“What are you doing in Afghan mum?”
The last thing Sam remembered was being next to a compound in Afghanistan whilst the infantry cleared the outside. He’d been kneeling next to his mate Chidders, having a fag and a chat.
Now he’d woken up in hospital, with his mum sitting next to him.
“No Sam, you’re in England,” she said.
He looked down at his chest and could see tubes everywhere.
It was all too much for Sam, he couldn’t understand this. Why he was in this dark room, why his mum was here, what was happening to him?
On tour in Afghanistan
He’d joined the Army when he was 19 and loved every part of it from basic training, where he made friendships that would last for life, to deployment in Afghanistan.
In Afghanistan Sam was an advance searcher, looking for IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices). He remembers the first time he found an IED:
“The first thing you get is a hit on the metal detector, then you go down and check it out. Nine times out of ten it’s just a piece of metal but the other time it’s an IED.
“You don’t know fear because you’ve trained for it.”
“That bit when you have to uncover it - that’s the scary bit. A lot of the time the ground was so hard you had to break it apart with your bayonet.
“Our superiors told us not to do it, because when you put metal on metal it creates a path for the current to travel and then boom, but the earth was so solid you couldn’t do it any other way.”
The first IED that Sam found had its explosives in plastic containers, so they didn’t set off the metal detector. When the ATO (Ammunition Technician Officer) went down to destroy it he found that Sam had been lying on top of the explosives. If they had gone off, he would’ve been killed.
“You don’t know fear because you’ve trained for it. You’ve done so much training that it’s not there. You know you’re doing a silly job, but you just get on with it.”
Sam on tour in Afghanistan
In June 2009, the British forces in Afghanistan prepared for Operation Panther’s Claw, a big push for the Army in Helmand.
Sam’s team was chosen to clear specific areas from IEDs after they’d been secured. So Sam found himself kneeling outside a compound, waiting for the infantry to clear the outside.
Shot in Afghanistan
On the all clear, Sam’s team went in to search the for IEDs. When they got inside, they discovered the compound was empty except for a dog.
“The dogs in Afghan are vicious: they’ve got rabies, they go for you and all sorts.”
Faced with the snarling dog, one of Sam’s comrades shot it.
The bullet went through the dog, ricocheted off the wall and hit Sam in the eye.
The long road to recovery
Sam woke up in hospital with his mum standing over him. He could hardly speak and couldn’t move the right side of his body. The doctors told Sam’s family that he had a 20% chance of survival and that if he did survive, he would be at risk of brain damage.
“They’d kept me under for three to four weeks,” says Sam, “so I was quite disorientated.”
After Sam woke up, the doctors told him that this was as good as he was going to get. But Sam wasn’t going to accept this.
“It’s taken years for me to get to where I am now.”
He threw himself into the physiotherapy, working on taking back control of his body. After four weeks of this he was able to move his right leg and arm slightly, and the doctors told him again that he wouldn’t recover any further. At every improvement they told him that this was it, this was the best it was going to be and he kept proving them wrong.
“It was quite quick getting the use of my arm and leg back, but everything else has been quite gradual. It’s taken years for me to get to where I am now.”
Sam was in hospital for 12 weeks and then was moved to Headley Court, a rehabilitation centre for the Armed Forces.
In between the hospital and Headley, Sam went home to see his parents. This was the first time he’d been home in six months.
“It had been hard on my mum and dad, but nothing changed between us. When I went home after leaving the hospital, my dad let me have one beer even though I wasn’t allowed to drink for a year. We just sat outside and enjoyed it.”
Sam would spend the best part of 18 months in and out of Headley.
Dealing with bureaucracy whilst recovering
When you’re severely injured on duty there’s a lot of change. As well as the injuries and the recovery, you have to manage the change in circumstances. For Sam, this was dealing with his claim for compensation under the Armed Forces Compensation Scheme.
Neither Sam nor his mum or dad had done anything like it before; the language and process were complicated.
Sam turned to The Royal British Legion for help and got advice on how to fill out the forms, taking a weight off Sam’s mind.
“It was a massive help, I wouldn’t have known what to write or how to put it to get the form processed.”
Getting back on track
Sam’s parents hated it when Sam signed up for the Army. They were proud that he’d done it, but they were worried for him.
“My mum wanted me to be an ambulance driver but that wasn’t for me. I didn’t like the blood.
“I wanted to be in the Army for the long term, to get promoted and move up but I was discharged too quickly for anything like that to happen.
“Now I can’t work full time because of my injury. I get tired randomly, and have other issues due to my brain injury so a big part of my future will be finding work that I can deal with.
“I’ve never blamed the Army, I’ve always said that it was one of the risks of signing up.
“When you’re in the Army you don’t think about the dangers. We’d go to talks from the Legion, and every year I’d join in the Remembrance Services but when something happens that’s when the Legion becomes aware. On that claim form I wouldn’t have known what to write or how to put it. The Legion stepping in was a massive help.
“I don’t know what the future holds. I’m just trying to figure out what I want to do, but it’s a big benefit just knowing that the Legion is out there to help.”
A new generation of veterans needs your support
Explosive Ordnance Disposal Engineer Sam suffered brain damage in 2009.
With help from The Legion, Sam was able to get the compensation level he deserved.
Your donations help us to be there for people like Sam.