Medals, Scars & Politics

It was a cold, miserable German morning in March 2011 and I hadn’t slept much the previous night. None of us had really, as we’d been filling ourselves with endless amounts of cold beer, not knowing when or if we’d ever have another. We trudged across camp toward the parade square carrying all of the possessions we would need for the next 7 months, where the coaches would meet to take us to our designated flights. It was the day we’d all been waiting for. The day we had trained arduously for almost 2 years; the defining moments of our careers and lives. We were going to war!

Touchdown Afghanistan! We were there, finally in theatre with adrenaline pumping through our veins as we disembarked on to the runway at Camp Bastion. All that would keep us alive now was our wits, training, luck and our brothers in arms. After checking in and completing the mandatory procedures for all those arriving in theatre, I flew out to my checkpoint (CP), with one of my closest friends and colleagues. We were met off the helicopter and given a brief tour of the CP before being shown our sleeping quarters and given orders for the next days patrols, our first of the tour.

What I thought would be a relatively straightforward reassurance patrol of the local area turned out to be anything but. We were going out looking for a fight and the Islamic extremists were more than happy to oblige. British superiority in terms of training and fire-power won out this time, with a huge helping dose of mortar fire. This was day one and we still had 7 months to go. It was going to be a rough one for myself and my colleagues. Fire-fights, grenade attacks, improvised explosive devices were just some of the threats which I, and colleagues, would possibly face on a daily basis; and would continue to face over the coming months. It takes its toll on a persons frame of mind, that I can assure you of. Constantly on edge, constantly looking for where the next attack may come from tends to fray ones temper and plays with your logic and senses.

Seven months ticked by though, and it was time head home to families and friends, safe with the knowledge that our last will and testaments would not have to be acted upon. At 22 years old, writing your last will and testament is truly life altering. Some were only 18, prepared to lay down their lives for Queen and country. Most at that age are enjoying themselves without a care in the world. My regiment were all thankfully alive, but we would never be the same again. Some physically, others mentally or both. The vast majority of us had gone to war as boys and returned as men, our outlook on life changed for evermore.

For months afterwards I carried on as normal, unaware of what turmoil lay ahead. Little did I know at the time, but I too was suffering mentally. It’s like cancer, you never think it’s going to affect you until it’s too late, and at that stage you either sink or swim. I sank, and I sank with disastrous effect. Over the coming weeks I capitulated in the same way that many others do. I wouldn’t admit it to anybody. I wouldn’t even admit it to myself. I didn’t think anything was wrong at all. A litre or more of rum per night said differently though and it wasn’t long until I had begun skipping work. Either because I was too drunk to care or because I just didn’t care at all. I hated myself, and the only source of comfort I had was at the bottom of a bottle. The booze made me feel good again, it made me forget. Yet I was slowly killing myself. I was actively doing to myself what the enemy had tried and failed so hard to achieve. This lasted for months until I broke.

I was driving back to Germany having been on leave and got to around Luton where I had an overwhelming and sudden urge to pull over. Upon pulling into a service station, I sat and cried, and cried, and cried for two straight hours. I was a total mess. A shadow of the man that returned from war only months earlier. It was now abundantly clear that I needed help. But how? From what and from who? The army wasn’t the answer as it had and still does have an outdated attitude toward mental health issues at regimental level. Why I’ll never know, but I turned around and drove home to see my own civilian GP. The service was outstanding and I was immediately signed off of work and told to remain at home due to a diagnosis of major depression. My civilian GP proceeded to liaise with the military and arranged a consultation with a military doctor. Upon attending this appointment, I was diagnosed again with major depression with an added adjustment disorder, a form of PTSD. This I was told was caused by the brain not readjusting to normal life after Afghanistan. Subconsciously my brain wanted to be in a war zone. It also went a long way to explaining why I drank in an attempt to blot out normal daily life. These sessions with counsellors and psychiatrists continued for 6 months until I was ordered back to my regiment in Germany. It was at this point the army drastically failed me. Due to the illnesses I had been diagnosed with the army were meant to slowly reintroduce me back into regimental life so as not to trigger and cause a relapse. They did not follow their own protocol and ordered me back immediately.

On arrival back in Germany, my Battery Commander welcomed me back with a serious talking to, plenty of choice words and by calling me a liar and an embarrassment not fit to wear the uniform. Bear in mind that my Battery Commander had never stepped foot inside of Afghanistan! With such ill-feeling toward me, being thrown back in at the deep end and the general animosity from commissioned officers, I quickly became a recluse and relapsed. I hit the bottle again to make life bearable. All treatment I had been receiving in the UK had been inexplicably halted now I was back in Germany. I was alone, without anybody which I felt that I could turn to, and slipping further by the day. Eventually my Battery Sergeant Major realised that I was seriously ill and in need of extensive medical help so made arrangements for me to restart my treatment. It was pretty futile in all honesty as I was so far gone; that the only thing on my mind was how to end it. I had it all planned, right down to the fine detail of how to end my life. I didn’t feel anything any more. Not happiness, not sadness. Not even affection or love for my family and friends. I was emotionally dead, so why not be physically dead too was my justification. My counsellor noticed I was on the edge, maybe even past it, so had no choice but to take the decision to admit me to a psychiatric hospital specialising in military mental health issues. I spent 6 weeks in that hospital under 24 hour supervision, being fed pills which to this day, I still have no idea what they were for. Countless hours of therapy sessions passed and I was deemed mentally fit enough to be discharged back to my regiment. This time they continued with my treatment and did so until my eventual discharge from the army. They did this due to frequent relapses into sever depression brought on by the PTSD and adjustment disorder.

Back on ‘civvy street’ I was on my own, bar my family and close friends. No help at all from the army or from the government with my continued ill health. It suddenly dawned on me that all I had been for my entire adult life to date, was a number. I wasn’t a human being in the eyes of the army and government, I was 8 digits to be used at the will of politicians. All for the sake of forging some sort of legacy for themselves. Pretty twisted I know! So much for the Military Covenant the Conservatives promised to uphold in 2010. They very quickly reneged on that. What could I do though? I was just one man who wanted change. It turned out that I wasn’t alone and an old friend and colleague pointed me towards politics. Towards the same group of people I felt so much disgust for. That was, until I found UKIP. The first thing I did was read UKIP defence policy. I was sold. It just so happened that I agreed with wider UKIP policy too.

As the months and years went gone by, I found myself becoming more and more involved with UKIP and I was appointed County Chairman for the youth wing of UKIP, Young Independence. This really cemented my involvement in the party, in Young Independence and in politics. I felt for the first time in years that I was actually able to achieve something of note; that what I was doing would actually help people. As I sit here now as the recently elected Regional Chairman for Young Independence North East, I know that what UKIP is doing is making lives better. Not just for veterans such as myself, but for all walks of life regardless of background, race, religion or sexual orientation.

For veterans though, we are saying that you will have a job to go to upon leaving the armed forces, that 8 veterans’ hostels will be built to house homeless veterans. Each of these with 200 rooms available, alongside 500 purposely built, affordable rent homes, every year for ex-forces personnel. UKIP will also create a ‘Boots to Business’ scheme which will channel loans, grants and access to free professional advice and mentors to veterans who wish to set up and own their own businesses after leaving the forces. As Britain is the only major country in Europe that does not have a dedicated military hospital, we will build one. It will provide specialist physical and mental health services and provide accommodation for 150 relatives or friends on site.

If like me, you have been abandoned by this and previous governments, and you want to see a well funded, well equipped, Army, Navy and Royal Air Force, you will get behind UKIP.
If like me, you want our service personnel and veterans to receive the help and support they need and deserve, you will back UKIP at all opportunities to ensure that our armed forces and veterans are not just left with medals and scars!

Lee Harris
Young Independence North East