BACK TO THE FRONT
28 Apr 2010
Writer swaps pen for the sword to return to Afghanistan.
For Captain Doug Beattie, soldier and author, life should be taking a more gentle turn. As the veteran of two tours of Afghanistan; as the winner of the Military Cross; as a father and grandfather; as a man who has witnessed more fighting, death and misery than any soldier could rightly expect to; he has done his duty. More than done it.
Yet in Autumn 2010 the 44 year-old will be back in Helmand battling the Taliban for a third time.
In 2008, two years after his first tour of ‘Afghan’, Doug returned to Helmand with his battalion for a second time despite having been due to retire. Now he is once again postponing the quiet life, leaving the wife and family who love him, and going to war with his comrades of 1st Battalion the Royal Irish Regiment, the people he refers to as his other family.
“I don’t really have a choice,” says Beattie. “I have a duty not just to the regiment which took me in almost thirty years ago, but also to the Afghan people. On both my previous tours I worked closely with the Afghan army and police. Some were rogues and scoundrels, but others were amongst the bravest and warmest people I have ever met. How could I – as someone who came to their country as a stranger and promised to help – simply walk away before the job is done?”
“I have been very privileged to be able to write and publish two books which have resonated with the public. But fundamentally I am not an author, I am a soldier. Soldiering has been at the core of my entire adult life. It is what I know best. It is what I do.”
Doug knows the effect his decision will have on his wife Margaret.
“When I told her the news she quite rightly said I wasn’t the only one who would be facing the hardships of a tour. In reality I had also committed her to another six months of constant worry.”
Doug is fully aware of the dangers he will face. In his second set of memoirs, Task Force Helmand (published in paperback by Simon & Schuster. His first book was the best selling An Ordinary Soldier), he describes the almost daily encounters with death, leading British and Afghan troops into repeated, exhausting battles with the Taliban.
“If 2006 was bad, then 2008 was off the scale. As soon as I got back to Afghan I wondered what I had let myself in for. I don’t imagine things will be any different this time.”
During the 2008 tour he took part in 50 major contacts, and had to cope with the shocking reality of suicide bomb attacks, serious casualties, and the stress of mentoring wayward Afghan soldiers who will one day be responsible for their nation’s security. Up and down Helmand, Doug and his team found trouble. They didn’t go looking for it. It came to them.
Almost every patrol produced another horror. At one stage his unit was in contact every time they left camp. Finally the brigadier in charge of British Forces ordered them not to exit the base. In Task Force Helmand Doug describes in vivid and candid terms the conflict in Afghanistan. He details the shattering reality of collateral damage – the death of a beautiful Afghan child, killed by a British mortar shell. He recounts his fury as the Afghan soldiers he is working with murder a Taliban prisoner whilst holding his own men at gunpoint. He talks of ferocious firefights with enemy fighters, often at grenade throwing range. He explains the devastation caused by suicide bombers and improvised explosive devices; the paralysing fear of being ambushed; the adrenaline rush of combat; and the sadness of losing colleagues. But he also shows how ordinary men can overcome awful, almost impossible, odds. Articulate and engaging, Doug Beattie does not pull his punches. He brings to life the chaos and the ferocity of the war with the utmost honesty and humanity.
Doug Beattie was born in Hampshire in 1965 but was brought up in Northern Ireland amid the ‘Troubles’. He joined the British Army aged sixteen and rose through the ranks to become RSM to Colonel Tim Collins in Iraq, where he won the Queen’s Commendation for Bravery in 2003. He won the Military Cross in Afghanistan in 2006. Some of Doug’s exploits were featured in Channel 4’s Dispatches programme ‘Fighting the Taliban’. Doug officially retired from the army in 2009, but has maintained a territorial role. He will deploy back to Helmand in Autumn 2010. Away from soldiering Doug is president of his local branch of the Royal British Legion and a respected commentator on Afghan matters. Both of Doug’s books were co-written by Philip Gomm.
Praise for Doug’s first book An Ordinary Soldier:
‘Of the battalion of courageous tales to emerge from Iraq and Afghan conflicts, this extraordinary account by an ‘ordinary soldier’ is one of the finest’ Daily Mail, Books of the Year
‘A riveting read’ The Sunday Times
‘…exhilarating, bloody, moving and terrifying’ News of the World