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Skiing With Heroes relies entirely on donations and contributions for the organisation to thrive. This can be done by sponsoring individuals, events, or projects and in a variety of different ways.
If you’re anything like me, there are times when I would rather be on my own. This is particularly true when recovery seems an endless struggle and my confidence of ever feeling better wanes. The paradox of such isolation is realising what I actually crave is connection with humanity. My mentor has helped me enormously over the last 18 months, however more recently I’ve discovered how she has helped me keep connected with the SWV/SWH family.
Since February I’ve been an in-patient at the Bethlem Royal Hospital having intensive treatment. I’ve come to realise that keeping in touch with my mentor under the banner of SWV/SWH and having a good natter for an hour once a fortnight has kept me very much engaged with her, our ongoing work, but also the wider SWV/SWH family. This connection has allowed me to reflect on the good friends I’ve made, the laughs we’ve all had, and appreciate the support we enjoy from our committee members and fantastic sponsors. I’ve picked up my phone and spoken to some of you and even some of you have visited me (Scotty bought me some grapes).
So what I hear you say! Well, all this keeps me connected with the people I value most and helps prevent me reverting to the familiar coping strategy of isolation. SWV/SWH, the mentoring system, and the pain management clinic have made such a positive difference to my recovery. This connection needs commitment on my behalf too and my mentor understands this and encourages me in this direction. So if you are feeling a little too much on the periphery, start by sending a veteran, a buddy or someone else you know a text. Make that connection. It might make you ski faster too.Martin, veteran 2015
“I stopped thinking about the negatives and realised I could look forward to the future.”
A former staff sergeant with the Royal Signals, Del, 37, suffered a severe brain injury in Afghanistan in 2009 when the vehicle he was driving hit an IED during a battle with a Taliban stronghold.
“I was in an open-top reconnaissance truck which had a reinforced base designed to withstand blasts. But when we hit the IED, I was blown upwards and my head hit an overhead metal bar,” he explains.
The impact knocked him unconscious. He was rescued along with the commander sitting beside him (who was thrown out of the truck and also suffered multiple injuries). Del woke up in hospital at Camp Bastion and soon afterwards was flown back to the Queen Elizabeth Medical Centre in Birmingham where he learnt he had lost all hearing in his right ear and suffered major bruising to his brain. His memory recall, coordination and ability to process information were badly affected. “It was as if I was living in a permanent fog,” he says. “I became painfully slow at the simplest of tasks and unable to do more than one thing at a time.”
At Headley Court, the specialist rehabilitation centre for wounded soldiers, he was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. “It was a vicious circle – I became tired and sleepy a lot of the time, and that made me frustrated and angry.”
Del, who lives in Carlisle with his partner Lisa, a teaching assistant, and stepdaughter Hannah, 18, was medically discharged in November 2012. He had served 19 years, having enlisted as a 16-year-old school leaver. “I’d always thought I would see out my career in the army, but after my injury, I lost all my confidence and I couldn’t see what I was going to do with my life,” he says.
Four months later, he was offered a place on the first Supporting Wounded Veterans trip. “One of the first things you realise when you are put together with a bunch of wounded veterans is that there is always someone worse off that you. We bounced off each other, shared problems and I made instant friendships.” Del had skied before, but still had to overcome anxiety attacks. By the end of the week, however, he says: “It was as if a line had been drawn in the sand. I stopped thinking about the negatives and realised I could look forward to the future.”
On his return home, Del was paired with a mentor to help him focus on re-employment. Shortly afterwards, he spotted a vacancy for an assistant in a local fishing and shooting shop. He applied, and, as a keen fisherman, got the job.
He has since returned to Klosters with Supporting Wounded Veterans as a helper. “I feel like my life has moved on a million miles and it has been great to pass on my experience to the other veterans.”
Del veteran 2015
“I returned not as a changed man, but as a man ready for change.”
Dean “Dino” Hawkins served 24 years with the Corps of Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (REME) before being commissioned into the Royal Artillery as a Captain. His career took him to the front line of conflicts in Northern Ireland, Bosnia, Sierra Leone and Iraq, where he was confronted by many atrocities. Back in the UK in 2006, he took on the highly sensitive role of delivering devastating news to the families of those lost or severely injured in action. As a father of four, with operational experience who had risen through the ranks, Dino was eminently qualified for the task. Still, he concedes: “Every time you knock on another door, your heart is in your mouth because you know something of the emotional hand grenade that is about to go off. For those poor families, it is a moment they will never forget.”
Dino was a notification officer for four years, during which the number of UK casualties from Afghanistan escalated. In 2010, he had what he calls his “tsunami moment”. A seemingly insignificant exchange of words with someone while he was off-duty triggered a full-blown panic attack. “I had been conditioned to park the trauma I witnessed and move on. But without warning, the red mist came down,” he says.
Dino’s wife Linda insisted he sought medical help and Dino was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, chronic adjustment disorder and depression. “Mine is that package of the unseen within,” he explains. “I was signed off for 20 months and fell into a black hole. I felt angry and bitter at being dropped after all my years of service and the family had to walk on eggshells around me as I became more and more isolated.”
Dino was medically discharged in 2012, and “festered” for a further 18 months. Then Linda found an advert for Supporting Wounded Veterans promising “rehabilitation into re-employment”. “That was the line she picked up on – the chance for me to rediscover a challenge and a purpose.” Dino was interviewed and accepted for the 2015 trip to Klosters “and from the moment I looked across at the guys at the airport – I knew our shared banter, black humour and support for each other was going to get us through. I returned from that week not as a changed man, but as a man ready for change.”
Back at home, Dino was paired with a business mentor who acted as an advisor, sounding board and navigator of the jobs market. Six months later, he had embarked upon his new full-time job as a facilities manager with Tesco. “Supporting Wounded Veterans isn’t about the quick fix. Its visionary team offers heartfelt and enduring support to ex-servicemen,” he says. “Thanks to their efforts, I now have a lifeline and my wife and children have the husband and father that they once feared was lost to them for ever.”
Dino, veteran 2015
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