HOW IT BEGAN
Growing up I was obsessed with my father’s memorabilia from his time in the Parachute Regiment during the Troubles in Northern Ireland. That along with his stories was enough to confirm to me, as a boy, that I wanted to join the army. It’s a dangerous game to follow in somebody else’s footsteps as you never look at what you want, just try to emulate others. Well I didn’t know that at the time, in fact it’s one of the lessons I’ve only just learnt at the age of 35.
Fast forward to the age of 24 and I found myself starting at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst. I wasn’t your typical Officer material as anyone I served with can attest but I’d earned my place there and I did well, Commissioning in the top 10%. Time in the Air Cadets and Territorial Army as a Kingsman (equivalent of Private in the King’s Regiment) had prepared me well. Oh I’d also done a degree in Military History so there were my essays pre-written. Oops!!
FAIL TO PREPARE, PREPARE TO FAIL
I Commissioned into the Cheshire Regiment in 2006, I was one of the last two Officer’s ever to join this illustrious 317 year old Regiment with 75 Battle Honours and 2 VC’s. I was so proud. The fact that I commissioned in the same platoon as The Duke of Cambridge or Officer Cadet Wales as he was known then made the day even more memorable. I could see my dad beaming at me from the spectator stands, I’d done him proud too. I could see my young wife and first son next to them. They were not so prepared for what lay ahead.
From there it was a was a whirlwind. I was sent to Northern Ireland for the last marching season of Operation Banner, the long running and often bloody peace support operation across the Irish Sea. My wife couldn’t join us, I was told I had to spend at least six months living in the Officers’ Mess. My wife and I had just spent the last year apart and so this started to place a strain upon us which wouldn’t recover. By the end of six months the Regiment had moved to Catterick allowing us to get a Married Quarter together although as I was soon to deploy to Iraq, family time would have to wait. This was made more stressful by the fact my wife was pregnant again, although this time with twin boys. I feel for her, alone in a strange and isolated part of the country, no husband, few friends, a young son and pregnant with twins. It was only a matter of time.
We persevered though, and I made it back to be with her for the birth of our twin boys. But as to be expected, I was soon preparing to be off again. This time to the Falkland Islands, Kenya and Germany in preparation for an upcoming tour of Afghanistan. This one was being billed as the main event. Prior to that though, we amalgamated into the Mercian Regiment to become the 1st Battalion. Therefore, I was so preoccupied I failed to notice my wife slipping from me. She moved home just before the tour and although I didn’t know it at the time, that was the end of our marriage.
I deployed to Afghanistan during the summer of 2010 in what became for the Battalion its bloody trial by fire. We lost 14 men. I lost one soldier from my sniper platoon who was detached to work with another company. The second soldier under my care died when I was at Centre Parcs in England trying to rescue my marriage. I was on R&R. No one told me, I found out when his face stared back at me from the Daily Mail on the news stand. I’d come home after a hard three months fighting to be told by my wife that she was leaving me. She’d met someone else who gave her the attention I failed to provide. My head was starting to spin. I was here, my wife had left me, I had three young boys, our men were dying on the scorched sands of Helmand, and I was in Centre Parcs trying to pretend it was all normal.
FROM THE FRYING PAN, INTO THE FIRE
I flew back into the fray and within 12 hours was leading what would turn out to be a long and deadly operation to secure some bases for the Afghans. We were mortared by our allies, sat down on top of IED’s designed to bring down a Chinook, and fought for our lives for days. For me personally though, the worst was to come. Once we’d secured the bases, a large number of Senior Officer’s wanted to come down to inspect them. We therefore would act as a bus service on the most dangerous route. One particular day I had to collect an individual from one base, move him to another, and then repeat. There weren’t that many routes so I chose the most risky on the out bound leg so I could bring him back along the ‘safer’ desert route. I didn’t make it. As luck would have it, in all the vast expanse of desert, we drove over an IED. Our Jackal was bent in half, I was sat on the desert floor, ears ringing, and that was my first exposure to that type of incident. Our guest decided this would be an ideal time to chew me out in front of my men. It took a long time for me and my therapist to deal with that particular incident and individual. I wouldn’t want to snap his neck any more, I’d just feel sorry for him.
The double whammy came from hospital in Bastion when I rang my wife to tell her that I’d been involved in an incident but was all right. She responded that ‘we still weren’t getting back together’. Again that took a while to process.
Back in the game, I was blown up a further two times during that tour, people stopped wanting to go on patrol with me. I was getting used to it. That’s the interesting thing. Shooting at people, killing them, getting shot at, being blown up, they weren’t the basis of my Post Traumatic Stress. It was being embarrassed in front of my men, feeling impotent with rage that got me.
I came home and whilst I accepted that my marriage was over, didn’t accept that it should have been time to call it quits on my career. I mean, I’d played in the world cup final, how could it get better than that. I’d applied to join a specialist unit and had performed well in the pre-course prior to Afghanistan but when it came round to the real thing, my heart just wasn’t in it. I was a bit lost. Then an opportunity to learn Pashto came along. It was a long course far away from my battalion which would culmulate in another tour of Afghanistan. A way to help the locals rather than shoot them. I way to exorcise some demons. So I signed up.
At this point I was seeing my kids on a regular basis, studying hard and felt I’d like to meet someone new. In hindsight I should have just focused on what I had but you don’t do that do you? So I entered into the most turbulent and emotional rollercoaster I’ve ever experienced. This was my second marriage. In a world where it was just the two of us, it would have been perfect. But we both had so many other things pulling at us that it would eventually break. It did spectacularly.
WAS THIS A TURNING POINT?
I met this girl and we hit it off straight away, we fell in love. But we found it difficult to communicate. We started to fight but dismissed any doubts because when we were good, we were the best. Shared interests, hopes, dreams. But too many hurdles. All of this was against the backdrop of my imminent tour. By the time it came around, I found I was going back to the same town in Helmand Province. As you can imagine, no one wants to go back to somewhere they came out of last time by the skin of their teeth. But orders are orders and off I went.
My partner at this point was going through her own healing process so I found myself on the phone to her for an hour every day. I didn’t mind but it was a heavy burden. In a way I was glad to be in Afghanistan. A simple existence where you have no worries apart from dying.
The tour passed quickly and soon enough I was at home again, thinking how I was going to fix the latest dilemma. I had children in Manchester, a wife in Bedfordshire and a new job waiting in Wiltshire. So I did what I’d been doing for years, tried to manipulate the situation. I asked my partner to marry me. She agreed. That meant we’d have a family home, somewhere for us and the kids. So that achieved, we settled in for a happy summer. It was short lived as the pressure that if I got posted, we’d have to move, mounted.
So I tried transferring to the Intelligence Corps, they’d keep me local, surely. The course was hard and I started it two days after we came back from our Honeymoon so no time to be happy families, just long hard days following by evenings of homework. But I persevered. It’d only be for a while then I’d be posted locally and we could carry on. It hadn’t been great but I put that down to the pressure of this course and bedding in together. Then came the final nail. Regardless of the situation, I was being posted away.
I gave in. That was it. No more. I cannot take it. This was in January 2015.
From The Blog
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