There were a few worried faces amongst the R & R team on the morning of Friday 20 September as grey clouds had covered our previously promised blue sky, and we waited to welcome our next group of injured servicemen to Menorca. Steve Morgan of Rest & Recover Menorca offers this report.
There were smiles all round, however, as we greeted our latest group of visitors and these smiles turned into huge grins as we showed them their accommodation for the next week in Cala en Porter, and the fabulous apartment at Punta Reloc which has fantastic views over Mahón harbour. It was then that we noticed the blue skies had returned…!
The first night welcome meeting went very well, attended by British Honorary Consul Deborah Hellyer and special guests Major Rory Stewart (retired) and Brigadier David Morgan (retired), and many of our generous sponsors. As always, this was topped off with a fabulous meal for the soldiers cooked by our R & R Master Chef Adrian Deamer.
Three of the group were from 33 Engineers (IOD) or, as they were called in the past, The Bomb Disposal Squad. Their work in Afghanistan was mainly locating and defusing IED’s, so it would be a bit of an understatement to say their work could be classified as ‘quite interesting’! Our fourth guest, Sgt Marc Sherridan of the Infantry Unit 2 Mercian, arrived the following day.
Sometimes I feel a little intrusive asking how the guys got their injuries but, with my journalist head on, I asked, and with their permission, can share some of their more personal details and thoughts. It brings it home not just what these men have had to suffer in the line of duty but also what they now have to endure for the rest of their lives.
LCpl Tim Jones 33 Engineers (IOD)
Tim’s story shows that the job of being a soldier is dangerous all the time and not just when you are being shot at! On 7 July 2009, Tim was serving on ‘Op Herrick 10 Afghanistan’ as a Royal Engineer Searcher with the Joint Force Explosive Ordnance Disposal Group in Counter Improvised Explosive Device Disposal team.
His team had been working for three weeks clearing IED’s for the Welsh Guards who were based in the Helman Province of Afghanistan. They were told that they were being extracted, by helicopter, from the Forward Operations Base for the replenishment of equipment. As the Chinook helicopter landed, the downdraft kicked up a dust cloud and, as the group headed in single file towards the back of the helicopter, they encountered a heavy rate of enemy fire with rounds splashing at their feet and passing between the line of soldiers. As Tim got to the helicopter the enemy switched fire to the aircraft and two rounds penetrated the cockpit, barely missing the pilot. The pilot made the instant decision to take-off and clear out from the area as soon as possible.
During the take-off, Tim was still on the tailgate but, unfortunately for him, a member of the flight crew, who was tethered to the aircraft, turned to help but bumped into him knocking him off the platform. By that time the helicopter was already airborne and Tim fell over 40 feet onto the solid ground. He heard a loud ‘crack’ from his back and felt severe pain all over his body with loss of sensation and was unable to move. Two Welsh guards who had witnessed his fall dragged him to safety behind a wall whilst returning fire at the enemy.
Tim had broken his back and was paralysed from the neck down so could only lie there whilst the fire fight went on over his head. Strangely, whilst he was lying there, and although he thought he would not survive the battle, he wished he had his camera with him so he could take some photos! Fortunately for Tim his spinal cord was not severed and, following a period of recuperation in Selley Oak Hospital, Birmingham, he has made a remarkable recovery, but still has to walk with a stick.
The list of injuries and internal problems that Tim is having to deal with actually takes up a sheet of A4 paper (I know, I’ve seen it) and includes having to take about 15 different types of medicine every day. However, he feels he has been fortunate with his recovery so far and doesn’t let his injuries stop him from enjoying life to the full.
Spr Ross Mckeown 33 Engineers (IOD)
I guess Ross’s injuries are, more or less, what we have become used to hearing about on the news. Whilst stationed in a Forward Observation Base (FOB), the compound came under attack from militants using mortars. One landed about 2 or 3 meters from him, blowing his foot apart and giving him a brain injury as well as many other shrapnel injuries. Surprisingly, although he was the closest to the point of impact, he suffered the least injuries, but sadly some of his comrades were not so fortunate and were killed in the initial explosion.
Ross has had numerous operations to rebuild his foot and whilst now to look at him you would hardly notice he has any problems, his injuries run deep and, on top of that, he suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
On a brighter note, whilst he was here, Ross wanted to propose to his long term girlfriend Shelley and, as this is a first for Rest & Recover, we were keen to help with this. Thanks to the kindness of Martin & Karen Betts, we were able to spend a fabulous day on their magnificent Fairline Squadron Boat. Whilst we were moored off Binibeca Beach, and under a perfect blue sky, Ross popped the question and we were particularly delighted (and relieved!) when she said yes..!
Martin also let a couple of the lads try on his new ‘Jet boots’ and we were amazed just how quickly they got the hang of them. Well, as they say… you can’t keep a good man down!
Sgt Marc Sherridan Infantry Unit 2 Mercian
Marc tells his story in his own words:
Hi, my name is Marc Sheridan and I am a Sgt with the infantry unit 2 Mercian. I am from Worcester but now live in Nottingham. I joined the army in 1997 and have been to some remarkable places all over the word. I have had an operational tour in Bosnia 2 tours in Northern Ireland and 4 tours of Afghanistan and overseas exercises in Canada, Kenya, Belize and Germany.It was on my most recent tour when I was injured. The patrol, that I was part of, was on a routine day patrol overlooking a river crossing. We had been there for about 10 to 15 minutes when we decided to move off, just as we moved no more than 200m, we were engaged by insurgent fire from across the river. Unfortunately I was shot in the back, I then managed to get to cover where fist aid could be administered, and I was then taken back to camp Bastion by helicopter.
At camp Bastion, they thought that my injury was not all that bad until I had a CT scan. I did not wake up until 12 days later in QE hospital Birmingham as I was placed in an induced coma.
What seemed to be a straightforward gunshot wound turned into a nightmare as the bullet had made a mess of my bowels and intestines and then turned and wedged itself against my spinal cord. It’s now been some 18 months since I was shot and the operations, rehab and appointments are all going in the right direction. Some problems, however, are permanent. I now have bladder issues, sensory and pins and needles in my legs as well as no feeling in my backside and a colostomy. Unfortunately, I have been medically discharged and will be leaving the army in the middle of next year.
Just three stories that, to us, bring home the dangers all our troops face on a daily basis. I have asked most of the wounded soldiers I’ve met if they would do it all again and, without exception, all have said yes!
Our concern is, are we helping with what we do? Well, here are just a few comments from the latest feedback sheets:
“Thank you for a wonderful time” – “We would like to thank R & R for a wonderful holiday, one we will never forget” – “Couldn’t ask for more” – “Can’t thank you enough” – “the packs (our R & R welcome food packs) were amazing!” – “After a stressful recovery, this trip gave us time to relax”…
This year, 2013, has proven to be a great year for Rest & Recover Menorca: Adrian Deamer has been busy re-establishing connections with former Army colleagues and is establishing some very useful links with the British Army’s Personnel Recovery Units (PRU). These are military units for the command and care of wounded, injured and sick soldiers with the greatest need. Looking to the future, the PRU will be our prime source of future visitors, so, instead of not knowing who will be coming here until almost the last minute, we will now have a waiting list!
The visits are proving to be a huge success and, with the guys reporting back to their Regiments and giving us such glowing reports, already next May’s visit is fully booked. September 2014 will also be rather exciting as we hope to have 4 Gurkha families arriving. So, instead of arranging trips to places like the Caves of Xoroi, it will be the Zoo and water park! I can’t wait..!!
All I have to do now, on behalf of the committee of Rest & Recover Menorca, is to thank everybody who helps us during the visits. I would love to list you all but I’ve probably taken up too much space already! You know who you are and you know we appreciate everything you do.
¡Feliz Navidad y Feliz año Nuevo para los todos!
If you need to contact us for any further information or if you would like to make a contribution please call Anne Maddison on 618 373 528 or e-mail her on firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also follow Rest & Recover Menorca on Facebook.