The first dead soldier I came across shattered my illusions of war in an instant. His limbs were twisted at impossible angles, his unblinking eyes stared through me and his jaw gaped wide open forever stuck in a last silent scream as high velocity rounds had snuffed out his existence.
I spent a long time staring at him. I'd seen hundreds of soldiers die on TV. They clutched their chests and asked their friends to convey messages of love back home. None of them looked like the dead soldier I now stared at. His lifeless hands reached up toward the sky and no matter how long I stared he didn't move.
I saw many dead soldiers in my war. Some were torn apart by high explosives - others lay naked on the floor, their clothes ripped away by the concussion wave caused by detonating shells. Then there were those who looked to be sleeping, but they would never wake.
Their lifeless bodies frightened me. I would stare at them willing them to move. The finality of death weighed heavily upon my young mind. I had thought of war as being glorious. I had not expected the obscenity of seeing young lives shot away in an instant with no goodbyes.
I have been home for 19 years now. There is not a day goes by where I don't find myself back in the desert kneeling beside that dead teenager. I have often wished that instead of leaving him there alone I had buried him. I wonder what his name was. I think of his parents. I cry for us both.
I spoke with my Grandfather before he died about my war and his. I asked him if it ever goes away. My Grandfather smiled as he spoke to me. 'It doesn't ever go away son' He said. 'But you learn to live with it'
I have learned to live with that part of my life when the world went so wrong. There are often times when it hammers into my head without warning and my mind takes me to places I don't want to go. But I try to push it away, I try to stem the tears and I try to ignore the aching void I have inside of me.
The 19 year olds fighting in Afghanistan today will carry their war inside them in the years to come. I downloaded Paul Hardcastles remix of 19 and it made painful listening for me. I thought of my friends and I thought of the enemy and I thought of those weeks when we slaughtered each other and I thought of our boys in The Helmand. I thought about them a lot...