Powerful Portraits of British Soldiers Before, During and After Deployment to Afghanistan

Photographer, journalist and filmmaker Lalage Snow shot this series of portraits of British soldiers over a period of seven months, before, during and after their operational deployment to Afghanistan on Op Herrick 12. The portraits are captioned with the thoughts and feelings of each individual. They speak of fear, being injured, losing a brother soldier, missing home, excitement, coming home, and what life is like on the frontline.

Snow, who trained with the soldiers prior to their deployment to Afghanistan, found that being a woman had some advantages and helped the soldiers relax. “They didn’t have to be super macho around me or feel threatened.”

Lalage-Snow-photographyPrivate Chris MacGregor, 24

11th March, Edinburgh: “Obviously I’ll miss family but other than that I am going to miss my dogs more than anything. They are my de-stressers and keep me sane. I think I’ll miss TV too though. I try not to think about the worst case scenario.”

19th June, Compound 19, Nad Ali, after an IED incident: “Most people get used to being away from home but I find it hard. It’s your fear that keeps you alive here. But I believe if it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen and theres nothing you can do about it. If the big man upstairs could do anything, there’d be no dead soldiers. They’d all be alive. It still hurts when you hear about a soldier dying. You think about what their families are going through. You ask what they died for and what we are achieving here. I am not sure any more. That Afghan soldier losing his legs just now… I don’t know….”

28th August, Edinburgh, after being evacuated due to sustained knee injury from Iraq: “My legs just gave up. I think it was the weight – 135 pounds or something. I just had to accept, my body was telling me to give up as I had pushed it. I was telling it to go, it was telling me to stop. When squaddies come back they still have a lot of adrenaline and anger in them. I had to have anger management after Iraq. If I get like that now, I just go for a walk with the dogs. It is the best way to deal with it, instead of being all tense and ready to snap at folk. The first thing I did when I came back, appart from kissing and cuddling the misses and my bairn, was go for a massive walk with the dogs. I walked for miles and miles not caring where I stepped.”

Lalage-Snow photographyPrivate Sean Patterson, 19

11th March, Edinburgh: “I am going to say goodbye to my family early as I hate goodbyes. I am going to miss them. I’m not scared though, I can’t wait! I joined the army when I was 15 — it is all I wanted to do and I can’t wait to get out there.”

20th June, Camp Tombstone, being ‘TRIM’med (Trauma Risk Management): “It was horrible. When we got back to safety I broke down crying. We all did. I couldn’t sleep that night. I was thinking about home and staring at the stars. I had R and R a few days after that and for the first couple of nights I had nightmares and flashbacks; I woke up in pure cold sweat. When I got back and out on the ground again we were under fire and another two guys had to be evacuated after losing limbs. It was s**t seeing it happen all over again. It wasn’t nice at all. I say a prayer before I go on patrol now but I still think ‘am I going to come back in one piece or with a leg missing? I’m scared every time I leave for a patrol. I hate it. It is 84 days left until I go home.”

7th October, Edinburgh: “People think you can just sail through life but it is not as easy as that. You could get hit by a bus and that would be that. You never know what is going to happen – especially out there. You could go out on patrol and that could be you. Finished. I reckon we should leave them to do their own thing. We have lost too many. You see guys coming back missing three limbs. They’re not going to be able to get a job on civvy street are they. So I don’t really see the point. It’s not as if we are going to gain anything in Afghanistan, are we? It’s their own problem. Deal with it.”

Lalage-Snow12Private Jo Yavala, 28

9th March, Edinburgh: “I am going to miss my family. I have been to Iraq before but not Afghanistan. I don’t know what to expect but am looking forward to getting out there now.”

Compound 19, Nad Ali, after an IED: “I had a funny feeling about this patrol. heard the bang and heard on the radio ‘man down’ It was the first casualty I have seen. It was pretty awful. I saw the medic treating him, He had no leg. I went back to where it had exploded and then saw his boot floating in the water. Just an empty boot.”

10th October, Edinburgh: “In the morning when I wake up and in the evening before bed. But out there I was just praying all the time, thinking of my family at home. Sometimes I’d pray during during a patrol itself. I was scared. Especially when in contact, you don’t know what will happen. I was expecting the worst. Right now I feel a little bit angry, sometimes my temperture rises very quickly especially if I stay too long inside. Sometimes I miss being with all they guys. For the first few days I had difficulty sleeping. I dreamt about different things that happened in Afghan. A few nights I woke up crying.”

british soldiers snowPrivate Steven Anderson, 31

March, Edinburgh: “I think its going to be horrible to be honest. The work will be intense and there are going to be a lot of casualties. I am scared not of dying but of losing my legs – that would be the worst.”

June, PB Pimon, Nad-Ali: “Its hard to explain the conditions, how dirty it is. Often when you phone your girlfriend or something and she asks why you aren’t talking normally, it’s… you’re drained, you’re tired, you’re dirty, you’ve not eaten properly for a few days. Lack of water. You’re just drained. I was scared on the first patrol but you think back to the training and remember all the drills. I haven’t been in any fire fights and am happy for it to stay that way and to go back home with all my fingers and toes intact.”

October, Edinburgh: “We try and go there to win their hearts and change their minds… but those people are living until 45 and dying as there’s so much poverty and not the medicines to treat them. And they put different value on life. A child got killed, it was nothing to do with the Army it was just ill. They brought the body of that child to an army camp having shot it saying that it got caught in a fire fight and demanding money. How can you change the mind of someone like that?”

british soldiers snowPrivate Fraiser Pairman, 21

11th March, Edinburgh: “Aye I suppose I am scared of IEDs but I just can’t wait to get out there now. I am going to miss my girlfriend and deep fried pizzas though.”

11th June, PB Tofan, Nad-Ali: “It’s been alright apart from the heat. The locals are nice and we bought water melon off them. But the first time I was contacted I kept thinking, how the f**k did I end up here? And then just wanted to get out. I keep a St. Christopher in my sleeve. If I lost it I wouldn’t go on patrol.”

6th October, Edinburgh: “You get used to the sound of gunfire quickly and don’t think about being scared. There was one time we got ambushed from all sides and were stuck there for 24 hours.People were running all over the place with no order. It doesn’t feel like I’ve been away for six months but it is good to be back and good to see the relief on my mum’s face. I stood in the shower for half an hour the other day. And I like clothes so it is a relief to get back into normal clothes and to try and be normal. It will take a few weeks but you have to get used to it.”

British-soldiers-snowSecond Lieutenant Struan Cunningham, 24

9 March, Edinburgh: “I am looking forward to getting out there. This is what we have been training for.”

12th June, PB Zeal, Nad-Ali: “It is important to be confident on the ground so there is no room to be scared to be honest. Training doesn’t allow for fears. The Afghans we are working with are good and it is satisfying when they take on what you teach them. We are lucky that we have a good tolay to work with here though. Not everyone does. I don’t really miss anything. Wait no, I miss rain and having cold water literally on tap.”

14 October, Edinburgh: “In a contact you don’t have time to be scared or excited, you just have to ride it out. In two and a half months I lost four men to injury. The first time I wasn’t on patrol at the time and it’s weird; you feel responsible that you weren’t out and you can’t do anything to support or help them. You’re just listening to it on the radio. Helpless. It’s almost worse than being in the contact yourself. Another time we got severely ambushed… that was the only time I thought, ‘this is it for me’. Now that I’m home, I think I’m a lot more calm. I’ve seen the worst and I’ve seen things I do not want to see again.You’re fighting for survival at the end of the day. I think being in those kind of situations makes you realise you are pretty lucky with your life, with what you have already so why flap about the most simple of things.”

british soldiers afghanistanAlec McBroom, 24

11th March, Edinburgh: “I am not worried about going out – it is my job after all, but I’ll miss the family so much and also carpet and slippers – it sounds weird but it is the little things that make a difference.”

12th June, PB Pimon, Nad-Ali: “It’s been an eye opener – especially the limitations of the ANA. But now we are in Pimon life has a routine. I miss my wife and kids though. I miss their characters – their comfort. I just miss them and I think it is worse for them waiting for us to come back. Oh, and I do miss walking on carpets, too. I haven’t been scared – the last time I was properly scared was Northern Ireland and that was a long time ago.”

12th October, Edinburgh: “It is always that fear, that apprehension, what is going to happen if I get blown up? When it happened, straight away it was the world’s biggest surprise, the world’s biggest scare. The whole reason I went to Afghanistan was to justify the soldiers who went before me. Why should I sit with my comfy slippers on any my carpet, not having done my bit. But it’s as though ive got two lives: one where everything is dangerous and everyone is trying to kill us and the otherone where you look out of the window in Edinburgh and there are people with pink hair, proper civillians. It’s just a different world. I’ve always been quite religious and I’ve spoken more to the big man lately. I’m thankful that someone is looking after me.”

Lalage Snow graduated from the University of Bristol in 2002 with a degree in Ancient History.  She has recently relocated to London after two and a half years being based in Kabul where she made a documentary, Afghan Army Girls, which will premiere later this year.

This post was contributed by photographer Greta Rybus.

via The Telegraph

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