I have never smoked.
Or fixed bayonets in anger.
Or been in a muddy trench in another country.
In fact, the scariest thing I faced in that war zone was an apology...
Stick with me while I explain.
I was a Signaller, in charge of the troop of soldiers who ran the communications for the Battle Group. Since we were the most important consumers of power, I also had control of the generators.
Now the camp where we stayed was pretty flash. I did all my living and office work in heated and air-conditioned armoured containers. I had a rug in my office, a faux leather chair with lumbar support, and a fancy desk from Ikea. The coffee machine was just a short walk down the corridor, and I had a bar fridge under my desk for the troops Cokes. It was about as far from a muddy trench as war was capable of being.
But these modern conveniences came at a price: they were a huge energy drain. Luckily, we had three huge generators to serve the camp. Three, because we were supposed to have one working, one as backup, and one being serviced at any time. Of course, the best laid plans....
The company patrol had left the perimeter as normal that morning. About three minutes after they had left, the generator tech came and told me that they had to shut down all three generators, leaving us (and our radios) without power. This was, obviously, totally unacceptable. Now the poor lad (he would have been about 19) didn't speak much English, and I don't speak a word of Dutch, but I have absolutely no doubt he understood my views on the matter. (In fact, after our chat, I became known as "the scary Aussie girl".) He couldn't keep the generators running, but he could provide us a tiny backup one while he fixed the primaries.
We had to hook it up to the mains power on the headquarters, which also supplied every light, fridge and kettle in the building. And, being HQ, there were plenty. Unfortunately, the geni would only provide enough power for the radios, and nothing else. The RSM issued a general announcement that all computers, lights and heaters were to be switched off (this was the dead of an Afghan winter, mind you) and the HQ fell into a hushed, eerie darkness. But the radios worked!
Suddenly, the troops outside the wire ran into trouble. The radios lit up like a christmas tree, and my lads were working flat chat.... until *insert electrical fading noise here...* the power went dead. We had lost comms. The geni was still working, which meant someone was stealing our power! I was furious. I raced down the corridor, crashing open doors, looking for the perpetrator.
I found him in the second last room. An unnaturally tall, intensely muscled, Rhodesian born Major, a man who was regarded by the entire Battle Group with a mixture of awe and fear, had just turned on a kettle. I burst into the room, saw the steaming kettle and threw myself at the power point, all the while spewing a furious stream of white hot, righteous anger. (I was clearly having a bad day.) He was caught on the back foot, speechless in the face of my onslaught. I suspect that's the first (and only) time that has ever happened.
|He looked kind of like this. But bigger. And MUCH scarier. |
Image from here.
As I stood up from the floor, power now flowing to the rightful appliances, I realised what I had just done. Far too scared to stay and face the music I turned tail and fled. And yes, I am not ashamed to admit it, I ran straight to my boss's office and hid behind the door, jabbering to him what an idiot I had been and how I was so very, very sorry.
When my boss heard the news he looked stricken. I had just committed gross insubordination, and to the scariest man in the Battle Group. I was sure the wrath of the gods was about to descend. I would be charged! Disciplined! Sent home! Or, more likely, ripped limb from limb by an angry Rhodesian, if he ever managed to find me...
He found me. It took about thirty seconds. He probably heard me yammering from the hallway.
He strode into the office and called (you'll have to imagine that Rhodesian accent here), "Lieutenant Accidental, come out here!" Time stood still. But not still enough... I crept out, shamefaced, heels together..."Sir." "Jen, I am sorry about plugging in my kettle. It will not happen again."
Did he just apologise to me?
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is another lesson on the harsh realities of my war.