New book by Captain David Blakeley takes readers behind enemy lines
It is a remarkable story of bravery and heroism and one being told in a new book. Captain David Blakeley, of Market Rasen, has documented his time spent in an elite unit deployed to Iraq. Peter Thompson meets the author.
"WE WERE the Pathfinders, a secretive unit, dropped behind enemy lines. We were the guys who jumped out of the back of an aircraft with oxygen masks on.
"We were so high, then we had a long free fall before we hit our target, grouped up and moved in on foot."
This story of bravery is told in a remarkable new book, Pathfinder – The Untold Secret Mission In Iraq, by Captain David Blakeley, of Market Rasen.
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In it, he relates his time as part of an elite unit deployed in Iraq in 2003. "First in" is the official motto of the 16 Air Assault Brigade Pathfinder Platoon and their role is to operate undetected deep behind enemy lines.
In 2003, Captain Blakeley was given command of a reconnaissance mission of such importance that it could change the course of the war.
The book is the story of men, operating alone, feeling unsupported, and jumping into a landscape teeming with enemy forces.
And it is a first-hand account of an extraordinary group of men left with no option but to fight their way out of the enemy's back yard. No member of the Pathfinders has ever told their story before Captain Blakeley.
The Ministry Of Defence has only recently given permission for the account of his life behind enemy lines to be published.
He joined the Army at 16, completed officer training at Sandhurst and, at 21, became the Army's youngest captain since Sir Ranulph Fiennes.
Prior to deployment in Iraq, Captain Blakeley had served in several of the world's trouble spots. After being commissioned, he completed tours of Sierra Leone, Kosovo, Afghanistan and Northern Ireland.
It was in Iraq, however, that his work behind lines was to end.
He said: "It was dangerous and high-risk work. We had to go through a very hard selection process to get in Pathfinders.
"Wherever we went we only stayed a short time. Our great advantage was that we had night-vision goggles, the Iraqis did not."
But on a mission in Babylon, those goggles did not work and Captain Blakeley's mission ended with terrible consequences.
"Although we had night- vision goggles on, in this mission we could not see the moon and stars through which they worked," he recalled.
"There was cloud cover and we were operating in the Garden Of Eden area.
"It is wet there; there are streams and it is overgrown, not the more typical desert conditions.
"My vehicle went down a ravine and rolled over onto me, leaving me unconscious and causing severe damage to my arm."
Captain Blakeley was flown back to Britain.
"The nerve damage to my right arm was called brachial plexus and I was told I would never be able to use the arm again," he said.
"I remained in the Army for three years until 2006 and slowly got the use back through luck and determination."
He then set about writing his story and now, at the age of 34, the MoD has finally agreed to the release of the book.
It sold out on Amazon in five minutes after its launch earlier this month, so inspiring is it, particularly to people with a military background.
Pathfinder is out now and costs £18.99.