A lifetime ago, in the days when I still had a waist, I did a few tours in NI. One of my abiding memories of tours there were the occasional incidents when "Felix," the EOD guys, would rock up and tackle suspect devices, large and small. Their nonchalant, easy approach belied their calculated professional attitude to their craft. Brave men all. They call it the "Long Walk." Even now I reflect that it takes an extraordinary collision of DNA to create men who knowingly go in search of devices explicitly designed to wound, maim and kill. They save many lives.
It was also a fact that after many years of conflict in NI soldiers would be murdered or badly wounded by the terrorist with barely a murmur at home, save for their families and local communities. I hope we never become anesthetised and indifferent in the same way to our boys returning in such numbers from the present conflict in Afghanistan. It's with that in mind that I'd like to share with you the tale of one such man, a high threat operator who was grievously wounded but has returned and is well on the way to recovery. There is a human story behind every single news headline.
What follows are extracts in his own words, posted on a services website and I quote with his permission.
"My life changed on the 15th Nov 2009. I was serving with the C-IED TF as a high threat operator. On the day in question I deployed to PB sanford with my team, a RESA and a REST. After landing and being briefed by the commander at the PB it was ascertained that a device had been found on a track. A LN had information to indicate that there were a further 5 devices on the track.
We patrolled down to the track and established an ICP at a safe distance from the first device. I completed my RSP quickly. Me the RESA and REST TC formulated a search plan for the track - it was straight forward as the track was only wide enough for one person so the lead searcher went ahead with me 2nd and everybody else snaking behind. Richie declared a find and I moved forward to take a free look, as I approached Richie, I noticed some ground sign and discovered a second device. I wasn't happy with everyone being snaked out along the track and wanted an ICP set up.
I selected a field that gave good protection from both devices, but was close enough for me to work. The REST as always completed a search of the ICP and nothing was found. The TC - Cpl Loren Marlton-Thomas, walked into the searched ICP and promptly sank. I laughed at him (the situation was very schoolboyish), he said "I'm really stuck" I went forward to help him, by pulling his arms, as i put my right foot forward - there was a loud bang followed by a high pitched ringing. Everything slowed down.
I remember being conscious and rolling through the air. My eyes instictivly shut, I knew I had lost my legs and didn't want to see the horrors of my injuries. I landed with an awful thud, momentarily knocking the wind out of me.
I could hear voices, focused on remaining conscious, I was repeatedly shouting "I'm still here". At this point I must have blacked out, as I don't recall receiving any medical care. The next thing I remember is being carried on a poncho and someone shotuing my name, I responded with "I'm still here". The poncho (and my arse) bounced off the ground. A torrent of abuse ensued from me. It didn't hurt, but for some strange reason I felt the need to gob off. The last thing I remember is being lifted onto the MERT, someone held my head, saying "we've got you", IIfelt safe and drifted into unconsciousness."
He goes on to describe the next phase in another post,
"I woke up on ward S4, in Selly Oak hospital, five weeks later, having spent those five weeks in ITU. I had five vacuum dressings on me, each attached to a vacuum pump. There was a dressing on each stump, hands and one on the perinium (the blast went up my arse). Being sky high on morphine I felt very out of it. My dad was with me, he looked strained, at this point I didn't realise the extent of my injuries or the time I had spent in ITU. Trying to piece everything together has taken months and it still isn't 100%, I guess it never will be.
I will try and lay things down in a chronological order. I'll start by going back to the immediate aftermath of the blast, much of this information is from a variety of people:
A medic and a member of the team based at PB Sandford were approximately 30m away and therefore unaffected by the blast. Both had experienced a contact IED situation previously, the medic was straight on me and apparently I had a CAT on each limb (or remains thereof!). I don't remember any of this and felt no pain. I was then carried up the hill to PB Sandford - I weighed 105kg, without kit, the gradient upto Sandford is very steep, nor can you go straight up as defensive razor wire prevents this. In short this was a man test.
At Sandford, I and the other injured guys were moved into an APC (Danbat). As the APC started to move a Dane was climbing out of a hatch and fell on me, my No2 informs me I bellowed like no man before. Fortunately I remember nothing of this. I was taken to the HLS where the MERT took me the short distance to Bastion. The medical staff went to work on me, my injuries were described as the worst they had seen on an individual. When my No2 saw me I looked like a mummy with a head stuck on, he also said it was heart wrenching to see.
A C17 air hospital brought me back to the UK on the 16th November 2009. At one point I encountered complications and it looked like the C17 may have had to return to Bastion. Due to the skill of those people on the air hospital, I recovered sufficiently to proceed to Birmingham.
When I arrived at Selly Oak I was rushed into theatre. My wife saw me briefly as I passed her, the sheet was upto my neck and didn't reveal my injuries."
and then he lists his injuries,
These were the chances of my survival, given on my arrival at Selly Oak. Fortunately, for me, the doctors continued to do their best even with these low odds.
If I had been a dog a vet would have put me out of my misery.
I have been described as the most seriously injured person that the doctors have managed to save. My injuries included:
Amputation of both legs above the knee (left very high).
Amputation of both thumbs
Loss of little finger - left hand
Loss of 2nd & 3rd phalange on ring finger - left hand
Loss of 3rd phalange on middle & index fingers - left hand
Extensive skin grafts to approx 80% on the palm of the left hand.
broken ulna - left arm
Extensive scarring and grafts on left forearm
Nerve damage to the ring and middle finger (I have no feeling in them) - right hand.
Skin grafts to the right palm and a large area on the right forearm.
Open book fracture of the pelvis and a break on the right hand side. This required me to wear a large metal frame (x-fix) for 12 weeks, limiting any mobility.
Break of the right femur (lucky bastard me, I lose my legs and the bit that is left, I break!). This resulted in an extension to the x-fix going down (the remains of) my right leg.
There are other injuries, but I think you get the picture.
I was also on a ventilator for much of the 5 weeks in ITU resulting in a tracheostomy."
This guy doesn't do things by halves does he?
His very young daughter wrote a poem about Dad,
My Dad may not have legs….
My Dad may not have thumbs….
My Dad may be in a wheelchair….
He’s still my Dad, I still love him.
My Dad can still love me….
My Dad can still talk to me when I am sad….
My Dad can still play with my little brother….
I know that because he’s strong.
I love my Dad. He is a Hero "
In an email he said, "I'm lucky, my wife is an absolute diamond and my kids are good, kind and caring."
I'd hate to see what his idea of bad luck is; frankly, I'm lost for words but very humbled.
Lets not forget these men.