Kajaki: Stu Hale's hope for Afghanistan film
A soldier from Monmouth who was part of a dramatic rescue from a minefield in Afghanistan says he hopes the film Kajaki, based on the event, will keep the conflict in the minds of the general public for years to come.
L/Cpl Stu Hale, who was part of 3rd Battalion, The Parachute Regiment, lost his leg after standing on a landmine near the Kajaki Dam in southern Afghanistan.
In the rescue one of his colleagues died, four were seriously injured and two had to have legs amputated.
It is the basis for the new film, which tells the true story of how the group became marooned in the middle of a minefield and the dangerous and complicated operation to rescue them.
L/Cpl Hale said of the horrific events in September 2006: "I just remember thinking at the time 'it was only supposed to be me' - all those guys came in to get me out and ended up injured themselves."
At the age of 24, he had already seen action several times in Northern Ireland and Iraq before being posted to Afghanistan.
Recalling the horror of what has now been made into the film, L/Cpl Hale said he and two colleagues left their observation post in Helmand province to remove insurgents who had stopped at a checkpoint nearby.
As they moved carefully around the hard, rugged terrain, he realised for a split second that he'd just stepped on an old Russian landmine.
"The go-to response for the Taliban attacking us out there was to use our superior firepower, but when they're right next to the local population and there's kids running around, we didn't want to risk any inaccuracies," he said.
"I went out of my way on foot at personal risk so that nothing was on my conscience… I just needed to get a few hundred metres down to the brow of the hill.
"You get a feeling in your stomach that something bad's going to happen - I've had that feeling time and time again and you just control it after a while."
L/Cpl Hale, who is originally from Bristol, said he initially thought a mortar had landed nearby.
But when he grabbed his rifle his finger had been blown off along with his right leg, which he had just placed on a landmine.
"Instantly you get the feeling - it's me - this isn't a guy I knew or a friend of a friend, this is me, they are my legs," he said.
"Then you think you're going to die."
His fellow soldiers immediately started to help - he was losing blood too quickly to be carried back up to the base.
Once he was stable, Cpl Stu Pearson started to look around for an emergency helicopter landing site, but slipped on a rock, putting "one foot in the wrong place".
He too lost his leg to a mine.
A large Chinook helicopter arrived, but didn't have a winch to extract the soldiers.
The downdraft it created set off another mine, injuring Cpl Pearson and Cpl Mark Wright.
Before the American rescue helicopters arrived several hours later, another soldier set off a fourth mine, leading L/Cpl Hale to question "whether any of us were getting out of there at all".
The situation was "pretty dire" he said, but the humour of the group - something he says is accurately portrayed in the film - kept them going.
However, Cpl Wright later died of his injuries.
'Tendency to forget'
With the horror of that day now portrayed in a film, which premieres in Bristol on Tuesday evening, L/Cpl Hale said he hopes it ensures what happened in Afghanistan is never forgotten.
"I think it could be educational. Obviously when we pull back from Afghanistan people are gunna say 'was it worth it'," he said.
"It's certainly not my place to draw an opinion on that now, but the film is focussed on the guys themselves.
"When the war is out of the limelight and it goes away from the news and the media there's a tendency for people to forget.
"So hopefully things like this will keep it fresh in people's minds.
"I'm eternally grateful for what Mark and the others did - it's the reason I've got a wife and kids and I'm living my life now - it was the sacrifices he made."