A NEW YEAR FOR THOSE WHO SERVE

This post first appeared on C Mash Loves to Read.

The Christmas and New Year period is a very trying time for military families, especially those with young children. The absence of a loved one who is necessarily in harm’s way only serves to intensify the impact of protracted separation upon the family unit.  So, it becomes incredibly important for the families at home to have strong support both from their own immediate networks and the community, just as much as the deployed servicemen and servicewomen require the best possible support along with our thoughts and most sincere best wishes for a safe return home.

Australian troops in Afghanistan. Picture: Australian Department of Defence

I’m a first generation Australian, with a strong British lineage on both my Dad’s and my Mum’s side of the family, specifically England and Wales. I grew up on the stories my father told of my grandfather and my uncles during both world wars and as a young lad, those things really resonated. I felt a strong pull towards military service very early on and, as I got older, I became serious about it.  That childhood interest grew into a real sense of duty. It was almost inevitable that I would choose a military career.

We have an eclectic mix of military service throughout the family, soldiers, sailors and airmen, but I feel the strongest link to my father’s eldest brother, Stanley, who served with the British Parachute Regiment during the Second World War. Sadly, I never met Uncle Stan but you can imagine the sense of pride and accomplishment I felt when, many years later as a young Captain, I was chosen for a highly coveted attachment to British Airborne Forces. In terms of my family history, I really felt as though I had come full circle at that point.

A couple of years later, when injuries I’d sustained in service caught up with me, I was medically retired having reached the rank of Major. Then, following a sojourn into the world of humanitarian aid during the emergency in East Timor in 1999, my post-military career has predominantly been in law enforcement and government security roles.

I’ve often been asked if there are any moments from my military career that have found their way into my novels. There are hundreds of experiences I draw on and many of them appear in my Alex Morgan adventures. However, one in particular came to mind when I was writing my first novel that was so perfect for the story, that I decided to include it almost verbatim – from real life onto the page.

I don’t want to spoil it for anyone reading DEFENDER, but this incident involved a number of parachute jumps we were doing while I was attached to 3PARA in the UK. The Regiment was required to trial the new low-level parachute being considered for introduction into British Airborne Forces. These particular ‘chutes are designed to deploy, as the name implies, at very low levels. We’d jumped a few times on this day at a much lower altitude than we usually would have – so the margin for error was significantly reduced. That is, jumping out of the aircraft at low altitude means less air time and much less time to rectify a problem in an emergency. In essence, you jump with a large parachute on your back (the Main) and a much smaller parachute on your chest (the Reserve) – although despite the fact that we were still jumping with Reserve parachutes, at such low altitude they were more or less along for the ride rather than being of any actual use.

On this one jump, when I exited the aircraft into the full blast of the aircraft’s slipstream and carried out all of the drills familiar to every paratrooper, my Main parachute wasn’t in the mood to comply. In fact, it was belligerently refusing to participate in the activity at all. I thought at the time that it must have had something against Australians! Realizing that the ground was rapidly on its way up to meet me and my Reserve parachute was nothing more than a passenger, my only option was to somehow convince the Main parachute to do what it was supposed – fly!

After a few thought provoking seconds where I engaged in a macabre parody of riding an invisible bicycle while trying to pull apart the support chains of a children’s playground swing, I managed to get some air into the canopy and the recalcitrant parachute deployed. I emerged from a rough landing unharmed, albeit a little shaken and stirred.

Episodes like these are written these stories for lovers of the action thriller genre who enjoy gritty realism served with a healthy dose of escapism; a perfect excuse to escape over the Christmas & New Year holidays without ever having to leave your chair.

I consider myself very fortunate to be able to spend Christmas at home with my family and friends. Many others are not so fortunate.  Many of the characters I have written about in these books are exactly the types of men and women who will be away from their loved ones over the holidays, most probably in harm’s way. Therefore, while we celebrate the season in safety and contentment, enjoying the dangerous adventures of our fictional heroes – whoever they may be – on a movie screen or from the pages of a book, it’s very timely to spare a thought for those brave individuals all over the world who protect others as their day job. Spare a thought too for their loved ones who know only too well what the sacrifice of service really means.

Happy New Year.

Related posts:
Recognising my Support Network
Conan Doyle, Holmes & Watson
Paratrooping & Publishing

Australian troops soldiering in Afghanistan. Photo: Australian Department of Defence