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Thursday 21 April, 2016
Last year around Remembrance Day, I wrote about the customs and traditions of the 10th/27th Battalion and the importance of remembering those servicemen and servicewomen who have served and who continue to serve today.
This year I find myself in Afghanistan in a coalition force that forms part of NATO’s Resolute Support. Once again, I feel extremely fortunate to have been given the opportunity to serve in the unique position of mentoring our Afghan colleagues.
It is a complex environment. This country has endured war for so long now that it seems as though sadly it has now become part of everyday business. Hatred runs deep, and it all depends on who you support, what ethnic group you belong to, or simply where you live.
It’s rather ironic to me that in times past we as a nation have also on occasions held deep centred hatred toward those we fought against. This started in World War 1 and was violently reinforced two decades later during the Second World War. Our internment camps and the propaganda used at these times are testimony to the attitudes we held.
In the NATO coalition, we work closely alongside both Afghanistan and Turkish forces. We brief them, dine with them, and of course drink coffee with them. They are our partners, our colleagues, and our friends. We have Germans working closely beside us, with their distinctive markings on the side of their armed vehicles; the same emblems that caused fear back in the first and second World Wars. Today the professionalism and engineering know how of our German allies, provides us with enormous reassurance. It adds to our confidence that we have what we need to defeat the enemy we face today.
These days a soldier’s life can be quite complex. There is the increased burden of extended body armour, helmets, webbing, weapons and the like. We fight an entirely different kind of war – tactics which are clandestine and unpredictable, so that we are almost always on guard.
Naturally being Aussies we ensure there is time made for a brew and a bite to eat with our NATO colleagues. I happened to have a packet of ANZAC biscuits on hand. The type sent to us by the RSL in our gratefully received care packages. We sit around together and start to joke with each other. I crack open the packet and share them around. ‘They’re not made for old people’ my Afghan colleague comments. ‘Maybe not’, I reply. ‘That’s why you dip them into the coffee like this’, I say, demonstrating exactly how this is done. The demonstration proves successful and the consumption continues with gusto. The Afghans and Turks agree that this is the way to go, and the packet is gone in a matter of minutes. I see one young Turkish Captain take a handful for later on. “They are good” he says, in very broken English adding a wry smile. I am sure he gets the irony of the moment; its significance is not lost on him. He’s a smart man and very proud of his country. I thought about telling him the ANZAC story, but in that moment didn’t feel the need. Is it the elephant in the room that no one dares bring up? I don’t think so. Not anymore. Over time we have moved on. We can now enjoy each other’s company, putting past conflicts behind us. This is a micro moment of hope for all post war futures. Can we imagine becoming friends with our current enemies? Here is living proof that over time it can occur.
My Afghan colleague pipes up. “There are talks of peace with the Taliban. Not in a million years,” he adds. I guess at one stage we all had the same feeling. But reality has crashed back in and we have quickly moved on. The packet is empty. We go back to work. Before I completely step away from the tea break, I have a quick laugh to myself. All that over a packet of ANZAC biscuits!
If we can do it here, then surely we can do it everywhere. I have no doubt more biscuits will be consumed over the coming weeks. I wonder when all those involved in this conflict will eventually move on. I have every confidence they will. And that’s because, as all servicemen and servicewomen who serve their country know, we are all working towards the same outcome – to ultimately arrive at the place of peace.
Lest We Forget.