Major Phillip Chapman

BATTLE SCARS is based on a story written by Fiona Hendry from the Deniliquin Creative Writers Group. It was narrated by Damien Johnson and produced by The Shack Studios, Deniliquin.

The story was inspired by the experiences of Major Phillip Chapman from Deniliquin during service in Afghanistan.

The Passing Out Parade was supported by the Australian Government’s Anzac Centenary Arts and Culture Fund and was coordinated by South West Arts in partnership with South West Music Regional Conservatorium and Outback Theatre for Young People.

By Fiona Hendry

I am a mature-aged, career soldier stationed in Afghanistan from February 2012. Australia is sweltering as we depart, onward to freezing Kabul. Into a uniform designed for maximum warmth, emblazoned with the markings of Major for the International Security Assistance Force. Breathing frigid air, and feeling the frost bite my fingers as I remove each glove, I check my weaponry and prepare for patrol. It is a different uniform from the one my Great-Great-Great Grandfather had worn 173 years before, when he had patrolled these same streets for the British army. His conditions must have been much cruder then, with the distance marked by long silences from home. It has been 10 days since I logged on to check my family, so I couldn’t imagine being there with months of no contact from home.

Container houses stand lined along Camp Phoenix, boxes stacked like a Lego-land village. Small restaurants dot the village, offering tastes of international food as comfort for soldiers in their ‘down-time’. A mini Eiffel tower in the French camp, a pizza place in the US zone. The soldiers’ camp contrasts with the local village, with makeshift huts doubling as a butcher shop or grocers and derelict back streets.

We are always armed in camp with our pistol, and a rifle added as we step ‘outside the wire’. My great-great-great Grandfather had been a part of the storming party on the Kabul Gate of Ghuznee Fortress - back in 1839, and I feel privileged to be able to stand at the remnants of that gate. Battles scar the region, evidence of three wars over three centuries of Afghanistan’s turbulent history.

As I patrol the gate, passing destroyed Russian tanks, remnants of the Russian Occupation in the 1980s, a sudden attack strikes – an insurgent sniper. It snaps my focus back to the job at hand, ducking for cover to locate the sniper, and protecting soldiers patrolling the gate. I’m lucky to survive unscathed, though other soldiers lie bloodied in the street, badly wounded and in need of urgent evacuation. Local civilians scatter, the sniper efficiently located, modern war machinery rumbling through the streets. I assist medical personnel to evacuate the wounded, standing in protection with my rifle raised, as new teams prepared to patrol the danger zone.

Getting back to camp, my heart-rate is elevated, safety is never taken for granted. I long for news from home, for a taste of normality. My great-great-grandfather must have suffered the long drought periods of no news, and no home comforts. I could imagine him writing lengthy letters to loved ones, steeling himself against the brutal cold winters and preparing for battle.

Logging into facebook, I gaze at my niece’s post, clicking ‘like’. My family are aware I will never post comments, or send stories of my time away, as my position and location could not be compromised. By liking posts, I am telling them I am alive. I ‘like’ as many posts as I can until dinner.