Injured veterans find cure by walking together
A barrage of machine gun fire hit Ben Gallagher as he rushed into a doorway, knocking him down while carrying out an operation against extremists in the Middle East.
The bullets ripped through his chest, deflecting his bulletproof vest, but then tore at his unprotected left side, including his arm. Seven bullets penetrated his body.
Requiring life-saving treatment, he was immediately taken to England and underwent a major reconstruction operation.
At first, it was believed that he could resume his military duties after therapy.
But after intense training sessions, it became evident that he could no longer perform at a high military level. Away from his unit, alone and with declining sanity, Ben attempted suicide in February of last year.
He had hit rock bottom. But his morale began to improve when he got the chance to join other wounded military veterans on a strenuous trek in Oman led by Walking With The Wounded, the charity heavily supported by both the prince. William and Prince Harry.
The organization, famous for taking amputees across the North Pole and Mount Everest, has proven to be a vital link in Ben’s recovery, both mentally and physically.
âIt gave me purpose, focus and direction during a pretty difficult time in my life,â he said. The National. âI was no longer fit for military service and needed to get involved in something. I had lost that military advantage and it gives me the focus to move forward.
However, with Covid still causing problems, the promenade has been moved from the sand dunes of Oman to the wet hills of Wales and England.
On Sunday, Ben and five others will attempt to replicate the Gulf March by trekking 400km up Pen-y-Fan Mountain in Wales along the historic Thames Path ending October 21 at the Anglo Omani Society in London. . With less difficult heat conditions, they doubled the daily walking distance to around 40 km to cover it in 11 days.
Former RAF mechanic Andy Phillips will go with them, despite a back injury that saw his sciatic cord fused to the base of his spine following “violent surgery” in 1991.
Every day he walks will be a remarkable achievement. For 23 years, Andy took the maximum amount of fentanyl opiates prescribed and drank heavily to keep the pain away.
He suffered serious spinal injuries after being stationed with Tornado fighter-bombers at Tabuk Air Base in Saudi Arabia in 1990 following Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait.
Despite excruciating back pain, as well as the threat of Scud missile attacks, he continued to work. At the end of his tour he could barely walk and upon his return to Britain he was diagnosed with a prolapsed disc.
After surgery and rehabilitation, he was forced to leave the RAF, where he had served since the age of 16.
Andy descended into the world of opiates and drinks, with divorce, homelessness, relentless back pain and a deep well of depression.
âIt was very painful and the pain is inside me every day, but I have learned to live with it,â he said from his home in Swindon. “With the sciatic cord fused, if I lean forward it pulls into the brainstem and if I try to straighten up my legs shake because the cord is stretched.”
He continued the daily pain medication routine until 2014, when by chance he spotted that the first Invictus Games, founded by Prince Harry, would be held in London. He also learned that they were designed specifically for injured veterans, hoping to use the power of the sport to inspire their recovery.
âI really liked the idea because I really missed the military community.
Andy was immediately hired but opted against any track event.
âThe younger kids might have lost their legs, but they were still in great shape, so I decided to give archery a try. And it really suited my injury while massively helping my sanity. “
He became the team captain and won a gold medal.
âFor me it was an almost instant overnight cure, it just flipped a switch in my head that was off until the Invictus Games. I realized how bitter I was with the military.
âEverything before in my life was negative, it was about ‘I can’t do this, I can’t do that.’ Nothing in my life was positive. I’ve learned to stop worrying about what you can’t do and focus on what you can do when you’re pushing yourself. It also drew a line under my military career, so I felt like I got out on a good shot.
The athletic achievement inspired Andy to become a scuba diving instructor, and then led him to consider becoming a qualified pilot. But the aviation authorities wouldn’t let him fly while he was on opiates, so he gave up on painkillers and became a “cold turkey.”
“It was probably the best thing I did because I’m totally clean now.”
Flying an ultralight also helped his back.
âIt’s perfect. It’s a sitting position on my back with my knees bent, so it’s really comfortable because all the pressure is out of my spine.
But he still had to work on fitting out kitchens until he passed a physical exam with a military doctor.
“He told me I was either going to be dead or in a wheelchair within the next five years if I continued.”
Andy, 55, subsequently received a war pension.
Overcome his physical and mental challenges Ben is also thirsty for new adventures.
After the Oman trek was postponed twice, he took on the kayak challenge of paddling from John O’Groats in Scotland to Land’s End at the southern tip of England.
Now Sunday’s hike gave him something to focus on at the end of his military days.
âAlthough the fall in England is not Oman, it will still be a challenge and it will bring together a group of injured veterans who share common ground. And at the end of the day, it’s about raising money for charities.
Another element is that Ben realizes that he is bonding with people who can potentially help him if he hits lows in the future.
“I’ll just know he’s there if needed, but right now it’s about giving something back.”
And he has a full schedule of challenges to overcome. Next March, he will take part in the notoriously difficult 250 km Marathon des Sables six-day race.
Then he will begin planning the Grand Slam of the Explorers, marching to the North and South Poles and scaling the highest peaks of the seven continents, including Mount Everest.
Like Ben, Andy was looking forward to Oman because “my spinal injury likes the flat and likes the heat.” Instead, it will be Britain’s damp and cold hills that he says will prove to be a “massive challenge”.
He will attempt 20 kilometers a day but realizes that it could trigger spasms in his back, forcing him to retire for a few hours each day.
But his efforts have been an inspiration to those young men and women who have been wounded in more recent operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“I have also discovered that because of what I have been through, the youngest listen to me, to a certain extent more than a nurse or a psychologist who has not served.”
Andy, who will be the oldest walker, has a simple philosophy. âYou have two options in life. You can sit back and feel sorry for yourself or you can just go on and live life, but you also have to push yourself within your limits. “
This determination and spirit were recognized by Prince Harry.
âThese men and women have seen and overcome adversity, and they will not let obstacles stand in their way,â he said. âThey are inspirational role models for communities around the world. We wish them good luck and good weather.
Find out more at www.wwtw.org.uk
Update: October 9, 2021, 7:01 am