Chris, now 27, was just 18 when he was first deployed to Afghanistan with 2nd Battalion The Mercian Regiment in 2007
In a fierce firefight that claimed the lives of two of his comrades and injured 16 other soldiers, a bullet shattered Chris’ leg and he had to be flown back to the UK. After undergoing surgery and rehabilitation at Headley Court, he was deemed fit for active service and was re-deployed to Afghanistan in 2009.
Unfortunately, shortly after his return to the fray, Chris was injured in another intense clash with insurgents. Fragments of a grenade entered his head through a gap between his helmet and glasses. Chris was fully conscious throughout and recalls ‘I remember blood dripping down my face and all I could think was not ***** again!’.
Back in the UK, doctors told Chris that he needed a high-risk operation,which he might not survive. Chris says ‘I told my parents that if the op went wrong then I didn’t want to live, I don’t want to be a vegetable’. Fortunately the operation was a success, but one lasting effect of the injury was Chris’s diagnosis with epilepsy. As a result he was medically discharged from the Army in 2011.
Having completed a course to help identify potential job options in civilian life prior to leaving the Army, Chris had decided that gardening was a career path he’d like to pursue. ‘I enjoy being outdoors so didn’t want a desk job’. He applied to do a two-year college course in Horticulture and The Soldiers’ Charity stepped in to help cover essential course costs, including clothing, safety equipment and travel. The course gave Chris practical experience in the many different aspects of landscape gardening and, despite missing the camaraderie of the Army, Chris told us, ‘It was a good course and The Soldiers’ Charity helped me out massively through this funding: they sorted out everything from the kit to the bus fare. Now I’ve finished the course I hope to get a job so I can carry on doing something that I’ve started to love’.
Chris was subsequently an integral part of the landscaping team that built The Soldiers’ Charity’s Gold Medal winning ‘No Man’s Land’ Garden at the 2014 RHS Chelsea Flower Show, which gave himinvaluable new skills as well as a vital boost to his CV. Reflecting on his Chelsea Flower Show experience and the support he received from The Soldiers’ Charity, Chris said: ‘When you leave the Army, you have to adjust to a whole new way of life. In a way, it’s kind of like a no man’s land, as I know I felt a bit lost and quite alone. But I soon found my way, thanks to the support of my family and The Soldiers’ Charity’.
Supporting ABF The Soldiers’ Charity ensures that men and women like Chris, and their families, continue to receive the support, education and training they deserve.www.soldierscharity.org