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The harbor area was buzzing with guys preparing their little camp areas. In addition to your own space, there was also a patrol space to prepare, as well as other areas as directed by the drill sergeants. To further complicate things, there was a permanent sentry position being manned on each aspect, along with a runner. At some stage, you also needed to eat, wash, and probably have at least a piss if not a good turnout. But your priority had to be to get your A-frame set up to a point where at least you would be off the deck for the night. There was no way you were going to get it done if you didn’t work as a team with your mates. It was just far too busy. Once it was last light, it was tools away—no matter how far into the work you were—and stand-to until it was pitch dark. There would be no torches after that point. You would get into your dry kit and straight into your pit for the night.
I went almost straight on stag. I was extremely glad to get it out-of-the-way. With 60-plus guys still on the course, I was only likely to stand on post for an hour before I could concentrate on getting stuff done. As I faced out into the jungle from my sentry position, I imagined how many troops had been in this position before. I always told myself if selection was impossible, there would be no SAS, so it can’t be that bad. My hour went by in no time at all, and I was relieved. I followed the track plan back to my patrol as quickly as I could. I knew there was shitloads to do.
The guys were already onto constructing the second A-frame and had collected enough material to construct the other three. I got straight in with them and we split into two teams to get the frames set up before last light. That done, one team then did the patrol chunta basha (an area where the whole patrol could write reports and generally get together) while the other got scoff on. When in the harbor area, I felt it was important to have a proper hot scoff inside you. Some patrols would think they were saving time by eating from the packets cold. There would be enough time for that sort of thing once we went tactical out in the sticks.
Morale is a massive thing for me, and a full stomach plays a massive role in my well-being. In my eyes, if you had the opportunity to have a decent scoff, you needed to take it. Luckily, the rest of my patrol were of the same opinion. The first day was drawing to a close rapidly as we threw our dinners down our necks at the same time as commencing the washing up. We had achieved most of what we had set out to do. I hadn’t finished my basha, but I was off the floor and dry, so it was a nice place to be.
The word went round to stand-to, and I put my belt kit on, picked up my weapon, and headed down to my shell scrape on the outside of the track plan. We could hear that the others were not as prepared or as ready as we were; the drill sergeants started to close in on those people still fucking about. I remember thinking thank fuck that’s not me as lads were being hurried into their stag positions with their names being taken by the drill sergeants. You just didn’t need any more grief than you were going to get anyway.
As we came off of our positions, it was pitch black. My eyes had adjusted, but I could still only just make out where I was going as I traced my way back along a piece of green string toward my doss bag. It was quite comical to hear the muffled voices of people swearing as they poked their eyes on sticks or fell over their mates’ A-frames. It must have taken a good hour for everything to calm down. It was now all quiet except for the constant buzz from insects and the whistle of wildlife.
Crack. “Fuck, bollocks, cunt!”
That’s all I heard, followed by the eruption of blokes laughing. It was the sound of an A-frame collapsing. It is one of the funniest things you will ever experience, and it happens regularly on the first few nights in the trees. The drill sergeants must run a sweepstakes as to how long it will be before the first one piles in. For the unlucky punter who ends up in a heap on the floor, he now has to try to fix it in the dark or just set up camp on the floor with the creepy crawlies until the morning. Meanwhile, you lie in your own pit, going back through your own building process in your head and convincing yourself you’re going to be OK.
I fell asleep eventually, after about the third A-frame collapsed. At that point it wasn’t as funny, as it was actually keeping every cunt awake. I must have slept like a log because the next thing I remember was hearing the call for the morning stand-to. I climbed down from my scratcher and pulled off my dry kit, placed it straight in a dry bag, and pulled on my wet gear. It was a fucking horrible feeling, especially as the next thing I was going to do was lie in a shell scrape for an hour. In that hour, my wet kit became bearable, and as the drill sergeants greeted us with challenges of various degrees of competency, there was now no doubt in my mind: This is where I wanted to be. This was soldiering, and I was loving it.
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