Rebuilding lives of returning troops

MARK NICHOLLS Along with helping to build a memorial to honour troops killed in Afghanistan, the Royal Anglian Afghanistan Memorial Fund will also help injured soldiers through their rehabilitation. EDP defence correspondent MARK NICHOLLS spoke to two soldiers who will benefit.

MARK NICHOLLS

Private Matt Woollard will forever bear the scars of the conflict in Helmand.

Within weeks of arriving in Afghanistan, the young soldier was on his way back to the UK, medically-evacuated after his right leg was blown off.

He had stepped on an anti-personnel mine near the Kajaki area of Helmand on May 3 and was left with crippling injuries.

The private from C company was airlifted to the medical centre at the main Camp Bastion base and then flown home to the UK where he spent the next 10 weeks in hospital.

But now, through a combination of courage and medical expertise, he is looking ahead to resuming his army career.

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Pte Woollard, who has just turned 19, left hospital on June 20 but over the summer and into the autumn contin-ues to undergo intensive physiotherapy through the army rehabilitation centre at Headley Court.

"My rehab involves building the muscles in my body back up," he says, adding that the next stage is the arrival of his "running leg".

This is a high-quality artificial limb that he hopes will mean he can reach a level of fitness and agility to resume his military career and perhaps again return to frontline duties.

It is people such as Pte Woollard whom the Royal Anglian Afghanistan Memorial Fund will benefit.

As well as honouring the nine soldiers from the 1st battalion killed in Afghanistan, it will also provide funding for the families affected and help take the standard of rehabilitation offered onto a higher level.

He said: "It will be used to help provide facilities around the camp for guys like me, probably provide a wheelchair for me for when I am having a bad day with my leg and create disabled parking bays. It is also for the families and the relatives of those who have lost people.

"But the army has been great in the way it has supported me and my family and particularly for my mum Angela."

The infantryman, who comes from Essex, also suffered arm injuries but he is continuing his recovery and is determined to be part of the homecoming parades in Norwich on November 22 and Bury St Edmunds on November 23.

"Whether I actually march or not, I'm not sure, but I will be there, standing in the street," he said.

This week, Pte Woollard learned that he had won the coveted Poulters' Prize.

The regiment has strong links with the Worshipful Company of Poulters and, each year, members of the regiment compete for the prize which is awarded to the officer or soldier who has "best promoted the ethos of the Royal Anglian Regiment in a significant way".

Pte Woollard added: "I was over the moon when I heard I had won it."

Another soldier recovering from injury sustained in Afghanistan is Colour Sergeant Keith Nieves of B company and from Bury St Edmunds.

He was hurt on May 16 after finishing a routine patrol and being in heavy engagement with the Taliban.

"We were driving to the forward operating base FOB Robinson to move on to the next stage of operations," he said.

"I was in a convoy in a cut-down Land Rover when we were stopped by a mine.

"Our vehicle was on fire and I was inside and couldn't get out because of the armour on the vehicle. One of the guys managed to get me free and get me out. From there I took a few steps and fell over."

Colour Sgt Nieves, 32, was badly injured. He was taken behind the vehicle for cover and then evacuated on a Chinook helicopter for further treatment at Camp Bastion before being airlifted to the UK for treatment at Selly Oak Hospital in Birmingham.

He had burns to his arm and head, a wrist injury and a broken foot and a severe wound to his heel.

He is undergoing longer-term rehabilitation but was at Pirbright on October 16 to greet his returning company.

The appeal fund could help him in his recovery by, for example, providing something as simple as specially-built boots.

The appeal fund has attracted wide interest, with events already held and more planned. If you are staging a fundraising event for the appeal or want to tell us about why you have made a donation, contact Mark Nicholls, EDP defence correspondent on 01603 772422 or by e-mail at mark.nicholls @archant.co.uk.

To read previous reports from Mark Nicholls in Afghanistan, visit www. edp24.co.uk

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