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Find out how Michael Lewis got back on track with help from The Royal British Legion after being injured in Afghanistan.
On 25 August 2008 we were working out of a forward operating base just outside of Sangin. I was a Corporal, a section commander for a seven-man rifle section.
That’s us pictured above.
Our task was to push a local Taliban stronghold back so a turbine convoy we were protecting could pass through and continue its trip from Camp Bastion to the Kajaki Dam. We were told we would be moving out under the cover of darkness, then patrolling out, forming up behind the Taliban at their stronghold and attacking at first light so the turbine could then continue its route.
We fell into dramas straight away with the fact that there was a massive casualty and all medical assets were sent to deal with that situation. As a result, a ‘patrol minimised’ was ordered – meaning that no patrolling was allowed to happen anywhere in Helmand.
Due to there being no medical cover, we thought we wouldn’t be going out on patrol and it would be a night of rehearsing what we would be doing in the next 24 hours, if not longer. But at about 4 o’clock in the morning, the order came that the patrol would go ahead and we still had our mission to get on with.
It was starting to get light and the Taliban, as we listened to their radio, knew we were on the ground and were getting ready to attack us. By the time we got to the village it was pretty much daylight and very clear that we were moving towards the Taliban stronghold.
As we approached the village, I looked round the corner of the first building and saw young fighting men running towards the tree lines carrying weapons, and they were getting ready to attack us.
We moved into a compound to get a better observation point and see where they’d run to. I took my machine gunner onto the roof to get a better eyes-on, and as we popped our heads over the wall we were immediately engaged in what turned out to be probably the heaviest firefight I’ve ever been involved with, coming from the tree line where we had seen the young men running.
We returned fire and started to win the firefight, which then meant that our other outfit, 10 Platoon, could flank off onto the left and assault onto the position – pretty much a textbook attack.
It was at this point that the Taliban launched a mortar attack on the compound we were firing from.
It was too dangerous for a helicopter to land because it would have risked being shot out of the sky, so they stuck me on a stretcher and ran me out... under fire and through fields and ditches.
One round fell behind us, another round fell between us and where we were being engaged from – and as a result my machine gunner took a piece of shrapnel to the shoulder. It was at this point that the third round came down and landed on the other side of the wall to where I was standing, coming through and hitting me as a result.
I didn’t hear the bang. I just woke up and was no longer where I’d previously been standing.
I’d been thrown 10 feet away and found myself crawling towards the medic. One of my riflemen turned around and said, “look at your arm. It doesn’t look right. And look at your leg!”
I had actually been hit and quite badly. The Taliban knew they’d gained the upper hand on us and were trying to flank round to cut us off. My guy straightaway got on top of me, administered immediate first aid, gave me morphine.
It was too dangerous for a helicopter to land because it would have risked being shot out of the sky, so they stuck me on a stretcher and ran me out of the point of contact – about a mile away, running under fire and through fields and ditches.
It was at this point that the Chinook helicopter came in. From the moment of being injured to being flown back to Camp Bastion, I was on the operating table within 40 minutes of being injured, which was quite remarkable.
I was assessed and they decided that my injuries were severe and that I had to be flown back to Selly Oak Hospital in Birmingham to have further treatment to my left arm and right leg.
Due to contracting MRSA, a superbug that’s very hard to treat, I spent far longer than expected at Selly Oak.
When you first arrive there, you literally come back wrapped in a foil blanket. You don’t have any personal possessions such as a mobile phone; you don’t even have a set of clothes to wear.
It was at this point that The Royal British Legion stepped in - there were two people who were there to help all the soldiers on the ward. They gave me a mobile phone so I could contact my family, call my wife just to let her know that I was alright, and they supplied clothes and the basic things you need like a toothbrush and shower gel. Everything like that was laid on by the Legion.
I want to promote the Legion for what it is, showing that the money really does help the individuals like myself.
We had a lot of stuff given to us and support that we needed when we came back, so that was amazing. After spending a year at Selly Oak, I was sent to Headley Court for about six months, where I learned to walk and use my arm again. And once again, the Legion stepped in.
It was quite basic when I first got there, but within a few weeks they’d got TVs and stuff for the guys to do in the evenings after their rehab in the day. So things were made much better for us once we were down there.
After being discharged from my rehab, the Army realised I was too badly injured to carry on and so I was discharged - and yet again, the Legion was where I turned for assistance.
They offered me a job as a community fundraiser. I jumped at the opportunity as it is a way to give back after being helped by such a great organisation.
I want to promote the Legion for what it is, showing that the money really does help the individuals like myself – it doesn’t just sit in a big pot while managers sit around talking. The figures you read are true and the money really does go to help the wounded, injured and sick members of our Armed Forces to Live On.
For this year’s Poppy Appeal launch, I’ve organised a big event at Luton Town Football Club. We’ve divided a giant poppy up amongst schools and youth organisations, and we’ve asked them to paint it using their fingers. We’re then going to bring it all back together to fill the centre circle at Kenilworth Road before their home game against Plymouth Argyle on Saturday 24th.
A few mates in the Red Devils display team owe me a couple of favours, so they’re going to parachute onto the pitch using the giant poppy as a drop zone marker to land on - then presenting the ball to the team captains before the start of the match! It’s taken a lot of planning but I’ve enjoyed it, and it’s all coming together.