UK

Injured UK soldier returns to Afghanistan

Colour Sgt Thomas O'Donnell
Image caption Colour Sgt O'Donnell is now back in uniform after his injury in 2010

A British soldier who was seriously injured in Afghanistan and told he would probably lose a leg says he is looking forward to returning to front-line duties in Helmand later this year.

Colour Sgt Thomas O'Donnell, of the 1st Battalion Scots Guards, was wounded on his second deployment in 2010.

Now preparing to redeploy with his unit - who have been carrying out their final training on Salisbury Plain - he recalls the day that nearly brought an end to his life in the army.

Colour Sgt O'Donnell, who is 37 and from Glasgow, said his platoon was coming under a lot of "sporadic enemy fire".

"They had us pinned down quite well actually. So we made the decision that we had to try and seek out their sniper and capture him.

"While we were outside the compound - me and one other - we identified two insurgents placing an IED in one of the ditches surrounding our platoon.

"I could not believe how close they were. Planting IEDs that close is cheeky to say the least.

"So I engaged and shot and injured one of the insurgents," says Colour Sgt O'Donnell.

However, as he was running back to their compound, a sniper fired a round that hit him just above his left kneecap.

'Screaming like a baby'

"It split my knee in two... it was completely smashed.

"I was screaming like a baby at the time. It was one of the most horrendous pains I've ever felt.

"But that only lasted about five minutes - the medics we had on hand were very, very good.

"They administered morphine... and calmed me down," he recalls.

Colour Sgt O'Donnell comrades called in a helicopter to rush him to hospital at the main British base at Camp Bastion.

The American pilot who flew to the rescue received a bullet wound to his arm as he landed, but the crew still managed to get him to the operating table within 30 minutes.

There he was told that he might lose his left leg.

When he was flown back to Britain, medical staff at Birmingham told Sgt O'Donnell they could save his leg, but he was given the devastating news that he would never "soldier" again.

He says he was "gutted" to think that he would not be able to do the job that had been his life for 17 years.

But a visit from his daughter in hospital made him determined to recover.

"She told me she was getting married. And that's when I said to myself, I will walk her down the aisle."

Colour Sgt O'Donnell then asked himself "why not get back with the boys?"

The long road to recovery continued at Headley Court. He now jokingly describes the medical staff there as "physio-terrorists" - taking no prisoners, but he has nothing but praise for their efforts to help him walk again.

The movement in his left leg is still limited and he is not able to run, but with the help of his battalion he is now back in uniform.

He will return to the front line in Helmand later in 2012.

His new job will be to help move troops by helicopter, co-ordinating flights with the RAF and Army Air Corps.

Thomas says he is going back to what he does best: "I'm a soldier and I've been a soldier for the past 17 years. That's what keeps me going.

"And my son has joined my regiment now as well. Just to be able to serve alongside my son... that's something that drives me on."