Thursday, December 18, 2008
All our service personnel deserve respect and support
Last week saw the funeral of the first soldier from the Scottish Borders to be killed serving in Afghanistan.
Alex Lucas was aged just 25 and only became a father for the first time earlier this year.
He was due to leave the Royal Marines next year to get married.
Alex, who came from Peebles in the Scottish Borders, was buried in the town’s local cemetery last week with full military honours.
Peebles came to a standstill, as hundreds of local people turned out to line the street from the town’s main church to the cemetery as a mark of respect as the funeral cortege passed.
Alex, a popular, local footballer, was killed when an improvised explosive device detonated during a patrol in Helmand Province.
He was one of three Royal Marines killed during the week before last, and the marines - Britain’s commandos - suffered more losses with another four marines killed on Friday.
Although large numbers of soldiers from the Borders have now served in the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, with plenty of coverage by the local media, it can still seem something far removed from ordinary life.
Of course, television carries nightly news reports of the conflicts, but eventually people become hardened to it and it seems so far away. That is until one of your own is killed or wounded.
Fortunately for the Borders, the number of local soldiers killed in Afghanistan and Iraq is still in single digits.
However, the hundreds from this region who have now served in the two war zones have endured things and done things that those of us who have never been in combat can never fully comprehend.
Because the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have been very controversial for many people here in the UK, not everyone respects the soldiers, sailors and airmen seving their country in these theatres.
There have been some highly publicised incidents - thankfully only a small number - whereby returning servicemen and women have been instructed by superiors not to wear their uniforms off duty for fear they bring unwanted attention to themselves from those against Britain’s involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan.
There was also the appalling case where a wounded serviceman was subject to verbal abuse while lying in a hospital bed recovering from his injuries - this case prompted a review of wounded service personnel occasionally being treated in civilian hospital wards.
However, over the last year, the silent majority of people in Britain, irrespective of their views as to whether the UK’s involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan is right or wrong, have started making their voices heard in support of our troops.
As well as ordinary people lining streets as a mark of respect when the bodies of service personnel killed are returned home, many people send messages and parcels of support, wear wrist bands signifying support and so on.
And all this is only right and proper. Our soldiers, sailors and airmen do not want to be away from their families - especially at this time of year - and do not want to be living under constant threat of being injured or worse.
They do it because their democratically-elected government has sent them there to do a job which they are trying to do to the best of their ability.
And the vast majority are trying to do that very difficult job with courage, integrity and honour.
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