Rafairman's Blog

Posted on Tuesday 17th April 2012


Sergeant Alex Ford's blog – an unofficial account of an RAF Airman and blogger deployed to Afghanistan in a Joint Service Organisation – notched up over 80,000 hits between March and August this year. The blog brings to life the reality of war with a blend of wit, honesty and gritty realism. Warfare talks to the blog's author and his motivation to share his experiences online. View blog.
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Background
My name is Alex Ford and I am 41 years old, born and grew up in Uttoxeter, Staffordshire – a sleepy country town where very little happens. It's basically famous for horse racing, being close to Alton Towers and is nearby where
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A Springer crash. Finding humour in hardship makes a tour in Afghanistan much more bearable. Alex Ford.
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With local children out on patrol.
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What made you decide to set up the blog, and what was the motivation to describe life in the RAF?
I started using Twitter under my own name a couple of years ago, and it became more and more focused on my work role as time went on. People just seemed to be interested in what I was saying about work, and about what I had done. As time went on it became clear that I needed a separate Twitter account simply for talking about my life in the RAF. At the same time the MoD announced its new 'online engagement strategy' where people were encouraged to talk about being in the military... so I did! Back then I didn't think that the RAF was particularly good at shouting about itself. Often RAF personnel are involved in something and the media report it as the Army – that hurts a bit – so I wanted the world to know just what the RAF and its people do get up to. I don't blame the media. When they see someone in combats helping someone out of a snow drift, or fighting a fire, or helping people when there are floods, they just assume that it's the Army. This isn't always the case. I am terribly proud of being in the RAF and about what we have done and continue to do and I want to tell the world all about it

At first I just tweeted, but I found that I also needed a format where I could expand on what I was doing and what was going on. It was a chance to talk about my experiences in a job that had been very kind to me and then when I eventually got the call to go to Afghan it became the ideal platform to tell that story. The two compliment each other. One can talk about the day-to-day things that someone in the RAF (and indeed the military) does, and allows people to see that we often do the same sorts of things as they do in their normal lives – take the kids to nursery, have an argument with an Excel spreadsheet in the office, go to the football – whilst the other allows me to tell the stories of experiences and events in detail to allow people to see what is behind all that.
The blog gives readers a much better idea into daily life in Afghanistan than news reports. Was this your goal and how important do you think it is for people at home to get a more realistic impression?
The news reports seem to concentrate only on one thing: the bad side of being out here. The number of servicemen injured and the number sent home to be repatriated through Wootton Bassett. That is not the whole story. There are 10,000 people out here in one way or another involved in this conflict. People at home need to know that this war is more than just people coming home dead and injured. It's about how people
The blog gives readers a much better idea into daily life in Afghanistan than news reports. Was this your goal and how important do you think it is for people at home to get a more realistic impression?
This is definitely a posting outside the normal for an RAF techie who used to fix Radars on Tornado jets. I am the only member of the RAF permanently assigned to this Check Point and this Company of soldiers. The odd one or two others come through doing specific jobs, but they only visit. My role is to assist the local population to recover after many years of war and to help improve the governance of the country by stabilising the area. This is a job that is done by members of all three services – the Army, the Navy and the RAF. It can be frustrating at times, but I have enjoyed being out here. As for living with the Army and being surrounded by them, they have been very, very good to me. They have welcomed me into their Company and made me feel at home and part of them. There is a fair bit of banter at times – and you have to give as much as you get. The other thing about my time here is that it has made me realize just how brilliant the British Army's troops are. To see just how hard they work is humbling. I had respect for them before I came here, but now... I look on them in awe.
I was surprised that you had to do patrols given your liaison role. Is this something you asked to be involved with?
The first time you go out of the wire is a scary time. You are scared of lots of things – mostly because you don't really know what it is like. Before we came out here we were told about the threats and the hazards and so you think it is going to be like that everywhere. Some places aren't so bad, as I found out on my very first time out. Lots of kids about means it's going to be fairly safe. You still need to be on your toes, but you can cool it just a little bit.
Two things strike me about what you have written – humour and hardship (your delight at getting a cold coke puts things into perspective for me). Do you use one to cope with the other?
Of course. To get through some of this out here you have to laugh at it. When you fall into an irrigation ditch – and get soaking for the duration of the next four hour patrol – that's funny. No matter which way you look at it. It's a fact. And it helps get you through the day. You have to laugh at things otherwise a tour here would be a very, very long time. When you are pooing into a bag and you need to laugh at something...
You mentioned the MoD supported the blog – in what way?
Well, the support has been in helping me to get my message out there. They have advertised my blog posts on the MoD website and on their Facebook pages, bringing me more readers than I would have normally. Being an MoD sponsored blogger is important to me and it allows me to keep on writing.
How has your experience changed you? And how important is it that people at home understand the reaction of Afghans to ISAF forces?
An experience isn't something you have – it's something you use. I'd like to think that with all the things I've seen and done will be locked away until I need them. A lot of the things I have seen are inspirational and so when I need inspiration, need strength or just need some guidance on a decision I need to make, I'll be able to call on these experiences to help me. I hope that everything I have done and seen will make me a better person.

People at home also have an image that all Afghans are Taliban. This isn't true. The majority of them are just normal people who want to get on with their lives. I'd just like to let the people back at home know that.

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