“I never feel like a veteran” – Stacey’s 20-year Army career

Stacey was planning to become a hairdresser. Instead she joined the Army at 18. This is the story of her 20-year career and her life as a veteran.

Stacey has seen a lot in her 20-year career. She’s been deployed to Kosovo, Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan. She describes the Army as a good career, but only if you’re prepared for changes.

“It’s a fantastic opportunity for life experiences,” says Stacey, “It takes you to places that you’d never expect to see apart from on a TV screen.”

Stacey with her husband Gareth. Credit: Alison Baskerville/Royal British Legion

Choosing between hairdressing and the Army

Stacey joined the British Army at 18.

“I was training to be a hairdresser and I just thought that there has to be more than this.

“I went to the job centre with a friend who was signing on and saw a poster saying ‘Be the best’. I thought, why not, let’s give it a go.”

The Army was always there as a possibility for Stacey as she came from a military family.

“My Dad was also in the army. He was in the Royal Green Jackets for thirteen years.”

Stacey holds an image of her father during his time in Service (left) and a picture of herself from when she first joined the Army (right). Credit: Alison Baskerville/Royal British Legion

After completing her basic training Stacey joined the Queen Alexandra's Royal Army Nursing Corps (QARANC) as a Health Care Assistant at Duchess of Kent Military Hospital at Catterick Garrison.

“It was my job to look after the day to day care of the patients whilst they were on the ward.”

Becoming a mother

Whilst at Frimley Park in 2009 Stacey met her partner, Gareth, through one of her friends.

They made the relationship work despite Stacey having to go on deployment regularly.

“I wanted to be with my unit. It’s what I trained for,” says Stacey. “I volunteered to go on tour and Gareth was very supportive.”

 “I knew I had to let her go, it’s her job,” says Gareth.

After her first tour of Iraq in 2003, Stacey gave birth to her eldest daughter, Evelyn. Following this she completed a number of further tours. 

“Evie has seen me go on tour twice now. The first time, when she was one, I left her with my mum, and the second I left Evie with Gareth and her younger sister Frankie. She’s incredibly grown up and she does so much to help Gareth look after the girls.”

Stacey still has her regimental belt and armband from her first tour of Iraq in 2003, seen above with a photo of her during the same tour. Credit: Alison Baskerville/Royal British Legion

Getting married whilst on tour in Afghanistan

Whilst back from Afghanistan on R&R in 2012, Gareth and Stacey decided to get married.

“That’s when we thought it was a good time to get married, as we knew it would be hard to get support outside of marriage with the army. We went wedding dress shopping on the back of Gareth’s motorbike.”

Ex-soldier Stacey (centre) on tour in Afghanistan.

Stacey (centre) on tour in Afghanistan.

When she got back to Afghanistan Stacey found out that she was pregnant with her third daughter, Teddy-Rose.

“We went wedding dress shopping on the back of Gareth’s motorbike.”

“I was excited when I found out as I was newly married, but I didn't want to leave Afghanistan. I wanted to stay and finish the tour. I only had about five or six weeks left.”

Working as a Health Assistant for the QARANC, Stacey cared for all the patients coming into the main ward of the hospital. 

“My job was to be a nurse to everyone,” says Stacey. “Regardless of what side they were fighting on.”

The local Afghan children that Stacey treated made a particular impact on her.

“The hardest thing for me was seeing the children who were the same age as my own and far less physically developed. My kids seemed somewhat fuller and bigger.”

Credit: Alison Baskerville/Royal British Legion

“It was hard being away from the kids, but we wrote letters all the time and Gareth sent me photos of the girls.”

PTSD Diagnosis

Stacey had just given birth to her daughter Teddy Rose when she was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

“I knew something was wrong when I was getting angry at patients… That’s when I knew it was time to get some help.”

“I think I really started experiencing symptoms in 2003 on my first tour of Iraq,” she explains. “When I spoke to my doctor in 2014 he said you’ve been carrying this around for at least ten years.”

Stacey shares a cuddle with her youngest daughter Teddy-Rose. Credit: Alison Baskerville/Royal British Legion

In her final couple of years of military service Stacey chose to move to a hospital in Middleborough that cared for a mixture of NHS and military patients.

“I knew something was wrong. I was getting angry at patients thinking ‘why are you complaining, you have your arms and legs!’ That’s when I knew it was time to get some help.”

After her diagnosis Stacey was medically discharged from the Army. “There is still some stigma around this. People would say to me ‘How can you have PTSD? You were never on the front line?’

“People don’t understand that it’s not to do with being on the front line. When you work in a hospital you get exhausted from the casualties coming through.

“It’s just heartbreaking; I used to rearrange the ward so that guys who were in an incident were together and not spread across the ward.”

“Only a few days ago I went into the garden and smelt what I thought was avionics fuel.”

As a military veteran Stacey was eligible to take part in the Royal British Legion’s Battle Back program and was one of the first soldiers to attend.

“I was really reluctant to go along to this but when I met everyone it was like we’d been friends for years. Doing things like climbing and clay shooting, I really enjoyed it.”

Gareth throws Teddy into the air. Credit: Alison Baskerville/Royal British Legion

Gareth has been a rock for Stacey during this time, supporting her and the family.

“He’s always been a civilian but has been around the army a lot. He’s able to think outside the box and I think that’s why he’s so supportive.”

Life as a veteran

After leaving the army Stacey and Gareth moved near to Folkestone. Gareth works as a local bus driver and Stacey often spends her time at home with their youngest, Teddy.

With the pressures of family life they’ve developed an amazing level of teamwork

“He gives me daily tasks and we try to do as much as we can as a family. All through the summer we’ll be away camping and travelling round with the kids.”

Stacey on the way home from school with her daughters. Credit: Alison Baskerville/Royal British Legion

Stacey still encounters symptoms of her PTSD and on a daily basis she experiences flash backs and smells that remind her of past experiences.

“Only a few days ago I went into the garden and smelt what I thought was avionics fuel. I’ve often had flashbacks after smelling blood in the butchers, it reminds of cleaning the floor after a trauma in Iraq. Some days I’m fine, but others I really struggle.”

Stacey made the decision to come off her medication and is now trying to cope with her condition using exercise.

“I walk the dog every day and just a short walk will make me feel amazing.”

Life inside and outside the Army

As a woman in the Army Stacey often felt it was important for people to be able to express themselves in whatever way you felt feminine.

“I think all women should be able to express their femininity in whichever way they choose. I used to dress in clothes which may been described as manly, but I know plenty of women in the army boxing team who love heels.”

A common misconception that people make is assuming that Stacey isn’t a veteran. Last year Evie wore Stacey’s medals to the anniversary service at the Battle of Britain memorial. Whilst there ranking military officials assumed that the medals belonged to Evie’s father - an assumption that many have made.

Evie wears her mother's medals to school.

Evie wearing Stacey’s medals.

“Evie has worn my medals to school in the past. She’s been asked a few times if they belong to her Dad.”

“When I’m talking to other mums in the playground, I wish I could let them see through my eyes and go through what I’ve been through.

“It’s hard for me to describe my experiences, you can talk about it but you don’t want to frighten somebody; especially as I’m often never seen as someone who served in the Army.”

Stacey’s medals from her Service. Credit: Alison Baskerville/Royal British Legion

She adds “I never feel like a veteran as you only see men in the headlines. It still feels like a man’s world to me.”

Reflecting on her time in the Army Stacey says that “I don’t blame the army for anything although I do think my life is ten times better as everything here is now mine. I’m very lucky: Gareth and I are both of the attitude that we’ve still got so much of our lives ahead of us.”

Credit: Alison Baskerville/Royal British Legion

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