It takes a lot of courage for a veteran to reach out and speak about their personal feelings and experiences, especially with all the stigma and tagging that comes hand in hand with mental health.
Reaching out for help and talking about your mental health is one challenge for sure but to accept that you actually have mental health issues is another battle.
A fellow veteran who has actually experienced this psychological fight at first hand had the courage to reach out and speak to me last week about his personal transition from soldier to civilian.
I would like to introduce to you all an old friend of mine who I once served alongside whilst on operations in Afghanistan. This is David Job, a former soldier of the Princes of Wales’s Royal Regiment and this is his story.
Thank you, David, for taking the time to talk to me about your transition from soldier to civi.
What was it that attracted you to join the army in the first place?
“I joined the army due to not knowing what I wanted to do after I left school and I was always getting into trouble. So my dad gave me a choice, I could join the forces or I was on my own”.
Was the army what you expected?
“I really didn’t look into it much, so when I arrived at Harrogate Army Foundation College as a seventeen-year-old, it was a real shock to the system. It was a real wake-up call”.
Do you feel that the army benefited you?
“Yes, I do in a big way. It taught me a lot about respect, authority and how to conduct myself in a professional manner, however, I wish I waited until I was a bit older before I joined”.
Why do you feel that you joined the army at too young of an age?
“Maybe because I was too naive at that age. You’re learning to be a soldier and knowing that we were going to be sent to a war zone was very daunting. Being told by your peers what they had been through in Iraq and Afghanistan and then knowing what we had to step up to. We also had to come to terms with the fact that we could potentially be killed, it was a lot to process”.
That is certainly a lot to process for a young teenager considering that a great majority of other teenagers would still be sat at home on their PlayStation’s. Evidently, you were very aware of what you had signed up to in terms of deploying on operations.
Where and when did you deploy?
“I deployed on Op Herrick 15 in September 2011. We were first sent to Nad e Ali South and then we were sent to Nad e Ali North”.
How was the tour for you?
“Although we had a lot of small arms contacts, the tour for me at times felt peaceful and it was an easy way of life with no stress of the real world. I have a very close family so at times I missed them, although, till my commander got hit, my tour was good and I was happy that no one in my multiple had been injured. I was proud of what I had achieved”.
Most veterans I come across say how their operational tours were so peaceful and stress-free but why is this considering what we were actually doing out there?
“I believe most of us found it like that because it was an easy way of life, everything you needed was there in place. Friends, a structure, orders, no bills and you had no worries about ‘civi street’. You weren’t on social media and the Mrs wasn’t there wanting you to do this and that”.
You spoke of an incident involving your commander being hit, what happened on that day?
“We were on ‘Op Archer’ and we had another section commander join us from a different multiple. We were pushing the fight to the enemy and we only had a few weeks until the end of our tour, this was the final push. My section (team) had to give support to allow another section to advance into contact. We were holding our position whilst we waited for the other section to push forward to where our commander had positioned us in order to get eyes on”.
“We couldn’t see much so our commander told us to move to where we could see. The track next to us was covered with branches as it was overgrown”.
“As we finally managed to get eyes on, we spotted movement in the distance. I had the sharpshooter, so I was told to move out of that position to get better eyes on. Our commander then took my place so that he could see the other section advancing. As I was taking up my new position, I heard an almighty explosion. There was silence initially…… and then the screams came. The worse sound I have ever heard,
‘MAN DOWN, MAN DOWN‘”.
“This was the event that changed me as a person”.
In what way do you feel this horrific incident changed you?
“Well, I blamed myself for a long time. I should have been the one who was hit and not our commander because I was the first one into that ditch”.
“I left the army and I had a Mrs who was due to give birth to my eldest boy. I was lucky my uncle got me a job but I was starting a new job with all this going on in my head, blaming myself for what had happened. I was in a dark place, I couldn’t be a dad because I didn’t know how to be myself. I was vile to my Mrs and I was pushing people away because I couldn’t work out why it wasn’t me who got hit”.
You can’t blame yourself for the things that happen during a war as war is war. War is hell and people, unfortunately, become casualties or worse. This is the harsh realities of war and it could have been anyone to get hit.
Was it because of this incident that you decided to leave the army?
“Mainly and my partner was pregnant so I thought it was the right thing to do”.
How was your transition to the civilian world after having gone through all of this trauma?
“I struggled for a long time. I lost my Mrs due to my behaviour and I pushed my family and friends away. For that time in my head, I thought that behaviour was normal. It wasn’t till my mum broke down into tears that I realised something was wrong with me. That was when I reached out to combat stress and stopped blaming myself for what happened”.
Did you go directly to Combat Stress or were you referred by a doctor?
“I called them and then I had an interview with the doctor. He referred me to the centre where I spent six weeks to be told that I had PTSD”.
How did that feel, being told that you had PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder)?
“I knew that something was wrong but I didn’t know I had PTSD. I feel PTSD is a big word to get your head around due to all of the things they label it with and I didn’t actually suffer from these ‘labels’. So it’s just understanding what you have and learning to control It. Talking to people who have the same experiences as you are most likely to feel the same way and that helps. Knowing that you are not alone”.
What are your thoughts and opinions on Combat Stress?
“Combat stress was a great environment. You’re surrounded by veterans who have similar experiences to you and they don’t rush you into anything you don’t want to talk about”.
Would you say that you have found your feet in ‘civi street’ now?
“Yes, one-hundred percent”.
If you could give one piece of advice to a veteran or a soldier planning to leave the armed forces, what would you say?
“If you have any doubts that your mental state is not right, then reach out to friends and family or ring a charity help line. ‘Civi street’ can be hard, especially if you’re not in a good place” – David Jobe
I have come across many veterans who blame themselves for certain incidents that happen during their operational tours but you can’t blame yourself for what happens in war. Like I have said before, war is war and it’s exactly what it says on the tin. A lot of harsh realities come with war and unfortunately, that means people become casualties and fatalities.
Some veterans might disagree with me, nonetheless, I believe that luck plays a huge part in warfare. I know of soldiers who were the most switched on and rigid soldiers who had the highest level of tactics, techniques and procedures (TTP’s) and yet, they still got hit.
I have heard stories of a whole multiple of twelve men walking over an IED (Improvised Explosive Device) and it was the very last man to walk over the IED who triggered the device and became the casualty. The first eleven men were extremely lucky to have not stepped on the device and that is why I believe that luck is certainly a factor of war.
So to all of you veterans out there who feel that there is a huge weight of guilt and blame upon your shoulders, please try to let it go. Don’t blame yourself for the realities of war.
Thank you for taking the time to read this week’s blog, I appreciate your interest and support.
If you share common ground with David Jobe and you would like the opportunity to get a few demons off your chest, then please feel free to get in touch with me or reach out to other veterans on the ‘Soldier to Civi – Chatroom‘ where veterans support veterans.
Take care and look out for each other.
Jamie and featured veteran, David Jobe.
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