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Marching on Faltering Hope [Part 4]

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*You come across a dusty, well worn leather bound journal, it's pages are yellowed with age and the writing inside is in a scruffy handwriting, On the first page you can make out in the faded pen ink*

Sergeant Robert Smith

Well, I'm still not sure how to start on this old thing. After all this time I've still been wondering on where to start on this old thing. I could start from day one of the infection, but I'm pretty sure everyone and their mother's told that old story a million times over by now.

So, I guess I might as well start at the beginning, maybe someone might want to find out what happened to me after all this time when I eventually kick the bucket.

Well, I was raised in this dinky little village in the Essex countryside. Nothing special but I guess it helped me have a bit of a soft upbringing. I wound up having three other siblings in the following years, two sisters and a brother, Laura, Tom and Emily... Now, I can guarantee you that being the eldest of four wasn't fun, I was never as good as my younger sister at sports or languages or whatever, I wasn't as good as my younger brother at maths and computers and stuff like that. I was always one of the quiet kids as well, never getting too close to many people, always shying away - working on my studies, doing what I could to try and be the role model the younger ones needed to look up to.

They beat me at almost everything too...You name it, the others always got that little bit better than me. I even envied them for a time.

At eighteen, after passing out of my local college with some decent grades, I signed up to the one and only Lymstone Commando Training centre. I remember it as if it was the greatest day of my life, the sun shining on my back as I walked through the doors of Lymptsone, a grin on my face - as if I had already made it.

How wrong I was...

Lymptstone breeds tough, no exceptions. Straight out of the gate the training had already separated the tough from the weak. Those that were tough did well, those that weren't - not so much. I was one of the lucky few of the weaker lot that managed to make it through in the first batch. The physical and psychological demands from the training are staggering, don't let anyone tell you different.

I even tried out for Junior Officer training, but the brass decided my skillset was more suited to being an NCO, so they slapped on a 2 I/c badge and sent me back to my troop. They essentially put me in charge of the other rookies, some still green, others not so much. According to the training Corporal I was doing absolute shit, and I honestly couldn't care less. I pushed on, leading the others by example - despite lacking in physical prowess, I seemed to make up for it in the respect of the men.

Two weeks later, after another batch of people went through and others sent back, I was approached by my troop commander, Captain West I think it was. He handed me a commendation, 'Most Promising Soldier' it said...

It would be an adventure, an honour to serve with the Marines...

How naïve my younger self was.

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Now, training at Lympstone...I can now barely recall anything of what happened there. Most of it just faded into a big blur after I passed out of the parade. The situation now giving me even more of a reason to forget about it as I focus on making it to tomorrow.

Most of what I recall was that it was a slow and arduous task to get even close to the next stage, and the added pressure of being a 2 I/c didn't help either. Don't get me wrong, it wasn't all that bad though. We all had our own ups and downs, and the added pressure just made us all push for that extra mile. Some way through training we were handed our rifles, live ones too - all armed with ten rounds, we had to hit at least seven on target to pass.

I was one of the small lot who'd got ten on target...this was one of those moments I remember so well and with such clarity that i could just close my eyes and be there once again. Here I was, 2 I/c of the corporal, feeling so proud of myself with a cheeky grin on my face. The brass decided to test us for marksmen badges after that, I got it. Clear as day, sun beaming down on me - I earned my marksman badge and was told by several other troopers that I was one lucky bastard.

Of course the Corporal gave a fair amount of pride to we lucky few who earned it.

The rest just sits back into the muffled blur. But I can at least remember passing out of the King's Parade, clean and pristine rifle in my hands, a perfect looking uniform and my 2 I/c badge still with me. We were addressed as one of the most promising troops that the base had ever trained, but I'm betting the General said that for all troops. We passed out without barely a hitch, and a fair amount of guys - mainly from my small unit that I was commanding were transferred to 2nd Platoon of B Company in the famous 3 Commando Brigade.

I was even given a Lance Corporal badge as I entered the new unit, with friendly faces all around, and a fresh looking Leftenant inspecting the new arrivals.

After that, well - we went partying. Celebrating our success. My head felt like it had been hit with a hammer several times over that following morning, awaking in the barracks, the Lt standing over me, looking unimpressed as the rest of the men all moaned and groaned in their beds.

I barely touched another pint after that night.

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Well, i thoroughly enjoyed reading your works Rifleman it provides an insight into the man behind the face you put up for most people.

Now to gather this all in character...

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I got lucky enough to get a few weeks leave before being deployed in my unit, so I went home - I had to see my dad and show him I proved him wrong.

Dad had always had a stern disapproval for me training and joining the marines. He himself was ex-army. He'd been there, done that - served in the Falklands back in 1982, he never said what happened there - and I doubted he ever would. He merely acknowledged that it happened. He'd never thought I could make it into the marines in the first place. I mean, a soft Essex countryside boy making it into the marines? My dad laughed at the fact.

I can remember the look of disbelief and shock with such clear precision and clarity, that I swear that it was the only time I had ever seen his jaw drop. Here I was, standing in the doorway - clean kit, Lance Corporal Badge and a pristine Green Beret. Mum came running downstairs, giving me one of her infamous big hugs and offering congratulations all around.

Of course there was the classical mum calling everyone and anyone she knew to say that I had passed out of Lympstone, Nan and that came straight away to congratulate me on my successes - I swear I was pestered for at least five hours before managing to get away from my mum showing off her soldier son. I even had Laura, Tom and Emily coming home to see me there in my kit. Hugs and congratulations were the least that worried me. It was my dad, sitting in the corner of the living room in his leather recliner, lost in his own thoughts.

He’d always had his gruff exterior, albeit thick skinned he had his heart with his family. I had personally never had seen him in such a state of mild shock before, it actually made me concerned that he was now worrying about me and my future. I went up to him and asked him what was wrong, he said nothing was. I called him on his bullshit then we proceeded to talk, he was clearly concerned.

‘Son’ he said, ‘You’ve made your decisions, and I could never make them for you. But, you will have to make some tough calls in the future, big or small, life or death. You will see horrors beyond your imagination; you will see the worst that comes out of humanity. But, son – always make those good decisions, always try whatever you can to get the best outcome for everyone. If you want to die for something, make it more than just duty or honour – make it for that poor sod next to you, so that he might go on to fight another day’ He then sighed, clearly waiting for a goodbye from me. ’Well Dad, I hate goodbyes. So I’ll leave you with a ‘See you later’.’

After that day, I swear I barely had time to see him again.

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Active Service from 2005 to 2012 flew by like anything. Well, maybe except for fucking Afghanistan for the three tours I signed on for. Two of which I was away for Christmas to make it all the sweeter. Afghanistan was a powder keg, we were told we were helping the natives and local government forces to stabilise the region, but I knew the bullshit when I stepped foot onto that hellhole. It was all about the oil, that was the only reason the bastards at the other end had sent troops out there.

The worst moment was back when I was a Corporal on my third tour, June 2011 I think it was, the last few months before going back home. 2nd Platoon were stationed at Camp Bastion at the time, and we were sent down south to secure a recon position at a nearby ridgeline before they sent the main forces down there. We hopped aboard two armoured trucks and started rolling.

Half an hour passed through the journey and nothing, then suddenly BAM!, explosion beneath the truck, flying through the air before coming down to the sun baked sand with a screeching thud. The Leftenant and Sergeant King of the platoon were critically wounded, same went for another Marine, Joey Sampson I think it was. Our truck had flipped onto it's backside and I immediately kicked the doors open and dragged the wounded behind the wreck of the truck.

The second truck behind us was disabled and had only the driver wounded, but nothing serious. I personally had got a minor cut on my left arm, but it was nothing compared to the LT and Sergeant and the other Marine. Peppered with shrapnel they were - and bleeding. The doc on hand called for medevac before we started taking gunfire from a couple dozen trigger men armed with AK-47's. One guy was shot dead, a close mate of mine too - Corporal Jim Quebec - a good bloke who'd helped me throughout training and was a hell of a laugh - gone.

As quick as you can snuff out a candle flame.

I swear I can still barely recollect what happened from then on. I took over the platoon, ordering a couple of sharpshooters onto a nearby hill that was behind us that provided decent cover. Then a weird calm descended on me, bullets flying and whizzing all around, the terrifying screeching of ricocheting bullets on the wrecked cars. I remember charging out into the open between the trucks, gunning down several of the bastards that shot at us, the sharpshooters got a few good shots in too. When there was only a dozen of them left... I don't even want to describe it. I charged at the bastards, with some blood curdling howl ringing in my ears as I took a grazing bullet to my arm before pulling the trigger on a few others.

The remaining trigger men broke and ran - the bodies of their mates left in the sand...

We buried their dead before medevac arrived, and the Lt and Sergeant were barely holding on. We took Jim's body back home with us. The doc's did all they could, but they couldn't save The Sergeant, Or the LT. Not even the fresh faced Marine who was just 6 months out of training.

Jim, The LT, The Sarge and Joey all received a hero's burial, Jim's little brother, families, friends and walking wounded men like myself all paying their respects to their fellow men.

The brass then decided to do something that didn't help the situation either way. 'For acts of bravery and valour in the face of the enemy, you will be awarded the Military Cross' They said. I shook my head and wanted to refuse, saying that the men who died deserve it more than me, men before or after me deserved the honour of the medal. But the brass insisted, and they promoted me to Platoon Sergeant as well. It was horrible - I lost four men, four bloody good men - mates - hell, brothers in arms if you will. And the fuckers promoted me for it.

They renowned me a 'War Hero' who'd risked his own life for the men in his platoon, and placed my name with other heroes who were before me - it was like I had always wanted wasn't it? Wasn't that why I had joined in the first place? To fight the enemy and become a living legend? I honestly refused the title, and I even started counselling sessions after coming back home - as the base's doc had diagnosed me with the earliest stages of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

The deaths of those four men weighed heavily upon me...I couldn't even imagine how it could get any worse than this...

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