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Gulf War Syndrome - by Michael J Waite

The military life is not for all. It is a calling by some, an inheritance by others. Nevertheless we all serve in faith when we join up. We don’t perceive ourselves as killers, we don’t perceive ourselves as casualties, but you always know there is the possibility, the risk of becoming dirty in some particular way. Making the decision to become a soldier is not taken lightly, and in training the Cadre are aware of the plight of many who join. Often they come from backgrounds less privileged than many, and take up the role of soldier as a positive contribution both to their country, and to themselves.

When you find yourself in foreign climates less appealing than the holiday locations many civilians go to, you live in a state of constant alertness. Most of the time you find yourself waiting, just waiting and waiting between incidents that release the adrenalin that constantly pumps around your body, but all have a telling effect on how you can operate and conduct yourself over time. For many, the stress is in the waiting itself. And at the end of each working day, the stress finds very little to rest by. You do not go home after working hours to your house and loved ones. You are not making plans for a weekend venture to a place of beauty, even in sleep you have to be ready for any eventuality. Many soldiers have to sleep with their weapons by their side, all in all, it is a very stressful job whilst overseas. Still though, you believe in your country, you believe in your training and you believe in the role you are carrying out, otherwise, why would we do it? To know that someone is by your side in areas of conflict as you carry out the role of a soldier, gives you a sense of belonging, and gives you the impression your role is important to the security not only of your country, but also the world. You are empowered within an organisation that as a young man, you place your trust in.

When you leave though, left to fend for yourself if you remain intact, there is a sad sense of loss for the comrades you leave behind. You know you did your best, you analyze till blue in the face the absurdity’s you have witnessed, you feel you made the right choice, but, the loss always remains. Then the analyst within you turns on society, especially when you become a casualty. In truth, you are already a casualty before you have joined, but this you do not recognise as a young soldier.

When I joined, I found myself amongst many from split family backgrounds and victims of abuses, the cadre in training do their best with you, but you cannot if any ounce of intellect, continue upholding something that ‘just doesn’t seem quite right.’ I am thankful in many ways for the service I was allowed. The touring of the World and the meeting of those who did not manifest prejudice from housing estates greatly benefitted me. I found I could be myself and no longer carry on the racism and bigotry that was taught to myself from a very early age. Meeting many of my fellow soldiers I realized just how butchered my education was. And those opinions that make many an ignorant on housing estates didn’t matter anymore. I was proud to serve under some of the best officers the corps had, in a unit that took me all over the world. But here in civilian street, like many ex comrades, I find myself at a loss with what to do with myself. This is compounded more by ill health ever since my tours of the Gulf in 90 and 91.

Although I had already done a tour of the Gulf before the allies took back Kuwait, I witnessed the madness on the TV at home. I was proud for being the first to go to the Gulf as soon as Saddam had invaded Kuwait in August 90. But just before Christmas I came home, skin and bone from exhaustion of those first four months. Still though, I was proud to have served and in my small way, helped a machine depose of a tyrant. I went back after the allies had invaded on Op Haven. This was my second tour where defence of the Kurdish and Shi’ite people, and to protect the refugees from Saddams backlash, was the main mission. My heart, as in Namibia when witnessing the plight of refugees, came so close to capitulating in on itself with the utter absurdity of what I saw. They don’t teach you about coping with refugees in the military. Not within the corps I was placed in. They teach you battle tactics, first aid, field craft, weapons skills and of course, your trade, but when you come across new born babies that cannot scream vocally for the dehydration they are suffering, it changes your life, and your angle on conflict. The suffering you undertake in Martian terrain you can cope with, and you are always on alert for fear of attack from foe, but children in warfare makes a ridiculous statement of humanity. And you return, unable to find anything you knew before as comforting. You lose your love for everything once a given norm, and you begin to pull society apart for allowing to this day, atrocities that should not happen in the name of progress.

Since those days, I have ‘gobbed off’ to so much extent my own toes are curling. Yet I am driven on to carry out this practise and that is because, alright, you expect atrocities during conflict, you expect maybe you might lose your life or at the least become a casualty of a foreign power, but you don’t expect a cover up for the slow death many are now going through, by your own Country you served. I admit, my actions on return from the Gulf were frightening, but how else do you expect your men folk to behave when placed within theatres of operation with little rations and very basic living. Yes, I was appalled at the Arson I had carried out, and yes I could make many excuses about the event. But in all honesty, I was reacting badly to a set of circumstances that only a soldier can know, but a particular aspect of those circumstances are going unsaid, and that is the extent of the chemical environment and assault on each soldiers person.

We were all trained for NBC environment, but now, many are feeling as if they have taken part in some sinister experiment. We are looking for answers that are being denied to this day. We stood alongside many allies, Americans included, but only a few of those allies are being honest with their own troops. The Americans at least had the Integrity to admit to their own troops that yes, they may have themselves been complicit in the American soldiers suffering the effects of chemicals. But the British MOD and Government; as in the cases of the poor veterans of Christmas Island, even the cases of Thalidomide, are digging in with lies and deceit, and are using every tactic in the book to discredit those who make claim of negligence.

I, and others, at first hand do know what has gone on. And I feel that there is a need for further investigation into how our troops are treated. I suffer PTSD as well as symptoms termed as Gulf War Syndrome. But I do not want compensation, I don’t want to sue for the sake of a few pounds. I just want what many want from their tours of duty, and that is honesty from the very Government we served. We all, who are suffering deserve at least a full war pension for the hell we have to endure from day to day. We all deserve the benefits the state can offer for those who now find themselves disabled. But more than that, we need the MOD and Government to be honest both with themselves, and with those who are suffering.

There are now some 9000, that’s nine thousand troops who are suffering from effects of service in GW1 and 2, and Afghanistan. Each will have to fight like a dog to gain recognition and fair payments to help them have some semblance of normality. But none will get any of it, until the government changes its attitude towards the people who serve her. I now, have an immune system that operates at 0.5%. Most normal people operate at a level of 30.00. It is only time if I do not get the treatment I need, before I contract a disease that may kill me, because my immune system will not be able to fight even a simple disease like a cold. Many will fall the same way. But mark this, look at our children in 10 to 20 years, and see how they are fairing in life. My guess is, that many children to Gulf Veterans will be poorly, but my hope is that cures will be found.

In essence, the soldiers and the public are being lied to in many ways. And this is causing a great deal of mistrust between authority and people. And if the government does not wake up to this very real attitude, then government itself will become like the dictator once ousted from Kuwait. There is no trust now in British Society, Government, and the MoD have to wake up to this. Because it is not only resentment that people are now nurturing, it is thoughts of rebellion that has not been seen for some years. It is about time, Government, the MoD, claimed back the ethics it once governed with, ethics that were born from the Second World War. Because as it stands at the moment, no matter what is fed to the British Public, none of it will be believed. I may have been rubbished, are all the veterans suffering the same delusions? And when they begin to drop in ever greater numbers, will it all be due to natural causes? Causes they claim are the killers of the Christmas Island vets? There is no conclusion to this, unless government act honestly for once. Then maybe, people will begin again to re-invest trust, because the longer they dig in and present the lies, the more likely the public reprisals of non participation. Then all they be, is a power people no longer believe; liars.

Michael J Waite 24th July 2011


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