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Life on the homefront for East Lancashire army wife
WARRIOR tank driver Carl Readman has missed his baby daughter Laila’s first birthday and her first steps.
His wife Katie has treasured these moments, but cannot help resenting not being able to share them with her Gunner husband of the Royal Artillery as he completes forward post duties from Lashkar Gar base in Afghanistan’s Helmand Province.
Dance teacher Katie, 28, has made her choice to live off-camp in Rishton, so even when Carl, 30, is back from tours of duty, she only sees him at the weekends while he is based at Thirsk from Monday to Friday.
“But I knew that when I married him although that doesn’t make it easier,” she said.
“It never crossed my mind when we first met, it was a whirlwind; we met online, and we were soon never apart.
“He was just back from a tour in Afghanistan and had four weeks off, so the first time he then went back to camp at Thirsk was a shock. Now it’s just part of our lives.
“Some women find it hard to deal with their husband being away at camp, and choose to follow them into services life and to live in married quarters. I couldn’t do that; I have my life, my family and friends, a job.
“My support is here and it would be stupid to give that up. Army life comes into home life if you’re on camp. I wouldn’t want Carl’s bosses to be my bosses and to have people looking at your personal life in that situation.
“As it is, Carl can come home and shut off from work, especially when they’re training for deployment.”
With Laila at 13-months old, Katie is kept busy by her toddler as well as her dance school, with much of her time during Carl’s latest deployment spent setting up her first dedicated studio.
“He’s just been on patrol in the middle of nowhere for three weeks,” she said. “They go to forward operations for 10 days at a time, then it turns into 14 and this last time it was 22 days.
“There’s no way to get in touch – they only have a satellite phone then, so if the weather’s bad there’s nothing.
“It is better when they’re at the main camp. As a Warrior driver he’s out most of the time though. This tour has been hard, he has been out more and is in more danger more regularly, previous times it’s been more support work and not so much in forward operations.
“It is awful. You worry every day. I’m lucky I have a job which takes my mind off it, and Laila keeps me busy and positive – I can’t cry when I’m missing him as I have to be cheerful for her. But there are days you want to give up.”
Katie’s been watching ITV1’s new show Homefront, which features Colne actress Amy Strange, but is not convinced by the drama’s storytelling: “From what I’ve seen isn’t very real. The emotion, yes; the knock on the door, yes; but beyond that not so.
“The worry is there when they’re on tour, but you do know you will always be the first to know should anything happen; the family is notified, before the base goes on lockdown.
“From the smallest thing, to the ultimate sacrifice, I would know. So if there is a lockdown and I hear nothing when I’m expecting a call from Carl I know something has happened, but that it’s not bad news for me.”
Two months into this tour, Katie, Carl and Laila are counting down to his R&R – rest and recuperation. But incidents and flights out of Helmand could see the precious fortnight cut to 10 days: “By then it will be five months since Laila’s seen him and I hope she will accept him; he left with his daughter thinking the world of him but we don’t know how it will be when he’s back.
“If his flight home is delayed, we won’t get extra days, it’s tough luck. But if all goes to plan we’ll have Christmas, new year and our wedding anniversary.
“It sounds awful but when he has the two weeks’ pre-tour leave I just want him gone; you don’t make the most of it. You have to sign next of kin forms for each tour. We make our memories when he comes home.”