2 PARA civvy street
Callum Wright 29 I didn’t know about the Paras until I went to the careers office, I wanted to join the army because my entire family are military and I wanted to join as a tank transporter because my two older brothers were doing it. Afghanistan wasn’t a reason to join up, it was because my Dad had served and his brothers and my Grandad and his Dad served and my two brothers were serving. I got to the careers office and my Dad was with me, he wanted to be there as he had been there when my two bothers had signed up also. But I’m my own person and I feel I didn’t want to drive trucks, I wanted to be in the nitty gritty and I wanted to push myself. I saw a leaflet advertising Paras and asked about them. They said the failure rate is high and they jump out of planes so I said I wanted to do that so I signed up. I got to Catterick and there was 72 people on my intake and at the end of it I was only one of 10 left that made it. It was the constantness of it, it was non-stop, they wanted to break you. The hardest bit was… the physical aspect was tough… but the mental aspect was harder. The toughest part was wanting to make it for my family, to make them proud. I didn’t want to fail as I’m very self critical and I probably added more pressure to myself than was necessary. P company is
obviously tough, the hardest bit for me was I had bashed my knee on Bayonet 2 so the hardest bit for me was almost getting back-squadded and putting me back 4 weeks. The hardest bit was convincing section commanders that I could do it but also being in so much pain with my knee everyday. I was upset because I was scared they were right and I was going to be wrong that I could do it, but at the end of the day I proved that they were wrong. When I first got off the plane after arriving at Bastion we got off the Herc. I will always remember walking off the plane and feeling the heat of the engines of the plane and wanting to get away from them but of course the heat never went away and it just got hotter and hotter. I did just the one tour in Afghanistan, it’s just a shit hole, to me, if you want my honest opinion about it, I think that they should just build a large wall all around Afghanistan and fill it up with water as there is no other use for it. They are still living in the Stone Age. They are more than happy for us to go over there and fight for them but when you ask for their help they won’t. At the same time I think how naive governments are. How can we go and sort them out with just 100,000 men or however many allied troops there and we thought we were going to do it.
Look at history, nobody has ever managed to conquer Afghanistan, it’s been at war for over 2000 years, how can we expect to go there and achieve anything. When I got back I got bored, fucking bored, it was the same mundane shit day in, day out. It was almost like we were pretend soldiers, doing things for the sake of it because there was nothing else to do. Like stupid 2 day exercises in Friday Woods at the back of Colchester camp. What was the point of that? Friday weapon cleaning. What the fuck is that about? Just because the head shed and the Sergeant Majors wanted to be dick heads about cleaning weapons when they’re never being taken out is just keeping the blokes there for the sake of it. It just turned so petty, a lot of back stabbers, only the people that did it can tell you why. It was almost like you don’t get recognised for your abilities anymore, it became like a free for all. You couldn’t trust anyone anymore and there were too many snakes in the grass. Real friends are very fucking rare. There are not a lot of people I can just pick up the phone to and say I need help. Nobody is interested anymore, everybody looks out for themselves, just everything, I think the army as a whole went too much, it’s too soft. We are supposed to be the Paras, we’re supposed to be the
best, to have this element, to be renowned but instead nowadays you have Paras doing Parkour on YouTube wearing Reg t-shirts and Reg blokes confused about gender issues. Pretty boys going out in Joey Essex. For me when I knew Afghan was coming up and when I was out there I felt that I mattered and I was doing something that mattered. But that feeling disappeared when we were back in Barracks, I wondered what service I was doing. I tried to transfer to my brothers’ unit to transport tanks but 2 Para knocked me back. They said they were too under-manned to let me go. Once my transfer didn’t go through I knew I wasn’t enjoying it the same. That feeling of doing my service disappeared and I had met my wife by this time so it was the next chapter…I thought fuck it and I left. I left and I went and became a personal trainer and I started personal training at a university as well as a gym then. At the same time I wanted more work so I went and got a temp job working at distilleries and then through that temp job, I was still a personal trainer, I got offered a full time job with Chivas, working in the whisky industry, for one of the biggest whisky producers on the planet. After about 14 months that feeling ‘I have more to give’ came back, al-
most like a regret that I had left, so I spoke to my wife and I was getting angry all the time and I re-joined, this time as a tank transporter to see if I made it across and it had been the right decision. To see the other side of the coin but it wasn’t. The menial tasks and the bullshit was there still and that confirmed to me that the whole fucking army is shit now and that’s why the retention is crap as they aren’t listening to the fucking blokes. They have all these fucking meetings to ask why retention is bad, they just put it down to the blokes because they don’t listen but look at the adverts on the TV - asking if it’s ok to cry in the army or if it’s ok to be gay in the army. Who gives a fuck. Get an advert with a load of guys jumping out of planes and playing some quality music behind it instead of some wimpy guy doing pull-ups. The army is not the army anymore. The army has turned into a very PC safe entity. If soldiers do something stupid the public go OMG but honestly, leave the army alone…it’s not what it used to be. I rejoined and I moved my wife down south with me from Scotland and after 2 and a bit years I was just like ‘nah, this is fucking shit’. I know that the whole army had changed and that it wasn’t going to get any better so I started to drive trucks and I bumped into a 3 Para mate who was driving too and he had left because it was shit. I was
doing 17 hours a day and was tired all of the time so an apprentice butcher’s job came up and I love it and that’s me. I love working with my hands, the banters good, it’s almost because I go shooting and stuff anyway, it’s almost like when you’re taking all the meat off the bone, it’s like the cave man in me, it sounds gay but it feels like what humans should be doing. If I could do anything I’d love to have a big log cabin somewhere in the world that’s isolated and just be totally self sufficient. Somewhere you can just hunt and get away from the bullshit of modern life. You go out, you work fucking hard to get good things for your family and the government has turned it into the more you do the less you get and the less you do the more you get. The lazy fuckers are rewarded. You’ll get mums that are pumping out kids, their houses and rents are paid and they don’t even have to work. If your kids are at school go and litter pick or get a part time job but this country rewards the lazy. You get people that work like fuck - look at my Dad, he is 68 and he is still working because he is a different generation and wants to but he is getting hammered by tax and it’s as though they don’t want him to work. It’s bullshit.
I miss the blokes, everyone was going through the same, just close friends. The biggest thing I miss is the sense that you matter. When you’re in the army you wear a uniform and you are this presence, you are visibly serving. But when you leave you don’t matter, you are just the same as everyone else on the street. It’s important to me as I think the country has lost its pride in itself, during all the other wars soldiers were respected and treated nice. Veterans came home and regardless if they had done nothing or been in every war the planet has seen you’d get respect. But now people say well done but nobody cares. I enjoy being a butcher, when my alarm goes off in the morning I think ok lets go to work. I’ve not had that in a long time. I think that’s why the banter helps, because I go there and I get banter all day and it’s almost like being back around the blokes again but not being in at the same time. I’m the master of my own fate now, if I don’t want to do something I don’t. If I do want to something I do it. There is no bullshit of being told to do that just for the sake of being told what to do. It’s just me and my wife and our two dogs and if I don’t want to be around anybody else or do anything I don’t want to do, I don’t have to. I’m glad I joined when I did, I served 5 years in the Paras and 2 and a bit in the RLC. For me it’s…I’m glad I
served. I wouldn’t join nowadays, I wouldn’t encourage people to join these days, especially when you see adverts asking if it’s ok to cry in the army. You’ll cry everyday in the army because it’s fucking shit. Every day is fucking emotional.
Scotty Meenagh 28 I always wanted to join the Paras, Airborne always appealed to me, simply if you are part of the Airborne there is nobody else to look up to. You’re the best soldier. They’ve been famous throughout history, I grew up being inspired by the Paras in the Falklands War, a unit that could complete impossible tasks that no other unit in the army could do at that time. I joined the army straight from school. I left at 15 and went to the Army Foundation College at Harrogate, I did a year there. I got an injury 18 months into my training so I never got to Depot as I was discharged. I spent two years on civvy street, 17 to 19 and then I had to re-apply and start all over again at the Para Depot. You do 28 weeks there and then P company is the test week, week 20. I did 46 weeks the first time round, you do a whole year at army college, it was a bit of a long way round to do it but I really enjoyed what I learned all the way through and being on civvy street gave me a bit of experience and grounding before going back again. I did just one tour in Afghan from 2010 to 2011. I joined the Battalion in January 2010 and deployed October 2010, I was only with them for 10 months before I deployed. I was C Company, 8 platoon in checkpoint Bagh. I was the Vallon man and
the medic. We were all team medic trained and I was a little bit more confident with skills so I tended to treat more people as I had an interest in it and I enjoyed it. My main job was searching and being the point man in patrols, making good decisions with communicating with locals and I quite liked what came with it. Vallon man is the primary role in the patrol to search the route in front of you to make it safe, as well as patrolling you are reading the ground in front of you and reading the atmospherics in the area. Your mates are relying on you to protect them, you’re not focusing so much on the combat role so my weapon would be slung over my back and I’d be relying on a soldier behind me for my protection. Vallon is a metal detector, it’s a tool used to pick up the presence of the abnormal but atmospherics were much more important. Picking up on small changes, like if an area is busy with people and the next day be a ghost town and be suspicious. Liam King and I were opposite numbers that day, he was the Vallon man for the other multiple, he was Vallon man for one and I was Vallon man for the other. Liam set off the first device and I was sent out as a support multiple to support the guys that had been hit and recover kit that had been lost on the ground, 25th January 2011. I set off another IED so after I was being extracted from the area Martin (Bell) was
killed by another device. That was me pretty much done after I was wounded, that moment was when you leave the Battalion and you then become an individual, on your own rehab journey. You go through so many different states, it’s hard to believe you were in that position, it’s a strange start of coping mechanisms, when you think back to such tough times you remove the person from it.
and gives me the ability to be proud again and represent my country once more.
Post rehab I have turned around my life and sport is my main occupation, I put all my energy into it and I am about to get married, to make a family for myself. I’m getting married this year and my fiancée and I have got a house here and living a nice normal life again. That is a good result of a rehab journey, to go back to a standard that you had before, for me that is what recovery is.
Cross country skiing and biathlon. As part of your recovery you try loads of different sports and first it was rowing. In 2014 I turned my attention to cross country skiing after seeing it at the Paralympics in Sochi in Russia. I’ve raced on World Cup circuits around the world and I went to the Paraylmpics in South Korea, Pyeong Chang in March this year. I competed 6 times over 8 days, so different positions, for my first games I was very proud, it’s the toughest sport in the world and the most competitive field, each race is a medal, you race over different terrain and different distances and you shoot as well. Lots of different challenges, to be calm and accurate even when you are fatigued, it’s a real good soldier sport. I really enjoy it.
Post wounding you need to try different things to re-find what your purpose is and find your ‘why?’. I found that sport enables me to get out of bed every morning and gives purpose to my life. Because of what sport gives you, to focus on something I can be better and better at so I am always progressing. It’s a good way to spend my energy. The energy I put into my military career I can now put into sport and be the best at my chosen field. It’s a slightly less dangerous platform
To qualify for the Paralympics is huge, there’s no overall finishing, each race is a final. I was the first British sit down skier to ever race at the Paralympics ever, we broke a lot of ground just to get to the start line. I’m in the top third in the world now, I’m training for the next games in 2022 in Beijing. It’s a full time job, 6 days a week, 2 sessions a day. Each session depends, you’re up to 3 hour long steady sessions. A lot of aerobic training, I use roller skiing, I spend 100 days a year in snow so
I need to travel a lot with the job, all around the world. In the summer we go to Germany to an indoor snow tunnel. In the winter we go to Norway, we train in the snow there. I’ve been lucky enough to be part of the Invictus Games, Prince Harry has been the driving force of the games, I have been in 3 games. It’s a multi sport competition from wounded soldiers from all around the world. The word is ‘WIS’ Wounded, Injured and Sick. I think just seeing the power of sport and recovery are the best things, it changes people’s lives. I’ll be in sport as long as I can and hopefully settle down with my missus. I’m very passionate about the development of sport and of people, I will be in sport for the next ten years and I’m not looking too far ahead. When you do a lot of phys (physical) you get a lot of confidence and that is partly why I like doing it.
Geoff Dunn 48 I have a family history of military service, every generation has served, always in the junior ranks bar the occasional CSM. My father fought in the Second World War, both my grand dads in the first and my great grandfather in colonial wars before that. The Paras, in my opinion, are the pinnacle of the infantry so that is why I went that way, encouraged by the family, they said if I was going to become a professional Soldier I should join a unit that would thoroughly test me physically and mentally. I joined in 1988, I did 6 years including a number of tours in northern Ireland both urban and rural and several tours in Africa. I got married, I met Alice working in Aldershot and decided either it was going to be military or family. I had seen a number of friends get divorced so I decided it was better to leave, it was not an easy decision and I never fell out with the army hence why I decided to go back eventually. I did a couple of small jobs, but reasonably quickly joined the police. I was a response officer to begin with where everyone starts off. It’s the backbone of policing. I didn’t join to necessarily be a fire arms cop but I soon fell into that side of the job.
I completed 15 years by the time I left just after Herrick 13, 4 years as a response officer and 11 years in various aspects around firearms policing. In 2006 when 3 Para were first put into Helmand province they had a very hard, well publicised tour. And again prior Herrick 13 there was a substantial amount of VSI (very seriously injured), many lads lost limbs and many were killed. The Reg is a bit like a dysfunctional family in some respects, you may not keep in touch for years but you always have deep love / respect for most of the people that you served with. So although I had been out of Para Reg for a long time when I saw what had happened out there on that 2009 tour with the troops living in poverty conditions and knew people that were injured and killed, I decided I wanted to go out there to do ‘my bit’ And to be totally truthful, to test myself. It really did feel like a call to arms. I looked online as 4 Para (Territorial Army) were always recruiting. I spoke to the recruiting Sergeant and told him where I was at / about. I was told I would have to start from the bottom again which I expected. I had prepared myself well this time around. I attended a recruiting weekend and smashed the phys (physical). I think it helped that I was very current on weapon systems and tactics (all be it there
are some major differences) I was / am a rifle instructor and was soon helping with some of the weapon handling for the recruits. The Sunday on a TA Para weekend is almost always a 10 miler to complete in 1 hour 50 minutes with 35 / 40 pounds of kit. It’s a generic standard Reg test that all our fore fathers have completed. There was about 20 of us and only 3 finishers, with the physical training instructor who lead it, including me, so I proved I was up for it. I was 40. I had to do a number of other recruit weekends but I believe that basically because I’d proved where I was, was fit and I was tactically aware through training police firearms officers, I was accepted back into the Company quite quickly. I never expected that and never pressed for it but I like to think I met a standard they required. When I told my wife Alice that I wanted to join 4 Para she immediately pinged me, asking if it was because I wanted to go out to Afghanistan. I had been considering private security so she was happier that I was re-joining the British Army. Alice jokes that it was a mid life crisis but was better than a blonde or a sports car. She was right. Mind you the blonde would defiantly have been more expensive but probably less strenuous on the knees, maybe.
That was a year before the tour and Alice said it was worst then than when I was away in Afghanistan due to attending every session and weekend I could. I was hardly at home over any of the weekends that year. I wanted to get out there for me and for the Regiment. To do that I needed to ensure my skills were up to date. Once I had volunteered I was compulsory mobilised to go to Afghanistan. The police supported me and gave me a job to come back to. I went back to 2 Para, my original Battalion, the mobilisation was for 12 months and the tour was just short of 7 months. There were parallels between Afghan and Northern Ireland. Patrolling on the ground in both places was risky, IEDs were a constant concern whenever you were on patrol in northern Ireland and it was the same in Afghanistan, although the threat in Helmand was much, much greater. The tactical idea was the same but the practical application how that was employed on the ground was a different proposition. In Northern Ireland we could work in 3 teams of 4, you would satellite each other all the time so you always had mutual support but because the IED threat was much higher in Afghan and the amount of ordinance was multiplied exponentially, you couldn’t have 3 sets of 4 men satelliting so the only way
to move on the ground was what we called the ‘Afghan Snake’ which was 12 men moving in a line following a metal detector. We could still satellite but this required another similarly equipped number of troops. The plus side was that you have a lot more fire power to bring to bare on the threat. I was very conscious of why I left 2 Para originally, because of family, I did think about staying on for longer however that was for a short period of time. Re-joining would have changed my family’s life completely and that was too much of an ask. It was a mutual agreement with my wife that I would only do one year and that would be it. I try not to put much thought into Afghan as you can’t influence it, all you can do is influence your own little sphere. I wanted to see what it was all about and whether it was a winnable war that’s been happening over the centuries with many different armies, but on balance, I reckon it probably isn’t. It wasn’t a light decision to go, as I had a wife and 2 teenage sons. The Police force were very honourable and allowed me back into the same role. When I got back my mind was in a different place and the job was very busy. I couldn’t relate to the issues of others in the office as I had come from such a different world and their issues were
at odds from where I had been. I decided I needed to move away, I was getting angry with people that I had the utmost respect for but I was having to bite my lip a lot. The chance to move into private protection work came up. Alice wasn’t keen for me to do this, however she agreed that I needed to break from policing at least until I had settled down again. I resigned. I went to work at sea for 2 and a half years, it was protecting maritime workers who were crossing an area that had a high risk to it, predominantly on the Indian Ocean. Then a family member died. It was never going to be a career, it wasn’t just about the money but I decided to ‘make hay while the sun was shining’. It wasn’t guaranteed and I realised that I had been away from my family for far too long. So I then went to work for the civil nuclear constabulary for 3 years, I was a firearms instructor with other duties. A good friend of mine working in (name withheld) constabulary said there was a job going in firearms and I made a speculative application for it and I ended up being invited back by my old boss. It was a proper full circle, a full circle in the military and then with the police, back to where I was at before but with a bit more experience in between. I’ve also been a grave digger since I
was 16. The bloke in the village put his back out and needed a helping hand and so I did a few then and in the army I dug trenches which is exactly the same thing! When I was working at sea, on down-time back in the UK, I would also provide on an ad-hoc basis. Now I do it if someone has been let down and can’t get anyone last minute. Better than the gym but not a regular workout! I’ve always thought you have one life and that it is very limiting if you tie yourself to one thing, that said if you enjoy it then get good at it. For me I have felt the need to experience different things and I’ve had the opportunity to do that through a very patient and supportive family. I’m now back here for them.
Dan Eccles 26 I joined for the challenge to push myself. To go as far as I could physically and mentally. Because of the reputation the Paras had, the respect the Regiment had amongst people who knew about the army they are put on a pedestal. I’m not glory hunting but they have a difficult entry test and I liked the idea of pushing myself to see if I was capable. I’ve always known about them, through a friend who knew a lot about the army and he was talking about them when I was 13. I researched them on the internet and they sounded cool and the parachuting side sounded awesome. I had a little recruitment book that inspired me, I’d read up on it and look at the pictures. I was hooked and wanted a slice of it. It was ironic because the recruitment book had a photo of a bloke that was later our Platoon Section Commander. I was 17, I didn’t go to Harrogate, I was just old enough to go into Catterick, into Para Depot for the adult intake. If you’re under 17 you go to Harrogate which is like a foundation college. Para Depot was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to go through in my life, physically and mentally. I was so hard but never at any point did I feel that I wanted to give in. I wanted to crack on with it. Apart from the P Company log race the ‘Manic Mole’ was the worst bit. We were awake for 5 nights with
no sleep, digging a trench. Sleep deprivation for 5 days and nights felt like hell. Afghan was an interesting experience, the reason I wanted to join the army was because of Afghan, because I had seen it in the news a lot. I wanted to do my piece if you like. I passed P Company, did my jump course, got in and then went to Afghan. That was everything…I don’t know how to word it really, it was good because it was what I wanted to do, it was the soldering I had wanted to do, and did all the training for it. When I got out there it was what it was. It was a culmination of everything, it was good. I don’t have PTSD, I don’t think so. When you come back it’s hard to adjust. You spend 6 or 7 months fully switched on and you’re always looking at every single person, what are they doing… are they carrying weapons, who are they speaking to? So when you come back it’s very confusing. You can’t switch your brain off, you’re trying to read people the same way you were out there. It takes time to adjust. I think that PTSD is a change of environment. After I came back from Afghan I was still in the army and you’re surrounded by the army and everything to do with it. But after I left the army I struggled to fit back into civvy life and it’s massively different. Everybody thinks differently and acts differently. And I didn’t get
really that much help. I struggled for a few years. When I left I started to do a welding course, I had to fund it myself. I got a job to pay for it. I couldn’t get a job doing it so I did a retail stock room job and I was there 3 years in a stock room and I got very depressed. The change in environment was ridiculous and I sort of couldn’t cope with the new way of civilian life and the way of thinking. Sometimes I missed being in the army and being with my mates. I missed the excitement as being in the stock room was very mundane. It took 3 years to complete the welding course whilst I worked in the stock room. It was a distance learning course. I found this college in Leeds and I went up to there for practical work but I come from Liverpool, and then did the theory modules from home. When I got a certain way through I did some practical work but I had to do it at my own pace as I had no one cracking the whip. It was hard going. I’m quite a self driven person and that direction came from being in the army. I knew what I wanted and there was no other way around it. The job that I do now, welding stainless steel, it is challenging as it behaves in a certain way when you heat it. It’s TIG welding with a dead clean white light. It’s commercial kitchens in stainless steel for res-
taurants, anywhere really - hotels, coffee shops, restaurants. Welding sinks into tables, just for a normal kitchen in a restaurant. I like the challenge, I like to challenge myself all the time, it’s the skill of TIG welding and you can see yourself getting better all the time. It’s completely different to the army, it’s diverse but still it’s a trade that will never die, it’s a job for life and somebody is always going to need something welding up somewhere. When I left C Company I did the Assault Engineers Cadre so the only lads that I speak with now are the ones I worked with then. Power lifting its just a hobby for me really. I started training in my last year in the army, maybe two years before I left. Lifting weights and that. I was so short and skinny and tiny. I wanted to put weight on and get stronger. After I left I went to the gym and I approached a bloke that competed, I wanted to be dead strong. I wasn’t interested in looking ripped I just wanted to eat a lot of food and get very strong which is what power lifting is all about. When we compete we do 3 main lifts. The squat, the bench press and the dead lift and you have 3 attempts per lift. They take your biggest lift - the highest lifts out of 9 and they add it all together. The biggest I’ve ever had is a 170 kilo squat, 110 kilo bench and 192.5 kilo dead lift and I weighed 86 kilos. If you eat right and sleep right you see the
results from it. It’s a progressive thing and I want bigger numbers all the time. I go to the gym at least 3 times a week. It’s not an ego thing, I just like being strong, I like to lift weights and pushing myself to see how much I can physically handle. I’ve burst my nose a couple of times when I’ve lifted too much and I’ve had lights flashing in my eyes, my feet going dead because my wraps were too tight. It sounds like lunacy but I love the feeling in competitions when you get judged by 3 people, you have to go to the right depth. When you go to the full depth and they say that’s a good lift, it’s a fantastic feeling. I met my girlfriend in the old shop I used to work in, she still works there. I used to work in the stock room and she did the tills. I think she enjoys it but maybe is getting a bit fed up with it now. I’ve just started my career and want to earn some money and get skilled and later I’ll think about having a family. I’m saving up for a house and I try to move on by getting as much work as I can. Realistically I’d only go back if there was another tour. If the army had another guaranteed tour I’d go back but I wouldn’t go back for the sake of it. It was different when I was in, the whole intention was to go to Afghanistan but now it has quieted off a little bit unfortunately because it’s in your mind to go to war as
a soldier, to put yourself through Depot and it’s a good crack, to throw yourself out of a plane at 600 feet. I’d jump again in a heartbeat. I’ve looked into doing sky diving but it costs a lot. I just can’t afford it but probably will do it in future. I went to Market Garden in 2011 in Arnhem. That happens every year, it’s quite a big thing and they send a lot of lads over. The Americans go and the French and Germans and sometimes the Italians. You never just jump with your own country, we all get each others wings. It was carnage as everyone wants to get out the door and everyone is on top of each other, it was great. We looked around the town and they love Airborne because we saved the town. Arnhem is a weekend, we went in a minibus from Colchester there and back. The retention rate is awful and it always has been, especially after Afghan. Once we were back from there was nothing to offer us. Out there we had loads of camaraderie, going through training and then going out there, living on rations and living in checkpoints and doing everything together but now people turn each other for promotions as there is no way to get noticed and excel when you’re not deployed. Lads get made Lance Jacks (Lance Corporal) after 2 years and Full Screws (Corporal) after 4 years. It’s unheard of. You were never made a Corporal before 8 or 10 years, it
was always about a slow promotion but now it’s a free for all. It’s just madness. I had the experience of going on tour and months worth of courses and lads are coming in with no experience and getting promotions - it’s all they can offer people now, more money and promotions without the experience, which is a shame. I left because I wanted to get postings out of 2 Para, I wanted to do something different but I kept getting messed around and they wouldn’t let me go. So I decided I didn’t want to get stuck with this if I couldn’t progress my career as how I wanted to do it. I wanted to learn a trade while I was still young and get on with it.
Luke Robinson 28 The real reason I joined the Paras was I went to join the REME (Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers) but I didn’t get the grades to join. Then I wanted to go to Harrogate, to the Army Foundation College and there was a slot to join the Paras. My mile and a half time was good enough to join, I got 8/15 I think (8 minutes and 15 seconds). I hadn’t heard about the Paras before, I had never looked into them. As soon as I got accepted that’s when I started looking more into it. I didn’t really know much about the army, I was always trying to concentrate on football. I was playing for Everton when I was 14 and I had trials at United and then just as I was going to join the army I had trials for Liverpool. I was in goal. I just kept on getting refused by teams because I was quite small at that age and then I joined the army, started getting 3 square meals a day and now I’m 6 foot 2. I was 16 when I joined the army. I had to go to Harrogate or I could have waited for a few more months and joined as an adult. It was good fun, a good learning path really. I went Harrogate and then Catterick and then after another 2 and a half months went to Phase 2. There were people I passed out with that I’m out in Iraq with now. I did 2 tours of Afghan, Herrick 8
and Herrick 13. I enjoyed being with the lads all the time, good banter, that’s the main thing, it’s a second family. You’ve got to have banter otherwise it goes slow. 100 percent I’m glad I joined the Paras. When I look back, knowing what I know now, I would have gone straight to the Paras rather than trying the REME. It was my Dad that said if you’re going to join the military get a trade that you can bring out into civvy street. But what I know now is that I could have done well at many different things, like being a medic.
the fire power, as soon as we went out of camp we’d be engaged, you didn’t have to go far to get engaged. The second tour we would go out looking (for contacts) but there was nothing there coming back at us.
The 2nd tour (in 2011), if you want to put it blunt, was anal. You had more rules and what you could and could not wear. In 2008 we could wear a vest and body armour but on the 2nd tour you had to have your sleeves rolled down. A lot of things had changed. One tour was summer and one was winter so maybe they are hard to compare but the army were just trying to cover their own backs. If the army could push the blame onto someone they would whack it onto someone else.
The second tour it got filtered down and down - you had the eye in the sky watching all the time and you had to be careful as people were always watching you. It was a ‘hearts and minds’ tour (in 2010). Its a fucked up country and I don’t even know why they were trying to build it back up because it will only have another conflict and get knocked down again. It’s like that in Iraq too, it’s messed up.
2008 was the most dangerous and had the highest casualty rate for the Paras since World War 2. We had 5 dead from our FOB (Forward Operating Base) in 2008, and all the injuries too. Someone got a power trip somewhere for the second tour. If you wanted to go to war and fight someone and kill someone that’s what 2008 was like. We had all
Once you get that buzz of being in a contact you want to get shot at again, even though you lose people. You want to get the rounds down. If you get to the hammers handle you’d get a contact some way. Not even 800 metres from camp. They were that close.
I was in for 9 and a half years in the Paras. I got to Lance Corporal and left due to an injury, I got a medical discharge. I was on a promotion course doing drilling duties, it’s a 6 week course when you qualify to become a Lance Corporal and I got the injury on the course, week 3 or 4 but I just cracked on as it didn’t really hurt that much. Left hip. I heard a pop but just carried on. It just started crunching, it sounded
like a carrier bag crunching. The army paid me just 6 grand so they are getting sued at the moment. I left and within 10 days went straight out to do CP work in Iraq. I had done my close protection course whilst I was still in. I was at home sick for 18 months whilst still in the Reg. Welfare was meant to come and see me and I was just getting a phone call instead. I didn’t really hear anything from them. Then I got transferred from the 2 Para welfare team to 160 Brigade in Brecon, to their welfare team. I’m not going to lie, it’s the money side of it, CP work brings me the money for my family. It’s what I have to do, to get me the money. I’d always wanted to do it from 2008 and you don’t really know anything else, soldiering. Its private security, you’re a private soldier. I’ve done 18 months down in Basra for private clients. Picking them up and taking them to their locations, planning the routes, the ERVs, medical facilities that are in and around that area. So I did 18 months down there and then I moved up to northern Iraq and now I’m on a state department contract which involves us taking our clients to and from task locations where we know IEDs have been planted. We have to clear main infrastructures, schools, hospitals, airport - we have to clear those locations so they can rebuild.
It’s the Iraqis who are rebuilding but the funding comes in from all over the world. Our main job was Mosul University.
and I’ve got 20 days off. My wife is OK wit this at the moment and she wants me to do another 3 month rotation so I don’t miss Xmas.
I’ve only had the one contact with ISIS. It was just that the ‘clients’ were at the top of the airstrip with vehicles and they fired a round at us. They then engaged us from two points. We think it was due to them thinking we were Americans because we had the UN with us that day and we think they were targeting the UN more because they were with us that day and usually we were by ourselves. Now we have Iraqi Police and Iraqi Army Humvees with us. They (ISIS) normally leave us alone. The other threat apart from ISIS is the ordinance in the ground. We don’t step anywhere where the client hasn’t stepped. If it’s hard standing we’d be right next to them but if its softer standing we’ll locate ourselves in an ICP.
I’ve got 3 boys, I get to see 2 every day and the other one 2 or 3 times a week when I’m home. I did tell myself I’d do this for ten years but I don’t know, I need to look at something to bring me back to the UK as I have no qualifications to bring me back home otherwise. It’s either army or security so I am going to use buy resettlement money to do a paramedics course. I could go out there to work as a paramedic as they are on more money. I’m a team leader right now - it’s like anything, if you want to learn something and are willing they’ll give you an position as soon as it comes available. I did get recommend for a project manager’s job after a year but my CV has to go through a client first. It was rejected because I’d had no managerial jobs previously.
I normally work 8 weeks on and 4 weeks off but I’ve never had that. It’s hard, if someone leaves they need the slot filing and it’s not as easy as just bringing a new guy in to fill a space. To bring in a new guy it costs many thousand of dollars. It’s $1600 for a visa, hundreds of dollars for other visas and residency permits and the total is 4 or 5 thousand dollars for each man so instead they save money by just flying me out. I’ve just done 3 months
I speak to a few blokes from the Reg, but not really, although I’ve just got one of them a job. Most of the time it’s when blokes want a job they start to message you. It’s easy to relax when you are there, we’re on an American military camp. We come in from work, do admin, go to sleep at 9pm and start work again at 4am. The U.S. camp is alright, they have us every now and then for speeding. If anything happens to us we have to tell them what is go-
ing on outside camp, on the ground, for safety.
Terry Jones 29 I wanted to get out my local town and get a better job than what everybody else had. When the recruitment team said the Paras were the elite I wanted to join them. I wanted to go into the Reg from a young age. I like army things and when I left schooI I went to an army college course until I could join when I was 17. I did the course, I was 16 when I left school and as soon as you turn 17 you can go in as an adult entry. In the recruitment office they wanted me to join the Royal Welsh because that’s the area I live in but when one of the instructors on the army preparation course saw how fit and well prepared I was he suggested I join the Paras. He showed me on a laptop a clip of the Parachute Regiment recruiting and as soon as I saw that I wanted to go for them. I was in 9 and a half years. I did two Afghan tours. I did Herrick 8 in 2008, a summer tour and Herrick 13. Herrick 8 was one of the worst tours since World War 2. It was horrendous. We got there in May and up until June there was no contacts and then in June we got a massive 360 ambush where 2 lads got killed. It was the worst death rate since WW2 for the Paras, that’s how hard the tour was, on the whole. It was in FOB Gibraltar, in Helmand. When we came back we went to
Kenya to train. It was funny, my lot were doing a recce on enemy, obviously training and one of our lads got knocked over by a lion so then we had to call off the recce and get back to camp as we had no radio signal, to tell them we were attacked by lions. We were firing blanks at the lions to scare them. We went up a mountain and when we went to walk towards our bearing to get back to the camp we had lions in front and behind us. We had to light fires to keep everything away. Kenya was a good training exercise for Afghan because of the heat. 2008 was horrible because we were getting shot at everyday and losing more men, friends getting, you know, one minute you are having a laugh with them and the next minute you’ve got them in a wheelbarrow, you know to take them to the HELO. You had to man up more in 2008 but the tour I was injured on in 2011 was harder wasn’t it, if you think of the way it went. I was second in command as I was trying to sort out the MIST report (Mechanism of Injury/Incident Sustained report) when Scott got injured. My Dad had died and I was flown out on the 15th and was injured on the 25 January. The tour was over for me then, I had only been out on the ground 4 times by then. As we were getting Scott out Martin detonated
an IED and he died, all the shrapnel hit me in the face, neck, both arms, left arm was to the bone, abdomen and both eyes. They were all my injuries, they were deep injuries in some areas. That’s when we got Scott out of the ditch, I called a CASEVAC for him but I wasn’t allowed morphine as I had a head injury. Then they left me there and later came back to get me to Bastion. I must have passed out and then I walked off the HELO myself into the ambulance and into the hospital and I started to feint so they put me in a wheelchair and I got myself out of it onto the bed and they said the next time I wake up I’ll have all my family around me. They then put me into a coma for 10 days. You don’t think about it at that stage as you have to get the lads out. There was 7 in a multiple. Scott, me, Martin. Nash got took away in the HELO. It was only 2 out of our multiple of 7 that didn’t get inured. My medical kit was blown away so Matt attended to me. I got hit bad but at the time adrenaline takes over and I only started to feel pain when I was waiting for the HELO. All my lips were shredded. When I cam back I wanted to go on SAS selection but they said because my left eye got damaged, I’m 70% blind in my left eye, I was put on a recruiting team for 3 years in Preston. Then 2 Para were asking for me back and I said again I wanted to go on SAS selection,
but because of my injures I won’t pass the medical, so I got medical discharged. In 2014 I came out. I wanted to go into the SAS, that was my next step. I miss the lads, the banter and how close you are down there, and you look out for each together, everybody has got each other’s back. I still speak to some of the lads and when you do meet up at memorial things you miss it. If I hadn’t got fragged I’d hopefully be in the SAS. A lot of my friends are in the SAS and SRR. Everything had got a lot stricter on the last tour, they weren’t treating us like adults in many ways. When I came out I did a bit of lorry driving but it didn’t last long as I was on my own and had no banter. And I worked in a furniture store where you make sofas and I really enjoyed that as it was full of lads and having a laugh. But I stopped doing that to do a close protection (CP) course. I did that and I got the licence and I was about to go to Iraq but decided I didn’t want to be away from my daughter because it was 8 weeks on at a time. Then I owned a PVC company who made bouncy castles and gladiator podiums, quad tracks, the perimeters for those. Crash mats that go on the end of a bouncy castle and the electric fans that blow the
bouncy castles that go up. The main bit of the business was we sold the fabric to the businesses that made things, and selling the accessories for everything. Then I got out of and since then I have been looking after our kids with my fiancée and keeping up to date with my houses because I rent two out. I get a war pension for life. I’d like to be a paramedic but if not I could volunteer at my local school to work with disabled kids. Someone got run over recently and I was able to treat them on the side of the road, that’s something I was able to do as I learnt about it in the army. That’s what gave me the interest in being a paramedic and I was always interested in medical situations that came up that I could do. My right thigh is still nerve damaged which I get a lot of pain from, especially in the winter when it is cold. I’ve heard the Reg is not the same as what it used to be. A lot has changed but the kit has got better, the kit is always improving, that’s what they tell me. I’m not too sure if 2 Para or anyone else are going back out to Afghanistan or Iraq to fight or as a peace keeping mission this time, I’m not sure. They are now training in the USA where it is hotter which is much better because before we just trained in the Brecon Beacons or Scotland. Abroad is in a bad place at the minute, they’re not getting the help they need, like in Syria, what’s going on over there.
Right now is the happiest I’ve ever been. I spend a lot of time with my kids, on bike rides and taking them on holiday.
Crispin Humm 42 It’s the only Regiment I have ever wanted to join. At Sandhurst there were two men who were utterly inspiring and both were Parachute Regiment. Half way through the course at the Academy I was offered a commission by the PWRR and The Parachute Regiment. I chose the Paras and after Sandhurst I passed the Regimental Selection, P Company. I served for 19 years; I joined in 1995 and left in 2014. I was a Major when I left. I spent most of my formative career in 1 Para where I was a Platoon Commander and then later the Adjutant. I was based in Aldershot, Dover and St. Athan. In 2007 I went to Staff College followed by a couple of years in Defence Procurement. The best job, by far, was as a Company Commander in 2 PARA. It was really easy to lead people that were that good. Professionally, Afghan was second to none. It was very challenging and the degree of responsibility was truly incredible. I commanded a Company of 70 Paratroopers plus attachments from other parts of the Army. I had a mission to achieve and the guys simply got stuck in and got the job done. When I think back to the time out there I realise how amazing it was and what a privilege it was to command such great soldiers.
I miss the Army, or rather I miss parts of the Army. I miss commanding soldiers, I miss the soldiers too, especially the group I was with in Afghanistan and I miss the unique set of circumstances that life in the Army provides - I know I will never get an experience like Afghanistan again. Life post Afghan was hard to adjust to. I found the absence of the responsibility really tough and I think I was effected personally from the reality of the more brutal aspects of an operational tour. I think I was a difficult person to be around for about 6 months after the tour. I served for a couple more years after Afghanistan serving in the Permanent Joint Headquarters in London. I left the Army in 2014. It was a tough decision but the right one for me. My reasons for leaving were: I realised that I had done what I joined the Army to do (lead soldiers in combat); I was not yet 40 so knew I had time to cement a new career; I qualified my pension; and my wife was pregnant. I left the Army and joined Barclays through the Armed Forces scheme called the AFTER programme. My first role was as a customer experience manager running digital projects to solve issues customers
were having. It was a great role and it utilised a number of skills I developed in the Army. I ran teams of digital developers based across the globe - sounds very different but at the end of the day the role involved leadership, clear direction and delivery management. I now work for the Rail Delivery Group where I am responsible for the Industry’s Customer Strategy. There are examples of good experience and examples of pretty shocking experience of people leaving. The army prepares people adequately to leave but I think that is about it - it is just about good enough. But, like anything it is all about the attitude of the individual who is leaving. Some of my soldiers have gone on to do some quite amazing things after the Army and the really successful ones have left with a very clear plan. Some guys though have struggled. That’s not necessarily an Army issue - it is just as much an individual and a societal issue. Some companies, like Barclays are brilliant at recognizing the skills that service people who have left, have. What do I think of the campaign? I am proud to have been part of it. There was a real threat Internationally posed by the Taliban and the terrorist groupings operating in and around Afghanistan. The Taliban
had become a strong, dominant and unstable force in an already volatile and unstable region. We had no choice but to address that and I am proud to have done so.
Jonny Mortimer Hendry 30 I went to boarding school when I was about 8 years old, so I had been in an institutional environment until I was 18. After completing my A-levels, I came to a fork in the road - either I went to university or I join the army. I’d won an army scholarship having attended the army selection process. It’s a week long, quite an intense period, especially since I was 16 when I did the scholarship. I didn’t have much understanding of the wider army, although the army selection process is a good process, it doesn’t tell you much about the army, it just tests you. It was up to me to find out about the army and see where I could fit in. I then did my A levels and had a choice of Uni or the army and was really passionate about joining the army, it was always something I had wanted to do. So after a year of working in London and travelling, getting life experience, I then went to visit a few Regiments, to understand the whole hierarchy of the army. I did a few visits, one of which was to The Parachute Regiment and was struck by the eclectic mix of great people who were part of the Regiment. I had heard the rumours about Paras being tough, but also how they were excellent soldiers, I wanted to find out more. I turned up on the visit and we did
an 8 mile tab with kit and a log race and some pretty tough fitness. This was early 2007 so the lads had just come back from Herrick 4 and I had seen these guys on the news going out to Afghanistan and thought they were inspiring, so I wanted to learn more. On the visit itself we did fitness in the morning and then spoke with the guys in the afternoon, they seemed very passionate on being part of the elite of the army and also had a passion of being part of that Regiment. The ‘Esprit De Corps’ is really strong. It’s the brotherhood, from the outset they have a purpose and an atmosphere I had never seen and never seen since, the credibility and the professionalism you could just tell these guys were all over their jobs. There are disclosure policies that I must adhere to, it wouldn’t be right to tell everything so I will stick to what I can tell you. I was commissioned into 2 PARA and had a year before I went on tour, Herrick 13 in 2010. We went through all the training. You go through the cycle and you realise you are part of a Battalion going to a very dangerous place and you are putting a lot at risk and I was 21 years old and in command of 30 guys. A mixture of guys that had and hadn’t been there. There was a huge amount of responsibility, I had to make sure I was credible and I had to make sure I was fully prepared to deploy to Helmand Province, which was becoming an
increasingly dangerous place. My first deployment to Helmand Province was in late 2010 and as officers, we turned up a week before the guys to get a good handover from the company who were leaving. I was in D company, 2 PARA and were taking over from another Regiment and they had a really tough time. It was a really difficult area and the Taliban were at large. The security of the government had broken down and we were trying to re-establish security within the area. I was regaled with horror stories and I expected the worst, but the soldiers that we took over from, were just emphasising this was real. My job was to partner with the Afghan National Army and my Company Commander selected me and gave me the task of leading this composite group of Paratroopers and Afghans. I was a little nervous to be given his responsibility, but my OC had faith in me to achieve this difficult role. In the beginning, my team was frustrated, as we had trained hard and we were comfortable with the skills we had learned together, so suddenly it was increasing the risk. But to be honest when I started to work with them it was hugely apparent that we were seen as foreigners in their land and we needed to break down some cultural barriers, before we could be effective on the ground. I aimed
at mentoring the Afghan Officer and when he or his men made a mistake, we would be on hand to support the situation. I wanted to get the Afghans to be the face of the operation and we could be in the background supporting them, to empower them in their own region. I’m not saying it worked all of the time and there weren’t frustrations from both sides, but perhaps if this emphasis on local force empowerment was replicated earlier, we could transfer management of some areas to the ANA much sooner. Understandably, the Taliban wanted control of this region and we would often be in fire fights with the enemy up to 3/4 times a day. I was proud of bringing the Afghan National Army into their own. The shops had closed and the schools had closed. I remember building a school next door to our compound and walking the kids to school in the morning and then in the afternoon be in a fire fight with the Taliban. I wanted to be able to make sure people could walk around their town safely and encourage the locals to return to their homes that had been savaged by war. We removed the Taliban and the IEDs and the people were still scared. We started sleeping in the compounds as a security measure, for the families that were returning to their lives in their own villages and these small stories really give hope if they can be played out on larger scale.
1 Para is the First Battalion of The Parachute Regiment which is also known as the Special Forces Support Groups (SFSG) and they support directly the SAS and the SBS. Straight after the 2 PARA tour I moved over to 1 PARA and 4 months after coming back from Afghanistan I was redeploying straight back onto operations. The SFSG role is awesome and as a young, hard charging Lieutenant in 2 Para your main intent is to cross over to 1 PARA. I was very lucky to be chosen from 2 Para and a good friend of mine was chosen from 3 PARA. I became the youngest Captain in the British Army at the time, aged 23. I was in charge of a composite coalition of Special Forces teams, ranging from small teams to over 100 men. I call it the ‘Op Herrick Hangover’ of guys who had been through a very difficult tour and now had bouts of PTSD. I had been involved in some very difficult situations where I had lost soldiers and been in a highly kinetic area with the Taliban for a long time, so getting over that hangover for me was redeploying and taking the fight back to the enemy, that became my focus for redeployment. For my actions over my deployment with SFSG, I was awarded a Mention In Despatches for Gallantry in the face of the enemy. I had a great bite of the apple and had seen what it was like on the
other side. I reassessed my options and felt I had experienced all I wanted to. I went over to 3 PARA as Officer Commanding the Mortar Platoon, the infamous 3 PARA Mortars. This was a team of about 40 or 50 lads who are an eclectic mix for sure. I commanded them for 2 years and was in my seventh year of Platoon Commmand. What more could I want so felt it was the time to leave in late 2014 and went to the City. Since leaving the army I conducted ‘round robins’ to recruitment evenings and I did my research and looked at a few industries. A few guys had worked at banks and it pays pretty well. I went to some open days and was told since I have never been to Uni I was told I would never get a job. But this is a common theme because at Sandhurst I was told I was too young to get into The Parachute Regiment which made me want to do it even more. I was told I couldn’t do it and this made me want to do it even more so when I was told I wouldn’t work in investment banks it made me even more determined. I initially worked on the trading floor for a large US Investment Bank and then moved to a UK investment bank, before being offered a job at a smaller boutique research company in London. I surprised myself by working in these places that prior to the Army, I just wouldn’t have been
able to do. I also had to pass some rigorous financial exams that were a bit of a shock after a long period of not doing any exams! When I left I started a non-profit networking group for people like me who were trying to open up opportunities called the Airborne Business Group. It’s for ex-Paras, ex-Marines and ex-Special Forces. I felt after I had left, the door had slammed and I didn’t know how to navigate this new terrain. As a trained Jungle Warfare Instructor, I’ll use a military analogy, its like when you go to the jungle for the first time, it seems like a very difficult environment to be in but then you find someone who can teach you about it and learn to conquer it. I was very clear it was an environment I didn’t know much about so I had to network and realised that if I was struggling, what about the (other) soldiers and how could I help them. I wanted to facilitate the platform to network and it has been really effective. It allows people to proverbially ‘hang your hat’ and a lot of guys have been able to find new employees and employment through the network that I manage. I enjoy finding new challenges and working with people who have traits that I recognise from the military. I hope to leverage my experience in the military and combine my knowledge of the financial industry into a compelling proposition for new
Clive Webber 33 I always wanted to be in the army as a kid and I started 6th form but didn’t like it. I said I’d join the army as I didn’t know what I wanted to do. When I was working at a factory I was talking to an ex-Para and got chatting to him and he was telling me what it was like. I thought it sounded good. I told my Dad I wanted to join the Paras and he just laughed and said they were all built like rugby players and I was just this skinny little lad. I had heard how good they were and the friendships you make and the work they did. Jumping out of planes and it all sounded appealing. I grew up down in Poole where the Marines are based and quite a few of my mate’s Dads were Marines and a couple of my mates joined the Marines, but I get sea sick. I was 17 when joined, I served ten years, I worked my way up to a corporal, I did tours of Iraq and Afghan. One tour of each. I enjoyed it. Just making new friends and going to new places. I went to Kenya twice, to Ukraine, not long when we came back from Afghan. It was a big NATO exercise. Ukraine, French and Americans, it was a good trip. I enjoy jumping but jumping with an American ‘chute was probably the worst I ever had. With our chute you fall down but with the American chute you sort of bobble in the air
and you can’t tell which direction you’re going to end up. You literally just hit the floor and that’s it. I enjoyed Afghan, I enjoyed going out on patrols and the risk as well. Just the thought of each day potentially getting shot at, it’s like an adrenaline rush. Being there with people you knew would watch your back if that makes sense, having trust in everyone, that they could do their job. I enjoyed it out there which is maybe a weird thing to say. I enjoyed my job, what we were doing. I was not long out when I got a job with a security company and it didn’t work out so I went back to the careers office to join back up again. Then I found out I was going to have a son so I decided I’d rather be with my family than go out on patrol again. I thought about it and decided I wanted to see my boy. He’s 5 now, 6 in November. Before I left the army me and a mate went up to Felixstowe and we went out for a drive on the trucks but we couldn’t get any experience because we were still in the army. But the security job I was going to do, on ships around Somalia for piracy didn’t work out. I had been offered a job and did the course for them so I signed off from the army but they never offered me any work. I signed off and they never got back in touch. They said I would be next to deploy but nothing.
I passed my HGV test in 2008 through the Army. Now I work for DHL and I go all over the UK. Our biggest contract is to deliver kegs of cider to the distribution centres. They go from there down to the pubs. I miss the blokes, that’s probably the biggest, everyone says that. And the parachuting. I did like that. I don’t regret signing off but I do regret not giving a full years notice and taking a full resettlement. I took early release and wasn’t entitled to any of it. It was because of the security job, I wanted to start as soon as I could, they were paying 7 grand a month and I had pound signs in my eyes. But it never happened. I know lads who are getting two and a half grand a month doing CP work in Iraq, it’s not very good money now as there are so many people doing it and that’s what I earn a month as a lorry driver. I don’t have to go to Iraq. I’d like to move to Canada and to drive the ice roads, I’d love to experience that.
9 interviews and 33 photographs of ex-2nd Battalion Parachute Regiment (2 PARA) Paratroopers who served in Afghanistan. These men have now l...
Published on Mar 18, 2019
9 interviews and 33 photographs of ex-2nd Battalion Parachute Regiment (2 PARA) Paratroopers who served in Afghanistan. These men have now l...