October 21, 2019 11.43 am This story is over 32 months old

Community Voices: Hayley Fowler – A tale of two veterans

Read the first piece from Community Voices columnist Hayley Fowler

Hayley is a 29-year-old English Literature graduate. She describes herself as a ‘people person’ and has embarked on a series of Lincolnite Community Voices columns highlighting the unsung heroes of the Lincoln community. She also enjoys her hobby of motorcycle travelling.

Community Voices is a project which bridges the gap between the people of Lincoln and the news that helps them navigate every day life in the city. Read the experiences and views of a range of local people as they become regular voices on The Lincolnite and help shape the conversation in your neighbourhood.

On Wednesday, October 9, I had the honour of meeting Wayne and Alex; two veterans of Lincoln bound by their service to the Crown each with a different in-service experience. It was clear to me before I had begun taking notes that they were brothers bound by service.

Wayne joined the Army in 1996 at the age of 17. After his Army training, he joined the Royal Anglian Regiment 7th Battalion, transferring to 2nd Battalion Regular, then finally he returned to the East of England Regiment which changed to The Royal Anglian Regiment 3rd Battalion, TA (The Steelbacks). His role was as a sniper as part of a reconnaissance team. In 2007 he transferred from the Army to the RAF; Regiment 2503 RauxAF as a gunner.

These roles, I can only imagine, were very distressing. Wayne experienced tours abroad and in 2003 he was deployed in operations to Kuwait during the Iraq war as part of the UK’s force protection. He was then redeployed in 2005 to Iraq in order to fight in the ongoing Iraq war. Wayne left the RAF in 2012, as he felt he could no longer perform his role to the expected level due to injuries he had sustained during his deployments.

Wayne in service vs today

Alex joined the Army at just 16 years of age. The young ages of both men entering the Forces and experiencing life in their respective roles suddenly hit home when I was writing their ages down on paper. At 16, I was messing around with friends and attending college; not potentially fighting for my country. On completion of Alex’s extensive training, he joined the 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards. In 2006 he was deployed to Iraq, then after six months of being at home, he was then deployed to Afghanistan attached to the Royal Anglian Regiment.

After a month in Afghanistan, Alex recalled he was made the man in front and their sections task was to move forward and take the compound. The first building was clear, so they moved to clear the next, but as he passed a building a Taliban fighter was hidden in the wings.

Alex was shot in the head. The bullet penetrated his cavilar helmet and entered his skull, narrowly avoiding death but caused the loss of an eye.

Incredibly, after being shot and before seeking medical help, Alex managed to outline in the sand where the rest of the Taliban were hiding.

Alex had a long stay in hospital. It took 18 months for his medical discharge process to be completed. It was around this time, while at home with his thoughts that Alex remembers the first signs of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Alex in service, and today

Both Wayne and Alex said that whilst you are in combat, you are focused. ‘You have your lads with you’. As Wayne was a Corporal, he had additional responsibilities. ‘I had other people to look after and you don’t think about anything but focusing on what you have to do’. On their return to the UK both Wayne and Alex were suddenly alone with their thoughts. ‘You really start to think about the ‘what ifs’ and it dawns on you what you have been through.’

Whilst chatting to Wayne and Alex, our conversation became focused more on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and its effects. As a result of PTSD, both men have fought and won struggles with alcohol; ‘the alcohol was just to block everything out’. When I asked what helped them get out of their vicious circle and seek help, they attributed their success to the support of strong women, giving them a push and supporting them through the process. In Wayne’s case, it was his wife. With Alex, it was his mother, the impending arrival of his daughter and his fiancée.

Wayne, along with two other veterans Nik and Liam, created a group called Lincoln Veterans Association UK. It is a group that focuses on helping veterans to talk about their experiences, giving them advice and just meeting up. ‘It also helps veterans cope until professional help is available.’ Wayne said that for some veterans ‘the stiff upper lip’ mantra is still in effect, especially in older veterans, but he believes this is slowly changing and he knows of older veterans now seeking out help.

During our chat it became apparent that there are a lot of small charities helping veterans with medical and mental health issues, paperwork, claims and other general assistance. However, they explained these can be difficult to find and they are not publicised enough. I was quite surprised that, with Lincolnshire being a major RAF county, there isn’t more obvious support available. Both Alex and Wayne have also sought help through the NHS which they stressed was available to them, but referrals can take a long time. They suggested the need for a central information hub for veterans to enable them to be sign posted to the relevant service for assistance.

I could have spent more time with them both, they were incredibly passionate about their time served in the Armed Forces. They were surprisingly open about everything they had gone through. At the end of our meeting and learning all they had been through, I asked if they would go back into service if they could, without hesitation and in unison they both said yes, explaining that the brotherhood and bond that you experience whilst in the forces far outweighs the negative aspects.

Have you been impacted by any of the topics discussed in this column? Here are some useful links to help:

Hayley is a 29-year-old English Literature graduate. She describes herself as a 'people person' and has embarked on a series of Lincolnite Community Voices columns highlighting the unsung heroes of the Lincoln community. She also enjoys her hobby of motorcycle travelling.