Our War Episode Two: The Men of C Company give us their first accounts of their transition attempts in Afghanistan

by Matt D

One of the commenters on my last review of Our War pointed out that the programme highlighted the sheer stupidity of war and the waste of courageous young people and I would say that was an over-riding theme that crossed into this week’s episode as the men featured worried that their seven month tour in Afghanistan hadn’t provided any results. This week Our War meets the men of C Company, 2nd Battalion The Mercian Regiment which is divided into two platoons: The Assault Pioneers and 7 Platoon. The two men in charge of these platoons, Lt. Jimmy Clark and Lt. Luke Beetlestone are shown as very close and their colleagues describe their relationship like the between two teenage girls and I personally would say theirs is the perfect example of a bromance.

As I also noted last week these men often employ a modicum of gallows humour and that’s what we see later as The Mercian pose together for a group photograph one of them quips they’re doing this in case any of them dies but while this is presented as a joke there is more than an amount of truth to it. The men do admit that before being deployed a lot of them make big gestures with two of them, Privates Crowther and Maguire, proposes to their girlfriends with the former checking into The Ritz to carry this out. The men’s mission was to the Korengal Valley, known as Death Valley, to take over from some visibly tired US marines who were involved in trying to transition their missions over to the Afghan Troops. The abiding message throughout this episode seemed to be that both US and UK troops were to leave Afghanistan by 2014 however by watching this instalment I’m not exactly sure how that will happen as this transition sees a long way from actually happening. Like in last week’s episode, the men are interested in trying to protect a road this time the Route 611 another target for the Taliban so much so that the two platoons separated to different checkpoints dotted a different ends of the road.

Once again Our War demonstrates first-hand the impact of war and sometimes how instantaneous the insurgents’ attacks can be. This episode saw one of the more senior members of the platoon, a corporal known as Cat, was shot in the foot during a tour of the area by the departing marines however this injury wasn’t life-threatening as we see he immediately requests one of the men remove the sweets from his day bag so he can share it with the lads. Tom Maguire wasn’t as lucky stepping on an IED, an experience that he describes as what it would feel like if Mike Tyson hit you with a hammer, he shattered ribs and broke vertebrae however he went back to England and has lived to tell the tale plus he still gets to be with his gorgeous fiancé. Later in the story one of the remaining marines also steps on an IED and loses one of his legs however tragically the one death from the Mercian company is when the newest recruit Matthew Hazeldine is shot by a sniper only a couple of days after joining the crew. We also see first-hand that the men can’t always protect the locals as we see the after effects of a coach party full of Afghans being blown up by an IED a horrific sight which proved just how futile the efforts of the army sometimes are.

Though Our War does depict a lot of tragedy I think for me the helmet-cams and other home video footage means that we can see the monotony and the more light-hearted moments that happen during the seven month stay in Afghanistan. From the moment the men the decamp to the strains of East 17’s Stay Another Day you can really see the playful side of these men and once again I must mention the suspect humour of the bunch as one soldier says in a video that he’s the most likely to die with the woman behind him saying ‘I’m Private Morgan and I’m here to pick up Shep’s leg.’ There are also moments of great boredom which are witnessed in the intense claustrophobic confines of a tank as the men must stalk the enemy. As we are told by one private they try not to feel like they’re trapped so instead play a series of games such as I Spy, Noughts and Crosses and Paper, Scissors, Stone to try to relieve at least a little of the boredom. The feeling of despair and boredom is at least lifted in possibly the episode’s most joyous moment in which both platoons are briefly reunited for a massive Christmas party complete with a sit-down meal and a sing-a-long of a rather different version of the ’12 Days of Christmas’. As the men settle into the village we also see their interaction with the people who start to learn their names with the kids in particular lighting up as the men are always giving them sweets despite one of the group claiming that the kids are always nicking things. Finally in March the men start to get their return dates which gives them something to look forward to although, unfortunately, they know the men replacing them will have similar experiences which in itself makes their efforts seem somewhat futile.

As previously mentioned this episode does focus on the fact that our troops are trying to help the Afghan people before they and the Americans finally move out. Despite a 2014 completion date judging from the footage here, which was shot between September of 2011 and March 2012, that may be a pipe dream because the general tone in Afghanistan seems like a hopeless one. The fact that the soldiers can only shoot when shot at makes them feel frustrated as they feel they are constantly one step behind an enemy they’re not allowed to attack. Going by this episode the best thing the troops can do is gain the trust of the locals as they in turn will aid them in arresting known members of the Taliban but generally I did get the feeling that the hostilities in the country will never truly be at an end. Once again the first-hand footage of Our War gives us a unique insight into the ups and downs of tours of Afghanistan with this week’s episode also featuring a lot of to-camera interviews with the men who have just returned from war. Though it might not happen I do hope the troops do withdraw by 2014 as that will indeed stop the needless loss of young lives such as that of brave Private Matthew Hazzledon and young men just like him.

Did you watch this episode of Our War? If so what did you think? Leave Your Comments Below.