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Former soldier recalls how 2012 New Year in Afghanistan started with a Taliban rocket attack

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James Lee brought was woken by a bang, but it was not the sound of Champagne corks popping, but rather the sound of Taliban mortar rockets falling on his base camp.

The former soldier from Maidstone brought in the new year in Afghanistan 10 years ago.

James Lee's team in Kandahar
James Lee's team in Kandahar

He said: "It was Sunday, January 1, 2012... The New Year started with a bang, actually three of them in quick succession.

“I was in bed so I carried out the 'immediate action drill' of not doing any immediate actions by staying still and not getting on the floor.

“My reasoning was that I could see the condensation of my breath which made me think that it was better to risk death slightly than to get out of bed and risk being cold highly.

“The radar must have picked up more incoming rockets than there were bangs because, as soon as it was quiet, the camp PA system kicked in and an American voice announced in a thick Southern drawl: ‘All movement in all sectooors is to cease while EOD (bomb disposal) locate the unexploded ordnance. Ah say again, all movement in all sectooors is to cease while EOD teams try to locate the un-exploded ordnance.'"

James Lee, author of Licking the Taliban's Flipflop
James Lee, author of Licking the Taliban's Flipflop

Mr Lee said: “The Taliban must have got their hands on a bad batch of rockets that year as there were to be quite a few duds sent our way during the month of January.

“The EOD teams now had to search the whole of Kandahar Airbase trying to locate those missing bangs.

“For once, I was more than happy to follow an order, and fell back asleep. I was woken by the all-clear and another announcement from the chap who sounded like an extra from the film Deliverance: ‘All sectoooors are now clear. Restriction on all movements has now been rescinded. Ah say again, restriction on all movements has now been rescinded.’

“I just knew at that moment that 90% of the airbase residents were now looking up the word ‘rescinded’ in a dictionary....”

Mr Lee, from Lenham, has recalled his wartime experiences in a new book called Licking The Taliban's Flip Flop.

'Like a budget airline, but with guns...'

The title comes from one of those inane conversations he had with colleagues during a moment of downtime, when they discussed what price they would demand for licking their enemy’s footwear.

It turns out that not every military book is like Andy McNab’s Bravo Two Zero, full of heroics and derring-do.

Mr Lee had a very different experience during his service in Afghanistan and has written a book emphasising the humour, absurdity and occasional boredom of military life.

He described his job as an Army mover “as similar to budget airline check-in staff, but with guns.”

He said: “I joined the Royal Corps of Transport as a driver in 1989 looking for the travel and adventure that my apprenticeship at a local garage couldn’t offer me.

James Lee working hard for Queen and Country in Afghanistan
James Lee working hard for Queen and Country in Afghanistan

Mr Lee said: “Two years into my career and I wasn’t disappointed.

“I had gained my HGV licence, been posted to Germany, spent a month in Canada exploring the wilderness, completed a six month tour in west Belfast and taken a holiday in Russia on the Trans-Siberian Express."

He said: “Much to my amusement this caused an aghast reaction from my Officer Commanding as it wasn’t that long since the fall of communism in Eastern Europe and he thought I was up to no good. I just wanted to see behind the Iron Curtain before it fully embraced capitalism and ended up looking and feeling like any other Western country."

Mr Lee said: “I remained in the driver role, picking up promotion along the way, which in turn meant new qualifications. The travel continued with trips to most European countries, China, Nepal, Malaysia and the USA. I completed more tours of west Belfast and then went to the former Yugoslavia as Tito’s dream disintegrated.

“In 2001 I felt that my driver career had run its course and so I jumped jobs to the movement controller trade."

James Lee's book
James Lee's book

He said: “It’s a small trade within the British Army with only about 350 serving personnel and a further 200 reservists.

“This was a great job with even more travel and involved working with a lot of civilian agencies solving problems to ensure that the troops and their equipment got to the right place at the right time, whether it be by land, sea or air.

“I completed more tours, but this was now the age of Iraq and Afghanistan."

He said: “In 2011, I deployed on my last ever operational tour to Kandahar Airbase prior to retiring in 2013.

“I was in charge of a small team that would facilitate the movement of NATO troops within Afghanistan by air."

He said: “Not everyone in the Army is in the infantry and there is a lot of work that goes on unnoticed in the background to make the military function.

“On all of my tours I kept a notebook as I wanted to capture the essence of soldiers doing their jobs with the best characteristic that the British Forces have, which is our sense of humour.”

Licking the Taliban’s Flip-Flop by James Lee is available on Amazon, priced at £10.99.

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