Afghanistan: Soldiers and their families tell their stories

Recruits take part in training exercises at Weeton Barracks near Blackpool, home to the 2nd Battalion of the Duke of Lancaster's Regiment
Image caption Recruits take part in training exercises at Weeton Barracks near Blackpool, home to the 2nd Battalion of the Duke of Lancaster's Regiment

With the last British troops preparing to leave Afghanistan by the end of the year, the BBC's Inside Out North West has been speaking to soldiers and their families about the conflict which changed their lives in so many ways. Here are three of their stories:

A Captain's tale

Captain Martin Hewitt remembers feeling the life "draining out" of him and thinking "I've got to fight with everything I've got to stay alive now."

The officer, from Wilmslow in Cheshire, suffered a severe injury on the frontline in Helmand Province.

His right arm was paralysed, putting an end to his military career.

But he used his experience in ski racing to carve out a new one, establishing a team of wounded, injured, and sick soldiers and representing Great Britain at the ski-ing world championships. He also walked to the geographic North Pole on an expedition joined by Prince Harry.

Capt Hewitt, who served with the 3rd Battalion, the Parachute Regiment, joined the army in 2004 aged 23.

Image copyright Martin Hewitt
Image caption Capt Martin Hewitt suffered severe injury on the frontline in Helmand Province

In 2006, the battalion was chosen to spearhead the initial force into Helmand Province.

"I was shot by a machine gun. Initially I felt like an iron rod had hit me at 1,000mph and it was burning, a deep burning and it hurt like hell…

"I thought I'd lost a limb, I distinctly remember looking around trying to find the limb so I could pick it up in the hope that the doctors could sew it on."

The bullet had severed the main artery of his right arm.

"A lot of doctors will tell you you've usually got around 90 seconds of life after an artery is severed.

"I can remember feeling myself going, you feel the life draining out of you and I can remember just thinking at that time, I've got to fight with everything I've got to stay alive now."

Capt Hewitt was transferred by helicopter to Camp Bastion, where he was put into a medically-induced coma.

"I went from commanding over 100 soldiers to suddenly lying in a hospital bed with nothing to do but stay alive. And that is a huge shock and so the mind can easily go downhill if you're not careful... I thought, right, I need to find a new focus."

Following his successful North Pole expedition, Capt Hewitt now plans to conquer each continent's highest peak plus both Poles with a team of disabled athletes.

"I realised for the first time that it is possible to gain professional and life satisfaction doing something other than the job I loved before I got injured."

A soldier's journey

Sergeant Rick Clement from Lytham in Lancashire joined up in 1996 aged 16 and fought with the 1st Battalion, Duke of Lancaster Regiment.

While out on patrol with his battalion in May 2010, he stepped on a pressure plate and set off an improvised explosive device (IED).

He lost both his legs and severely damaged his right arm. The blast also damaged his hearing by perforating his ear drum.

Image copyright Sgt Rick Clement
Image caption Sgt Rick Clement (front) with other serving and ex-members of the armed forces, mostly from the Duke of Lancaster Regiment

"The two guys in front of me had fortunately missed it and the pressure plate obviously set off the IED that was underneath it," he said.

"The thing that stuck in my mind was kind of when you see films and they say 'Stay awake' don't they? 'Stay conscious'. If I was awake I was alive.

"On the helicopter, they were going to try and put me out with some sort of medication and I fought with them. After a good few minutes of this going on I think they kind of decided that they were going to allow me to stay awake which was against their training.

"But after later speaking to one of the medics that was on there, she kind of explained to me that they thought it could be my dying wish."

Sgt Clement's injuries have not stopped him enjoying outdoor activities.

"I've got a quad bike, a jet ski, I've got a hand-cycle now so I'm looking to do some hand cycling events, building up to marathons and things like that."

But it has changed his life and he now wants to ensure other injured soldiers and their families get the support they need.

"I decided I wanted to raise money for charity which ended up in me setting up my own charity, A Soldier's Journey, and we've raised £160,000 up to now, which is going to help other injured soldiers and families."

A mother's story

Kingsman Darren Deady from Lancashire was shot in the chest in Helmand Province in August 2010 and died soon afterwards.

Image caption Dianne Oxberry (left) speaks to Julie Hall (right), the mother of Kingsman Darren Deady from Lancashire who died after being shot in the chest in Helmand Province in August 2010

The 22-year-old's mother, Julie Hall from Westhoughton, remembers the moment she heard the news that her son had been seriously wounded.

"I'd arrived at work at 8:55 and one of the guys was on the phone at the office and he just turned round and just said 'go home' and I knew it was Darren automatic.

"I walked in the house and obviously a strange guy was in my living room and I just said 'just tell me he's alive'. He said 'he's alive'."

In the vital minutes waiting for the helicopter which would take him to their base at Camp Bastion, his comrades kept him alive.

Ms Hall spoke of her immense gratitude.

"I've seen the footage, and they did everything to make sure my boy survived it and they actually got him back for me."

Kgn Deady was then flown to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham where he underwent surgery but later died.

Ms Hall said: "I look at it that I got 22 years with my boy. He did everything that he could in that 22 years and he lived his life to the full."

Ms Hall said she thinks it is important for parents to support their child's decision to join the armed forces.

"If that is what they want to do, you've got to be 100% behind them, your feelings don't come into account in that, because they can't go off to somewhere like Afghanistan without you 100% behind them and not worry about you.

"They need to be 100% focused on the job they've got to do."

Watch the Inside Out North West special programme to mark the return of soldiers from Afghanistan on Monday, 27 October at 19:30 BST and nationwide on the iPlayer for 30 days thereafter.

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