Cheryl Nathan – The Mother of All Wars

c-nathanCheryl Nathen gave birth to her son Kieron in 1990. She put on a little weight during pregnancy and rather than opt for weightwatchers or the gym, decided to join the Royal Auxialliary Air Force (the airforce equivalent of the TA).

“To be honest I had always wanted to, just out of curiosity as much as anything. We were trained like regular soldiers, it appealed to the tomboy in me”

Cheryl was based at RAF Leeming within the 609 Squadron. She had been in for about a year, then, some bloke called Saddam Hussein started playing up in some country miles from home. Cheryl thought nothing of it. Then there was talk about invading Iraq and how the part time forces might be conscripted for the first large scale mobilisation for 50 years. Again Cheryl didn’t take too much notice, although she was aware she could be conscripted, she just thought there would be better qualified, more experienced people available. A few months later a registered post letter arrived. She had to go to Iraq.

“As a mother, I was devasted, I didn’t want to leave my son, he was getting to the stage where he would see things on the news and understand I was there. I didn’t know what effect it might have on him.”

Cheryl ended up on the Iraq-Kuwait border. “We served three months on OP Telic, covering the mp’s(military police)guarding the tornadoes and the esa (bomb dump) and the flight line.We were serving on an old Kuwait airbase which was heavily bombed in 2001 and we were fired on by scud missiles at least twenty times but the good ol patriot missiles provided by the americans took them all out ,only one close call thank goodness.”

“Our platoon got quite a bit of publicity. One of the other girls was in one of the Sunday newspapers, the emphasis on her been a mother, conscripted out there. The thing is, we were all mothers, all missing our families and worried we might never see our children again. For some of the girls the articles and publicity caused a little bit of resentment. I stayed out of it, just got on with it, I had more important things to worry about, like finding a phone that worked so I could contact home.”

Cheryl showed me her medals. “This one, everyone gets, for doing a tour out there, this one’s for coming under enemy fire. It’s a designer medal, like Burberry Check! I can laugh now but when you here the sirens go off, it’s the most terrifying thing you will ever hear, it sounds cliched but your whole life does flash in front of you and all I could think about was my little boy.”

It would have been reasonable to assume, after all that, possibly Cheryl might have regretted joining the RAAF.

“When I was drafted, I was devasted. Every emotion went through my head, surely there was a mistake, I’d just have to tell them I couldn’t, I had my boy to bring up. I was scared, angry, resentful but ultimately, I just had to get on with it. There was no get out of war free card. We did a weeks training then we were flown out there. No training could have prepared us for the conditions though. Rations were basic, I dare say prisons are more comfortable than our barracks. One of the worst things was the heat and humidity. When your on holiday and sat on the beach in 35 degree heat, it feels hot. Imagine if someone gave you a flak jacket, camauflage jacket, gun to carry, all in all it weighed 25 lbs, more than your baggage allowance at the airport!”

We were back to the recurring theme of our soldiers in modern conflict. Over there and under equipped. “My boots melted within a week, literally just stuck to the tarmac. It was like something from a cartoon. One time I got tooth ache. We didn’t have a dentist on our base, like I said things were very spartan. So I had to get a special pass to go to the American base. I just couldn’t believe it when I saw it, I half expected Mickey Mouse to come down the street. There was every major high street franschise you could think of, an army marching on junk food. Unbelievable. The dentist and his surgery was first class. I wanted to look in their barracks, I half expected them to all have water beds. But then I had to return to our barracks and our billy-cans!’

Cheryl is still unsure if the war against Saddam was the right thing to do. We never found the weapons of mass destruction and only time will tell if it was for the common good. Her only regrets are missing out on three months of her son growing up. She looks back on her experience with humour and fulfillment more than anything. ” Stationed on a military barracks we saw very little of either country, so I had to hang onto any bits of beauty I did see. we did guard duty, twelve hours on, twelve hours off. I’ll never forget the sunrises and sunsets, the haze rising from the ground, the beautiful oranges and red hues of the sky with the calling of the mosque as a soundtrack. It was beautiful and mystical, it’s horrible to think our forces are returning from such places with horrific injuries, both physical and mental. I didn’t serve on the front line, I didn’t see the blood, guts and death, I just hope those that did get the treatment or respect they deserve.

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