A soldier in the Royal Irish Regiment’s First Battalion, who was sent to a remote outpost in Afghanistan, says the festive season has been “one of the most challenging times in my life”.
Key points:The soldier was born in 1947 and joined the Royal Ulster Constabulary in 1951When he was 15 he joined the RUCThe soldier, now aged 82, said he was “a big Christmas fan” at the timeThe man said he became involved with Christmas at the ROC in the early 1970s after visiting a local shop with his mother and sisters, who were both veterans of the Second World War.
He was a young boy, but “didn’t understand Christmas” at first.
“My mum used to go to the shop and buy gifts for the boys and they would take them home.
We were like kids at the store,” he said.
The soldier’s mother was a member of the RIO and was in a hospital waiting room when he joined.
He joined the service when he was about 18 and was given the rank of Private.
He joined the military as a teenager and served in the Territorial Army, the ROH and as a reserve soldier in Afghanistan.
He served in Afghanistan in 2005 and returned to Ireland as a Royal Ulster Regiment veteran in December 2012.
He said he “lived for Christmas” and “loved it”.
“Christmas has always been an important part of the holiday season for me, and it is always a very good thing for me,” he added.
He had been to the Roca on Christmas Eve last year.
“I thought I had to go and see how it is and then I was at the front gate when the doors opened.
It was like an Easter egg hunt for me.”
When the RSO first arrived in Afghanistan it was the first foreign force in the country, and they were given a small outpost to operate.
The soldiers were there for a month, then they were sent to their new base in Helmand province.
The unit, which is the longest in the ROG, is in the Helmand district of the north-west province.
It is a small, hilly area of hills, some of which are over 10km (6 miles) high.
The RSO’s headquarters are in Helghan.
The base is located about 30km (20 miles) from the city of Kandahar.
“We are not very well-known and the locals know us a little bit more than us,” the man said.
“But we do have a good reputation and we get good feedback.
It is very important to us.”
Christmas is a special time of year for us.
“He said the Christmas period has been particularly challenging.”
The Christmas period is not for everybody,” he explained.”
There is not too much activity, so people have not got much time to do anything.
“They do have to work and they have to be patient, which makes it difficult for us.
It’s quite difficult to get Christmas decorations out in the open because the roads are not safe.”
Christmas is not the only reason the soldiers are so keen to spend Christmas.
They enjoy the holiday with their families and friends.
“It is something special for us because we can come home at Christmas and not worry about what people will think,” he concluded.
“And we can have a big Christmas party with the family.”