It was three days before one of my marathons … I was ‘tapering’ (ie reducing mileage and upping carb intake) .. two gentle miles … a mile from home and I pinged a muscle in my leg. No marathon. ahhhgghhh … all that training, all that prep, all those miles .. literally 3 days before. Disappointed doesn’t cover it! No more comments on this …

We all look forward to stuff, and sometimes we get disappointed when it doesn’t quite pan out as we planned, but I reckon we also have to look beyond our personal disappointments and see the bigger picture … I was serving on HMS Chatham as the Executive Warrant Officer (effectively the RSM on the ship). We were deployed to the Gulf, on a routine 6 month deployment looking out for UK shipping interests etc. We left Plymouth in Oct 2004, due back in March 2005. Our long-term programme had us at sea for Christmas, but alongside in Dubai for New Year. Not too bad (someone had to do it!). We headed through the Straits of Hormuz, looking forward to New Year … when news started to come in about the tsunami that hit the region on Boxing Day.

We were the nearest UK unit to the effected area, down at the other end of the Indian Ocean …. so we waited to be re-tasked. But no orders were forthcoming from the MoD. So we continued with our programme, heading to Dubai. The guys were ready for a bit of a stand-down, let off a bit of steam, so were all looking forward to the run ashore, and would have been very disappointed had it been cancelled. But as we began to see pictures coming in of the devastation we all began to look beyond our run ashore and thinking that we should be getting down there. We went into Dubai, but rather than have a run ashore we stored ship. Big style! Also taking on some extra stores that would be helpful in a disaster relief scenario (we regularly trained for these things). We sailed on New Years Eve, and headed out to sea and back into the Indian Ocean, and when the order to sail to Sri Lanka finally came from the MoD we were already very nearly there! (Gutsy call from the Captain, but it worked!).

On our high speed passage down we saw more and more images of the scale of the disaster. When within range our helo did a recce and the reports and films brought home to us the reality of what we were facing. Having overcome the disappointment of losing the run ashore, there was a growing sense of disappointment and frustration … actually what could we do? The scale was massive, we were one relatively small warship with limited stores and supplies. So in the best traditions of the RN in all these situations we held a Church service the night before we arrived on task off Sri Lanka! In times like these most military men will attend Church services, and the Flight Deck was full as our Chaplain Tommy led the service and prayed for us all … in his talk he said this:

‘I know many of you are wondering what we can do. There is so much that needs doing. Where do we start? I know that all of us will get stuck in, and we will do what we can, where we are, with what we have’.

And that’s exactly what we did, in a small Sri Lankan coastal community called Batticaloa. We cleaned the mud out of the hospital, and had our doctor holding a clinic for mums and kids as that was happening. We put a fence up around an orphanage, we pumped salt water out of wells and provided manpower to shift debris. We also patched up a couple of fishing boats and shifted them back into the water. Our Royal Marine detachment recovered bodies. We worked on electrical power supplies and we played football with the kids! We stayed there for two weeks until other agencies arrived and took over. 280 sailors made a difference.

An incredibly worthwhile and rewarding time, that came out of disappointment and frustration. But it was those words of the chaplains that stuck with me .. when you feel so overwhelmed looking around at the needs in the world or in our local community … all we are called to do is do ‘What we can, where we are, with what we have’ … that may end up in effecting massive global change or it may end up with you knocking on the door of your elderly neighbour to see if they are OK… but surely we should be doing something?

In the Bible we read that when Jesus was murdered, his mates (called the disciples) were confused, disappointed and scared. They had lost sight of the bigger picture that Jesus had spoken about (just as we did to start with on board – more worried about the run ashore!). But once they became aware that the story wasn’t finished, and as Christians believe, Jesus had risen from the dead, that disappointment and fear vanished and they got on with telling others about Jesus. And that continues today, the Church exists to tell this story.

Image Credit: Greg Rakozy