Although I enjoy living here in the Czech Republic with my wonderful Czech wife, it is a very sad fact that I am often reminded of that I also live amongst a nation that is not proud of their soldiers, a nation who would rather typecast their Armed Forces as mercenaries rather than heroes.
I have worked with Czech soldiers for several years now, and often I would hear them declare that they do not feel their nation’s support, or that they can they hold their heads up high and walk proudly through the streets, or stand in a busy train or bus station wearing their uniform, without someone staring at them with both bitterness and detestation in their eyes.
Perhaps such a tragic event as the deaths of five brave Czech soldiers in Afghanistan last week may finally make this nation realize that their brave soldiers are paying the ultimate sacrifice for their country’s freedom. Before people proclaim that they already have freedom and that there is no threat from terrorism here in the Czech Republic, they should consider this: so long as extremist Islamic terrorist cells exist in Europe (and they do), there will always be a threat to NATO member countries.
As a former British soldier for 24 years I was always very proud of my career, and always felt equally proud to wear my uniform whenever I left the barracks. Every member of the British Armed Forces is proud of what they do, and are indeed appreciated by the general public for the sacrifices that they have made. I am not only talking about the ultimate sacrifice that some have sadly paid with their lives, but also the sacrifice of leaving their loved ones behind for long periods of time and fighting for something that they believe in.
I have witnessed people in the UK simply walk up to British soldiers and say "Thank you”, even buy them a beer in a pub, I have watched crowds of people in train stations simply stop in their tracks, put down their bags and start to applaud young soldiers who had just returned home from military operations abroad. I have never witnessed such gestures here.
Each time a combat unit returns from Afghanistan to the UK, they are given the “freedom of the city”. This prestigious honour grants them the freedom to march in formation through the cities to the sound of the military mass bands. The general public in their thousands will line the streets, patriotically waving their flags and expressing their support to their Armed Forces.
Every weekend, sporting events such as football and rugby on British television show British Armed Forces receiving a hero’s welcome when they step into the arenas, in testimony of how their nation supports their troops. Charities such as Help for Heroes and The Royal British Legion continuously strive to support the Armed Forces and their families.
Sadly I have also witnessed the British public line the streets in silence as the bodies of our heroes who are returned home in coffins and driven slowly through our towns and villages, before finally being laid to rest with full military honours.
Perhaps it is finally time for the citizens of this country to do the same, to finally start to appreciate what the Czech Armed Forces are doing for them, and express their gratitude rather than label them as mercenaries. Perhaps it’s time to make their Armed Forces feel proud of the sacrifice they are making for this nation, and welcome them home as heroes when they return.
Finally, my thoughts are now with the families of the five soldiers who paid the ultimate sacrifice, and whose bodies were repatriated last week. Rest Easy Brothers, your time is done.