I received my job offer from the British Army on February 27th 2003, aged 16. Twenty days later, the war in Iraq began and the job I'd signed up for became a lot different to what I’d envisioned. By the end of March, 27 members of our military had been killed.
Four years later, my turn came around and I was deployed to Iraq with ‘A’ Squadron, the Household Cavalry Regiment, in a Formation Recognisance role - a driver of a small-sized armoured vehicle, in layman’s terms - and the seven months I spent in the region dragged by in the blistering summer of the desert. It was eight years ago but I vividly remember the heat. I remember the constant stress of incoming rocket attacks from insurgents in Basra, stomach-churning explosions that always seemed to creep nearer and nearer to the place I was taking cover. Like all my mates who were under deployment for the first time, I certainly came home from Iraq a grown-up - and the first thing they give you in recognition of that is a medal.
It all came to an end in April 2009 - six years and five months of occupancy later - and immediately there was call for an inquiry. That inquiry started formally after about two months, and yet we are all still waiting to find out if Tony Blair sent us to war illegally. For me, the thought that Blair might have already agreed a dodgy deal with the Bush administration before I ever got sent to Iraq is a prospect I believe I am owed the answer to. Having been and risked my life there, I think I have the right to know.
The first thought in the Chilcot Inquiry has to be given to the families of men and women who didn't return from that land, a few thousand miles away; but right behind that group of people is us - the Iraq veterans. We, literally thousands and thousands of us, are waiting with bated breath to find out whether or not our occupancy in that foreign land was lawful. We're going to be pretty cheesed off it turns out not to be the case.
Like most, I've now passed the point of impatience and feel nothing short of abject annoyance with the seemingly endless delay on this report, mostly due to 'the Maxwellisation process'. As I cast my eyes over a medal I wonder whether I should keep at all, that feeling only deepens.
Incredibly, this inquiry is about to drag on longer than the conflict did itself – and believe me, that in itself seemed pretty long from where I was standing. To further delay the report is insulting to 100,000soldiers who served in that country loyally and with courage. This is because those who have never even set foot in a warzone have to be allowed the time to consider their responses. What about those parents who lost their sons and daughters, husbands and wives – and what about us soldiers who lost our friends?
When a country sends its troops to war, soldiers put their own lives on hold to follow the wishes of the government of the day. Some tragically pay the ultimate price. That government has to be sure of the integrity of its decision, including its lawfulness. I can't describe the anger that I feel when I consider that I may have been deployed on illegal grounds. The question that has crossed my mind multiple times is: am I implicated in all of this by association?
If you’re wondering whatever became of that medal I was given, I’ve left the military now and nowadays it sits inside my top drawer at home. Every now and then, when I come across it by chance, I think about those long seven months, the terrible things we saw and the effects they had on my twenty-year-old psyche. If the outcome of this inquiry is that hundreds of thousands of us did occupy Iraq illegally, I will personally send Tony Blair my Iraq medal. He can have it back.
To whomever is holding back the results of this inquiry, I say this: have the courage to allow us our answers. This isn’t about you anymore – it’s about the 179 servicemen and women who were killed, and why exactly they died on the scorching Iraqi terrain.
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