “The Army would end up paying the Priory £500 a day for a squaddie who might have a psychotic illness to sit next to some Henrietta from Notting Hill Gate who’s had too much Ecstasy. Facilities for ex-military,” claims McNab, “were better during the war with Napoleon than they are now.”

Things are changing, however. The new military hospital in Selly Oak is being expanded. On the front line, attitudes towards mental problems have become more enlightened, partly a reflection of changes in wider society, partly because of the necessity to retain experienced men. Soldiers are now encouraged to discuss their feelings about an action as part of their debrief afterwards. “Senior NCOs are sent on courses and taught to engage with the Toms about what’s happened,” says McNab. “The culture is changing, but it will take a long time. There’s still that, ‘F*** off, I’m not a fruit.’” There are now 15 or more psychologists working in the Army. “The stigma of talking about how you feel is going.”

Not before time. The Falklands was an intense conflict, but it was short, the distinction between combatants and civilians was clear, and it was popular at home. Iraq and Afghanistan are much messier, with far greater potential for lasting trauma. “We get a sanitised view on TV here,” says McNab, “but the lads out there are seeing it for real, and when they come back there will be a proportion of them who think about it.”

During these new emotional debriefs, says McNab, “the NCO will say we had to do this, we had to do that, they’ll just talk about what went on and why, try to sort it our early, make it acceptable to talk it through.” And keep it in the family, deal with the issues of fear, or horror, or guilt, in a military context, because that is far preferable to someone repressing those emotions for a decade, while meanwhile descending into spousal or alcohol abuse, self-loathing and rage.

McNab has made several visits to Iraq and Afghanistan, as a journalist, as a businessman with interests in the security sector, and as a morale booster under MoD auspices. He still has friends in the Army, plus many ex-SAS colleagues working in the private sector. He’s been out on patrol in Helmand (Afghanistan) and Basra, admitting he misses the camaraderie of the Army and loves being back with the boys. “I’m not an adrenalin junkie though,” he says. “Look, I’m a f****** multimillionaire, if I want to jump off El Capitan, I can.”

The vast majority of young infantrymen in Iraq and Afghanistan, McNab is keen to emphasise, “are having a great time, and when they leave they’ll be fine. They’re saving up for a three-year-old BMW when they get home. They’re young lads, they’re from crap estates but they’re doing something with their lives, they’re all bombed up, they’re aware of what the Army does and they’re, ‘F****** hell, I want some of that.’” As an 18-year-old arriving in Crossmaglen, fixing bayonets on the border, he says he was exactly the same. What about the prospect of being killed? “You don’t think about getting zapped. It’s the culture.”

The public still does not fully understand the scale of the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. Time was, you could spend a career in the Army and never fire your weapon in anger. Combat was reserved for Special Forces and other elite troops. Now, on a tour of Helmand, a young soldier in a county regiment will fire thousands of rounds. “Ten years ago for instance,” says McNab, “house assaults were considered an SF black art, the ordinary infantry never got anywhere near them. Now, the first man through the door is a 19-year-old rifleman.” One battalion just back from a tour was so hyped up they had to be taken off for a fortnight’s adventure training to stop them fighting civilians and other soldiers in their garrison town.

These young men will leave, and grow up, and have children, and they will start to reflect on what they’ve seen. Most of them will process their experiences phlegmatically, like McNab, like the other members of Seven Troop (now variously a farmer, a teacher, something in the City, or out on the security “circuit” in the Middle East). Some, without help, will turn into the Nish Bruce and Frank Collins, and one or two perhaps even the Tommy Shanks, of the future. “Society has to understand there will be a problem and it’s worse because they know how to use a gun,” warns McNab. At least two Iraq veterans in the United States have been on a killing spree. There are no statistics for British post-Iraq/Afghanistan suicides. “The MoD doesn’t exactly jump up and advertise it.”

The Army can only do so much with the resources available to it. Besides, it is treading a fine line: the expression of normal human emotion in a war zone must be contained. “You want these lads to put tin hats on and kill people, they can’t think too much about it,” says McNab. “They can’t hesitate.” The reabsorption of former soldiers into a prosaic, peaceful society has always presented problems, and the soldiers of Iraq and Afghanistan will be no different. “Give it about a decade, I reckon,” says McNab. “It’s a time bomb.”

You can find the article here (with Andy’s photo!)
 

2008
07.09

This is in several papers but I’ll quote The Telegraph.

The SAS veteran Andy McNab has launched a scathing attack on the Government’s treatment of British troops after a poll found that two thirds of the public thought their care was “disgraceful”.

By Thomas Harding

The author of Bravo Two Zero warned that there was a “timebomb” waiting to explode of troops suffering from mental trauma after experiencing combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.

An ICM poll personally commissioned by McNab found that the public are dissatisfied with the treatment of those who have fought for their country.

Three quarters of the 3,040 adults questioned believed that the Ministry of Defence did not support troops once they were discharged from service. Almost half of those questioned (49 per cent) said they would willingly pay an extra penny in income tax to help former-servicemen with financial difficulties.

In the first poll of its kind, the survey found that 76 per cent believed the Government’s commitment to the psychological care of veterans was “inadequate” with discharged personnel left to ‘get on with it.’

McNab said he had written his latest book, Seven Troop, partly because of the psychological difficulties experienced by his SAS colleagues after they left the Army. Out of his 10 man SAS section, two committed suicide and one was jailed for murder after he shot his girlfriend 16 times.

“What we have at the moment is a timebomb of post traumatic stress disorder that will go off in the next 10 to 15 years in people who have experienced the horrors of the current conflicts,” he told The Daily Telegraph.

“It annoys me that we continually get politicians of all persuasions jumping on the back of military success only for the same politicians not to back them with money when they leave.”

He quoted the statistic that more men took their own lives after the Falklands War, estimated at 300, than the 255 who died in the conflict.

McNab is also concerned that with no military hospitals left the NHS “won’t be able to get on top of it” when the PTSD cases break out.

“Since I left the forces some 15 years ago, the situation for ex-service personnel simply hasn’t improved,” said the former soldier, who spent 10 out of 18 years Army service in the SAS. “I’ve seen for myself the appalling way that our soldiers are hung out to dry. “The idea held by the Government that the majority of service personnel experience a smooth transition into civilian life is delusional.”

It is estimated that six per cent of homeless people are former Servicemen and the National Association of Probation Officer has reported that one in 11 prisoners in jails are ex-Forces.

After discharge from service McNab said it was “very hard” for troops to reintegrate after they were “thrust into society” following years of being institutionalised in the Services. “There is a pervading sense of literally being ‘thrown out of the club’,” McNab said.

He criticised the “fundamental lack of continued welfare support” and called on the Government to treat veterans “with the dignity that we all agree they deserve.”

Read the full article here

 

2008
25.08

In News of the World Douglas Wight writes about Andy’s upcoming non-fiction novel Seven Troop.

I can’t say that I like the article very much, for I’m sure it (Seven Troop) is meant to be more then this article suggests. I think it’s a very welcome change PTSD is recognised (or getting there) but I think this article doesn’t do right to the subject as it should not be read out of context. This seems just sensational journalism to me. But then that’s only my opinion. Decide for yourselves when you read the whole article. I’m only giving you some snippits here.

“THEY are Britain’s elite troops—but after the last whiff of gunsmoke in their careers of courage disappears, the men of the SAS often find themselves in a new kind of hell. And unlike their famous motto, when it comes to coping with life after danger, Who Dares does not always Win. In a gripping new book, Seven Troop, SAS hero Andy McNab—author of best-seller Bravo Two Zero—today reveals how some comrades were driven to madness, suicide and murder when their glory days were over.”

“After years of fighting in the army’s elite, McNab himself knows what it’s like to stare into the abyss of madness. He needed to undergo therapy after a failed mission in Iraq. “Until quite recently PTSD had been perceived in the military as a sign of weakness—guys often wouldn’t admit they were suffering,” he says. He claims today’s soldiers are exposed to horrors in Iraq and Afghanistan that used to be reserved for special forces. And he calls for more counselling to be made available for our crack troops before a “major mental-health crisis faces those who have served our country”.

“Special Forces men are never going to have an easy time of it in the real world. They just have to try to get on with it, and some do that better than others. “But it’s a chilling fact that more guys—about 300—have killed themselves since returning from the Falklands than the 255 that were lost in action there.”

“Meanwhile at night McNab deals with a recurring dream . . . about his three “brothers” who are now dead — Al, Frank and Nish — all of them freefalling in a parachute exercise. “We scoffed at the notion of brotherhood but that’s what we were—brothers in arms,” says McNab. Now he’s the only one left alive, fighting for the kind of treatment for our troops abroad that could have saved his SAS mates.”

You can read the full article here

2008
04.07

Seven Troop on Amazon

2008
14.06

“What we never hear about the front line in Afghanistan”
Andy McNab’s Tour of Duty – The Telegraph

In his new documentary series, novelist and ex-SAS man Andy McNab talks to British soldiers on active duty. He tells Michael Deacon a story of unsung heroism

On Sunday, the number of British troops killed in Afghanistan since 2001 reached 100. In Iraq, 176 have been killed. But Andy McNab, the former SAS soldier and now bestselling novelist, has a different take on the casualty figures.

“You look at the Falklands conflict – 255 guys were killed, but even more than that have committed suicide through Post Traumatic Stress,” says McNab, who commanded the Bravo Two Zero patrol in the first Gulf War, and was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal and the Military Medal. “So the problem will be magnified soon, purely because we’ve got more soldiers going through those experiences. Somebody needs to address that aftercare, because the suicide rate of people with Post Traumatic Stress is normally about 13 years [after the conflict]. So there may be a sort of time bomb ticking away.”

Andy McNab’s Tour of Duty: a re-enactment of a soldier’s active duty in Afghanistan
Like McNab’s books, though, his new TV series will convey the heroics of British troops in action. He has now written seven action thrillers [note: should be “more than ten”, but unless his website will be updated this mistake will continue to circle] , including Bravo Two Zero itself and Crossfire, published in paperback last week. His autobiography, Immediate Action, has sold 1.4million copies in the UK.

“In the media generally, I think the military have been getting quite a hard time,” says McNab. So, for Tour of Duty, he interviewed soldiers about their experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan – and was impressed by their weaponry, their stories of bravery, and their general air of optimism. “Everybody thinks it’s all doom and gloom and all these lads are about to hang themselves and their boots are falling off and all that sort of stuff. It isn’t like that at all.”

Indeed, he believes that the UK has never had infantry with better experience or weaponry. At the start of the Iraq war, British soldiers were, he says, inadequately equipped – but that has changed. He admires the Osprey body armour system (“The Americans are looking at buying it because it’s so good”), the Personal Role Radio communication earpiece (“Every soldier has got one – we’re the only army on the planet to do that”) and the Warrior tank.

“I read the other day that everyone’s complaining about the Warrior not being armoured,” he says. “Well, I’ve sat in one and taken two RPGs [Rocket-Propelled Grenades] and they just bounce off. But the way it’s portrayed, it’s like these things are sardine cans. Of course they’re not.”

The infantry soldiers themselves are particularly keen on the Javelin surface-to-air missile, McNab adds. “They call it the Porsche, because every missile costs the same as a Porsche 911,” he says. “Everyone wants to fire it, so during a fire fight, there’s a list of people – ‘Right, you’re next.’ And you see guys going, ‘Yes!’ – because they’re getting the chance to fire £76,000 worth of missile.”

But McNab’s Tour of Duty was inspired by three rather cheaper forms of equipment: the laptop, the iPod and the video camera. A popular trend among British soldiers is to fit tiny cameras to their helmets, record videos of themselves in battle, and then put their footage to music on their laptops. They upload the finished videos to the internet, so that their fellow soldiers can enjoy them.

McNab was so impressed by the videos that he approached the Ministry of Defence and suggested he make a television programme to showcase the best. “But then I thought, ‘That’s just pure bang-bang – war porn’,” he says. “We needed to give it a context.” So the series features not only a selection of video clips but also interviews with the soldiers who made them.

He heard stories of “incredible bravery”, he says. For example, the rescue of a Danish soldier, lying wounded and out of reach in a bomb crater in the middle of a city; British soldiers saved him by stealing a bed from the nearest house, throwing it down into the crater, and using it to get to him. All while they were under fire.

But, while McNab’s new series will show us plenty of heroic British soldiers, it won’t show us McNab himself. Having worked in military intelligence in Northern Ireland during the Troubles, he keeps his face off television, and out of the papers, for reasons of safety. Even though it’s 10 years since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, he says it’s still not worth taking any risks.

“A lot of Apache pilots are doing exactly the same now,” he says. “The Apaches are taking a lot of casualties in Afghanistan, so they don’t want to show their faces because they fear reprisals here in the UK. I’ve had two death threats: one of them was a fruitcake, and one was deemed serious. So it’s just being sensible, that’s all.” 

You can find the article here