The Colonel’s Driver

by Anthony C Heaford, 18 October 2018

A planned conversation

In 2010 I was a fulltime driver for the British army at the height of force deployments to Afghanistan. I’d only been in the Territorial Army (TA) for a year but the operational stance was clear. I was dropping deploying troops at Brize Norton airport on their way to Afghanistan and was kept busy at other times ferrying senior officers across the country to training exercises, conferences and other destinations.

On Friday 23 July 2010 I'd collected a very senior medical officer from a week-long conference focused on the mitigation and treatment of the horrific blast injuries being inflicted by the Taliban’s I.E.D.s. It wasn’t my usual Colonel I was driving - I’d been lent out to drop another officer at a boutique hotel (I still have the postcode) not too far from Blackpool to meet her also serving partner for a romantic weekend. We chatted politely and I asked her how her week had been. Sounding dejected she reply to the effect,

“Just the same old people saying the same old things.”

There was a pause in the conversation so I took a deep breath before embarking on my pre-planned topic of conversation:

“Ma’am, would you mind me telling you 
just how attached to my testicles I am?”

Secondary fragmentation

Serving as a vehicle mechanic with a field hospital I got to attended some very specialist medical presentations.  Members of another field hospital who’d just returned from 3-months in Camp Bastion’s main hospital gave one such presentation I attended.  The principle point I took from this was the horrific damage caused by I.E.D. blast waves and the secondary fragmentation those blast waves picked up. But it was the frequency and severity of the traumatic genital injuries they reported that made my blood run cold.

This series of images attempt to illustrate the effect of such a blast wave. Emerging from beneath the ground directly under a soldier’s (or civilian’s) feet, the blast wave will already contain its own shrapnel such as screws & nails, nuts & bolts, but everything caught in the path of that blast wave is carried with it too. This is called secondary fragmentation and it can consist of literally anything - dust, grit, stones and even body parts - shattered teeth and bone shards can become part of that deadly blast wave radiating out and hitting other personnel.


We were told how a metal eyelet that was torn off a man's combat boot by the blast wave had become secondary fragmentation before embedding itself deeply in the man’s pelvic area. We were told how a pen lid embedded in a soldier’s frontal lobe, the blast wave having lifted the pen from his chest pocket and as secondary fragmentation the lid had penetrated the bottom of his chin, travelled through his nasal cavity and was lodged behind his corpse's eyes.

When full of stones, sand and grit that blast wave rips clothes from your body and it can strip flesh from the bone too. The doctors and medics who’d treated these injuries showed us photos of the devastating genital injuries; it was seeing those images that prompted me to tell a very senior female officer about my own strong attachment to my genitalia.

An informal kit request

As I drove her to her destination I told the officer about the presentation I’d attended. I mentioned my intended deployment to Afghanistan and I then described my abject fear of a catastrophic genital injury. I said I could get by without a leg or even two, or that I'd prefer to ‘bleed-out' on a battlefield rather than come home castrated. I told her my plan was to buy some “ballistic blast pants” I’d seen reported in the news, and to wear a cricket-box to shield my genitals. I also told her that there were British soldiers who’d not seen the blast injuries presentation and were still going out on patrol in Helmand “commando”, i.e. wearing no underwear due to the stifling heat and lack of laundry facilities in remote patrol bases.

Reaction?

On 18 August 2010, just 25-days after my casual conversation with that senior medical officer I read this report on the BBC. It stated an urgent move was underway to issue British forces in Afghanistan with genital protection from I.E.D. blasts.

Is it possible that my conversation with a senior officer on 23 July prompted this ‘urgent move’ by the Ministry of Defence? She had just left a conference on the topic of mitigating I.E.D. injuries so she could not have been better placed to instigate such a move.



In June 2010, a month before my casual conversation, a Cardiff based company called BCB International had exhibited their blast pants at an armaments exhibition (Defence Vehicles Dynamics or the DVD show) held on the British army’s proving ground at Millbrook in Bedfordshire. I knew about this because the Daily Mail national newspaper reported it.

DVD is the trade show for British armaments manufacturers to display their wares to the world. British land forces do get to survey kit too; it is where contacts are made and future careers secured (google ‘military revolving door’). And yet despite a British firm developing and displaying their own blast pants at the army’s own trade show, senior officers appear to have paid it little or no heed. There’d been no let up in the number of crippling I.E.D. attacks yet soldier’s testicles were still not deemed worthy of any protection at all beyond a pair a boxer-shorts

Questions

So what changed between BCB International pitching their blast pants to the army in mid-June, then advertising them to the public in the Daily Mail on 26 June and the army issuing a UOR (Urgent Operational Requirement) order for blast pants on 18 August? Could it really have been something as simple as a Colonel’s driver catching the right officers ear on the 23 July with my empassioned plea for some issued genital protection? Who instigated that UOR, on what date and did they claim credit?

Could the procuremnt delay be connected to the fact that the order finally went to a Northern Ireland firm called Cooneen Watts & Stone Ltd, a subsidiary of Cooneen Group? I already know of $400-million worth of corruption in the UOR supply chain - the British army bought 400 patrol vehicles at $1-million each only to find out they breakdown in hot weather. I believe that vehicle was chosen to swing a local election with the promise of government subsidies and jobs creation. I wonder if such shameless and blatant corruption may of influenced this UOR procurement?

The devastating effect of genital injuries from I.E.D.s was already know from the Vietnam War 40-years before, so why did it take till August 2010 for the British army to actually provide the most basic of protection for the personnel under their command?

Is it possible that politics, profiteering and gross incomputence in Whitehall actually cost British soldiers their balls? Leaving them to be castrated on the frontline in Helmand whilst pen pushers debated budgets and kick-backs? Does anyone actually give enough of a fuck for the soldiers left hungout to dry on the frontlines of Helmand and Iraq to actually act on this information? From experience, I doubt it.

Footnote

In December 2010 the British army announced via the BBC a further procurement of genital protection - ‘combat cod-pieces'. I wore one along with my blast pants everytime I left Camp Bastion on patrol through the Summer of 2012 and thank God it was never tested. But I know one soldier who was not so lucky - forced to walk between patrol bases in November 2012 he was struck by an I.E.D. and suffered catastrophic genital injuries. They were forced to walk between patrol bases to collect basic supplies (batteries for radios & NVG I think) because of a shortage of suitable vehicles. It was only 2-months earlier that I had been ordered to LIE to Defense Secretary Philip Hammond, ordered to tell him the new Foxhound vehicles were operational when in reality they’d failed hot weather trials in May 2012

Did the Foxhound procurement corruption and other kit shortages / inadequacies lead to that soldier's horrific injuries in Helmand and ultimately to his death as a result of those injuries 2-years later? I think it did and that is why men like Philip Hammond and Andrew Cahn have the blood of British soldiers on their hands. They are guilty of, or at least complicit in, War profiteering that killed and maimed British military personnel - people who have stood up to defend our nation are being stabbed in the back by their own Generals, Government and its unaccountable civil servants. 

It is still my intention to see them held to account in a court of law.

© Anthony C Heaford 2016