Northern Ireland

Andy Allen: Soldier badly injured in Afghanistan on rebuilding his life

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Media captionAndy Allen works at a veterans charity near his home in Belfast, as Francis Gorman reports

A former soldier who lost both his legs in an explosion in Afghanistan has described how working for a veterans charity near his Belfast home helped him put his life back together.

Andy Allen was 19 when he had his right leg blown off and left leg shredded by a makeshift bomb while on an early morning patrol in Helmand province in 2008.

The Royal Irish Regiment soldier had only been in Afghanistan for two months when it happened.

Less than 48 hours later, he was flown to a specialist unit at Selly Oak Hospital in Birmingham, where he faced months of operations, pain and rehabilitation before eventually being allowed to return home.

Image caption Andy Allen's family maintained a bedside vigil while he was in hospital

Seven years on, he says he still faces daily challenges.

"It is still difficult every day to physically adapt to be in a wheelchair, from potholes in the ground to damage on the footpath that sends you flying if you hit it the wrong way, or something being high up in a cupboard," he says.

"I use the term adapt and overcome a lot.

"If something's high up in a cupboard, there's nothing to stop me lifting myself up - I've great upper body strength as thankfully my arms weren't damaged in the blast - you just improvise and overcome."

The Queen will attend a service in St Paul's Cathedral on Friday to mark the end of combat operations in Afghanistan.

Mr Allen is just one of hundreds of soldiers from Northern Ireland who served in Afghanistan.

Image caption Mr Allen says the charity provides support for veterans and their families

He says there is an onus on the Ministry of Defence to provide all necessary support for the families of those involved in the campaign.

While he was aware of the dangers he faced as a soldier, he says he had not thought about any long-term consequences.

"You never really expected it to happen to you," he says.

"I wouldn't say that in the sense that I was naïve that it definitely wouldn't happen to me, but we never really discussed the question of what happens if you are injured.

"Having lost my legs, I didn't know what the process was afterwards. I didn't know about the rehabilitation side of things, how world class it was, I didn't know about prosthetics.

"I think there was a degree of fear - I thought, how am I going to put things back together?"

When he was a soldier, Mr Allen had never thought of a career beyond the Army, but he now works near his home for the AA Veterans Support charity.

"The aim of the charity is to provide support services for veterans and their families, be that through financial assistance, training, help with benefits or just having a chat," he says.

Asked if he feels the war in Afghanistan was worth it, he says: "I wasn't on the ground in 2014 when the Army left, so I didn't get to see how the country had developed.

"When I was there in 2008, I firmly believed we were making a difference."

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