It was about 4am in 2010 when our infantry squad of ten soldiers was preparing to ambush the passing “enemy” – another set of Estonian conscripts on the country’s military service which is mandatory for men.
Everyone hiding in that damp and dark forest was dead tired due to intense training. We all suffered from sleep deprivation and most of us felt cold. I was assigned with a Ksp 58 machine gun. I teamed up with Andres, a mate who was responsible for feeding ammunition to the 1.2 metre, 12 kilogramme beast of a weapon that fires up to 16 hellishly loud rounds per second.
We had to stay alert, but I was barely awake. Andres, who was next to the gun barrel, had fallen asleep. Then a soundless signal was given to us: open fire! Alas, Andres was shaken by the sound of the machine gun firing (blanks, of course) right next to him. Poor Andres. He woke up to an ambush.
Thankfully it wasn’t real, in the same way a war in our part of the world did not seem real in 2010.
I thought of experiences like this when I was in Vilnius last week covering the NATO summit. One of the key topics for our readers at Estonia’s leading news portal Delfi were the defence plans for our region. These are the same ones I will follow as an infantry platoon commander, if it should become necessary for reserve units to fight for the defence of Estonia. New reserve units have been assembled in light of the enhanced aggressiveness from Russia.
It’s been thirteen years since my service, but I will go back to the woods in September for a ten-day mandatory training period. Thousands of others will be there. We’ll have to stay more alert this time, because the threat feels much more real.