James joined the Royal Artillery aged 17. Five years later he was sent to the first Gulf War and was ready to put his training into practise.
“I thought ‘fantastic, we are finally going to do what we have been training to do for all these years’”.
However, he would soon experience a harrowing friendly fire incident and personal family tragedy that would later combine to trigger Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
Seeing men on fire and bodies lying in the road are just some of James’ horrific memories from the first Gulf War.
The fear of being under attack is a feeling that he will never lose.
While James was there, he got caught up in an incident of friendly fire – some Challenger tanks from his own side thought he and his men were the enemy and attacked.
“There were guys on fire jumping out of vehicles. There were shells raining down around our tank. I was very afraid but I also felt very much alive. We were lucky because there were some burns and injuries but we didn’t lose anyone.”
During his time in the warzone James saw bodies lying on Basra Road. “When you’re in a war situation, it can almost become the norm to see body parts.”
Sometime later James’ first child was due and he went AWOL after being refused leave to attend the birth. Tragically his son died at birth – an event which triggered James’ PTSD.
“Everything just spiralled out of control after that. I was very self-destructive. I cut myself off from family and friends. I had sleep deprivation, I had bad dreams and night sweats. In my dreams I saw the friendly fire incident, black smoke pouring from oil wells and body parts. I was depressed and I had violent outbursts. It cost me everything, my career, my girlfriend.”
When James finally decided to get help it was 14 years since he had returned from the first Gulf War. He was referred to Combat Stress.
“Since I contacted Combat Stress I’ve almost done a 180. They told me I had PTSD and they’ve put a lot of things into perspective.”
James received counselling at the project and gets vital support from his key worker. He now has a girlfriend, a good relationship with his teenage son and has started his own business.
“I can’t even say how much I owe Combat Stress. I’m a different person now – a different man.”
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