At about 0600 hours on Tuesday, October 13, 2009 while leading a patrol in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, Corporal Andy Reid, 3rd Battalion, The Yorkshire Regiment, was blown up by a Taliban improvised explosive device (IED). Airlifted back to the UK that evening to the specialist military wing of Selly Oak Hospital it was touch and go for a while. He had lost both legs, the left one above the knee, and his right arm. His left hand had the index finger almost completely removed. Yet he survived and on Remembrance Day 2009, less than a month after being blown up, was reunited with his patrol back in his home base in Warminster. From there he went on to have a pair of prosthetic limbs fitted at the Defence Rehabilitation Centre at Headley Court. In 2010 he won the Sun Newspaper’s Military Award. In between times he has cycled from Land’s End to John O’Groats, skydived, and made a number of appearances on behalf of service charities. In this book, Andy sets himself a simple aim: to tell his story. In fact he has not just one, but two stories to tell. The first is the story of Corporal Reid, Burma Company, 3rd Battalion the Yorkshire Regiment: Infantry Section Commander and then there is the story of Andy Reid, triple amputee skydiver, cyclist, and charity fund raiser, husband, and new father.
|Publisher:||John Blake Publishing, Limited|
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About the Author
Andy Reid has served for 13 years with 3rd Battalion, The Yorkshire Regiment. He is in rehabilitation after the severe injuries he received while serving in Sangin District, Afghanistan in October 2009. Andy is currently attached to the Personnel Recovery Unit (PRU) Headquarters 42 (North West) Brigade in Preston, which is helping to cultivate future opportunities.
Read an Excerpt
The Taliban Nearly Killed me ... But they couldn't take away my Fighting Spirit. This is my Inspirational Story
By Andy Reid
John Blake Publishing LtdCopyright © 2014 Andy Reid
All rights reserved.
'Put out the light! Put out that fucking light!'
The voice was raw, terrified, almost hysterical and quite clearly my own. I heard it just after my head had suddenly lit up with a piercing, blazing lance of light that burned through my eyes like white hot acetylene. Somebody has since told me that the words remind them of a line from Shakespeare. Apparently some black dude called Othello says them – OK, some of them anyway – just before he strangles his wife. I know how he felt; if I could have got my hands on the stupid bastards who were shining what seemed like a bloody searchlight in my face I would have strangled them myself.
I am a soldier, I hate light. I much prefer to skulk around in the darkness unseen and unheard. If I am caught in the open by the unexpected burst of light from a Schermuly rocket or a trip flare then my instinct and training tell me to get the hell out; leg it into cover; dig in with my eyelids if necessary. Do whatever I can to get into the safety of the shadows.
All I was aware of was this piercing, blinding incandescence filling my head. What was going on? I became aware that there were people in the background, vague silhouettes behind the glare. Who were they? They must be looking for me. Had I been seen? Was there about to be a sudden bone-shattering, flesh-tearing burst of gunfire, or worse still a rocket grenade? I felt something well up in my chest and realised it was panic. For the first time in my life I felt real fear. It filled my mouth like the after-taste of cold sick, and caught in my throat so that when I tried to cry out again I coughed and spluttered.
Someone grabbed my shoulder. I tried to push whoever it was away but for some reason I couldn't move my arm; in fact I could not move anything. All I could do was to snarl and spit up at them like a tethered pit bull.
Mercifully they backed off and the light extinguished as quickly as it had appeared. I lay back, barely breathing, waiting for another attack. A maniac was now beating shit out of a bass drum in my head. If my heart went any faster I felt sure it would burst out of my chest. I had to concentrate hard as I listened for the slightest sound. I had fought off one of them but they would surely try again? Or were they hanging back, looking to pick me off at long range. Was I even now in somebody's cross hairs?
Slowly, gradually, my fear subsided like a hard-on in a draught. I was completely goosed, on my chinstraps, unable to move. What was wrong? All I could do was lie there, hoping I was safe, that someone from the base would soon come and find me. In the meantime I had to keep quiet, if I made a noise they would be on me for sure.
I must have dozed, because I jerked back to consciousness with a grunt. How long had I been here? I was thirsty, hot and my head still throbbed as if I had mainlined Jagerbombs all night. Then slowly the pins and needles in my brain began to ease, the flashing lights and discordant sounds began to make some sense. I started to take note of where I was. A strange, antiseptic smell pervaded the air, so different from the stench of dust, cowshit and rotting vegetables that I was used to. It was dark apart from a dim light that shone through the slats of a drawn blind casting a calming pattern on a clean white wall. I moved and felt the cool rustle of crisp cotton sheets.
Thank fuck! I was in a bed and I felt that sudden surge of relief the troubled sleeper has when he awakens from a nightmare. Then came the click of a door handle being cautiously opened and I froze; plunged back for an instant again into the sheer terror of the light. The door opened. Despite the gloom I was able make out someone standing in the threshold.
My breath caught in my throat as I stifled a sob. I had recognised her in an instant. There, now, walking to the bedside was my Claire. Her spirit, the vision of her, had been my constant off-duty companion for the last three months of my deployment. Every night as I waited for sleep, every day as I sat, catching a snatched moment of reflection during busy operations, we would meet up in my head and chat together. I would imagine and remember: the softness of her hair, the warm scent of her neck, the way she laughed at my jokes. Now here she was, in the flesh and in my room and I knew now that this was not a dream.
Following her came two more people equally welcome, so that in place of fear and terror now round my bed stood the three most important people in my life: my Claire, my mother and my old man. I started to laugh then cry uncontrollably. The relief that I was not after all lying in the dark out in the field was so great that even when a doctor appeared and admitted to being the stupid git who had shone a torch in my eyes, I was pleased to see him as well.
I lay back and let memory seep back into my mind like the incoming tide. I now remembered: I was in Selly Oak hospital in Birmingham; I was in the military wing; I was safe; I was not in pain and I was very happy. But I knew the feeling of happiness was an artificial one. It was a drowsy, sugar-coated hallucination, like you get with a lot of booze and fags; a creation of the morphine that was flowing into me by a plastic tube. Of course I was delighted to be with the three people I loved the most but it could not totally bury my desolation at the loss of three other companions who had been even closer to me. They were now gone and I missed them terribly. My left and right legs and my right arm were 6,000 miles away. I had left them somewhere in Afghanistan, lost forever – bloody careless or what!
At about 06:00 hours on Tuesday 13 October 2009, near Forward Operating Base (FOB) Nolay, Helmand Province, Afghanistan, I was blown up by a Taliban-manufactured pressure plate improvised explosive device (IED). What was left of me was evacuated back to the UK that evening in a specially fitted out Boeing C17 Globemaster. Compared to a Jumbo, a Globemaster does not look very comfortable but let me assure you that the service on board is second to none. British Airways might boast that they take more care of you but I doubt that they can match the care available on that flight. Not for me a glass of warm complimentary champagne and a meal that tastes of sawdust. On this flight, in the care of a Critical Care Air Support Team (CCAST), I was literally kept alive. Due to their success I made it to the specialist military wing of Selly Oak hospital in Birmingham at eight o'clock on the morning of 14 October, only 26 hours after my injury. My parents and Claire were waiting for me and stayed with me in my room until that hapless doctor shone a light in my eyes, woke me up, and I told everybody to piss off.
I say I 'woke up'. It took a nearly two days before I really came to my senses. I had been heavily sedated which made my confusion over the light in my eyes so much worse. Apparently when Claire first saw me I did not know who she was and I started kicking off, shouting at everyone including my parents. As far as I was concerned I was still on patrol in Afghanistan and now there were apparent strangers looking down at me while I was completely exposed and helpless. The doctors had to tell my family to leave the room and warned them that the next 24 hours were critical; the chances were that I might not make it. Those were very dire moments for Claire and my parents.
Now that I had calmed down and realised where I was and what had happened and memory started to come back to me, the doctor explained in more detail what my injuries were. I was not shocked when he said that I had lost my legs; the mental image of looking down when I got blown up and not being able to see them was now stuck in my mind.
The next day I went into theatre and when I came out they removed the tube that was assisting my breathing. Claire and my parents were, again, waiting for me outside Critical Care. My nurse, who I learned was called Kate, had fetched them onto the ward. I was so happy to see Claire once more, to see them all, that I tried to embrace them ... but with what? My dad stood there, clearly distressed at watching my pathetic writhing, desperate to make his own gesture, so he started patting my head and rubbing my hair, since there was not a lot else of me left to grab hold of.
He had never done this before. In fact nobody had ever done this to me before and I was struck at how bloody weird it felt. I shouted out to him: 'Pack it in Dad, I'm not a fucking dog!' There was a brief embarrassed silence and then we all burst out laughing; my recovery had begun.
On 20 October, because the doctors felt that my progress had been so good, I was moved onto a ward, Ward S4. That is where all the lads go to after Critical Care. Hardly luxury though; you get put in a six-man bay with only curtains separating the beds. However, I just saw it as another step closer to getting home. That soon became my abiding obsession. Despite the standard of care and the kindness of the nurses all I wanted to do was to get out of hospital as soon as I could and get home to Claire.
A number of people have asked me why I decided to begin my story waking up in the hospital and not with the explosion. The answer is simple. The IED was not the beginning of the story; if it was anything it was the end. Let me explain. As a highly trained section commander who knows his Army Methods of Instruction manual backwards, I know that if I am to try and tell you a story then, like anything else you do in the army, it needs to first of all have a clear aim and then a proper beginning, middle and an end.
My aim when I started writing this book was simple: to tell my story. But then I realised that there are two stories to tell. The first is the story of 25068908 Corporal William Andrew Reid, Burma Company, 3rd Battalion the Yorkshire Regiment: Infantry Section Commander. And then there is the story of Andy Reid, triple amputee sky diver, cyclist and charity fund raiser, winner of the 2010 Sun Military Award, soon to be husband and now author.
In both stories the IED is not the beginning. It was the end of Corporal Reid's story and whilst the shattered remains of him were shipped back to UK that might have been it, but then that doctor shone his light in the ward at Selly Oak and the broken and torn body woke up. Andy Reid was born.
But telling you the stories of these two people is not the only reason I am writing this book. The legacy of Iraq and Afghanistan is going to be a generation of maimed and damaged young men, and that will have many profound implications. On the positive side, as some wag has already observed, we should have a bloody world-beating Paralympic team, but on the downside there are – and there are going to be a lot more – young guys and girls who now face a lifetime of pain, disability and impairment. They will have to fight hard just to do those little daily acts like taking a piss and having a shower that you lot find easy, let alone the difficult things like getting laid and finding a job. Your charity and understanding are going to be needed for many years to come.
Yet I am not seeking your pity for people like me; I am not even seeking your admiration at how tough and resilient we have all been. But what I do want you to understand and appreciate is that we are a direct consequence of Government policy. Our shattered minds and bodies result from operations conducted in their name.
I am a soldier. I make no comment on whether the strategy of the British Government is right or wrong; that is your call. But I want you to know, as much as someone who has not been there or been through it themselves can ever know, what operations in Afghanistan are like, what happens to those who get injured and what future they might have. Then you must make up your own mind.CHAPTER 2
I was born on 21 September 1976 in Birkenhead on the Wirral Peninsular and was christened William Andrew Reid. William is a family name that my dad insisted upon but as far as my mum was concerned I was Andrew from the start. Having had a lot of time recently to think about my early life it has occurred to me that if there is an ideal upbringing and training for someone destined to become a triple amputee, then arguably I have had it.
My preparation started when I was five. My dad was a mad keen motorcyclist; still is in fact. In those days he used to ride a big BSA Gold Star, and in order to carry us around, added a sidecar combination. You hardly see them nowadays but back then it was great. I used to imagine I was flying as I zoomed along, so close to the ground, in the bullet-shaped compartment. One day, Dad took us for a spin and I was in there with my mum and my three sisters. It was great fun being snuggled up together. However, the fun turned into a nightmare when we were hit side on by a car. It was no fault of my dad's; in fact it later transpired that the driver of the car was drunk. I really hope he had a bastard hangover because what he did to us was devastating.
Dad was lucky and managed to walk away with cuts and bruises; so did my younger sister but my older sister suffered a broken pelvis, and my right leg was broken in three places. But the worst injured was poor Mum. Her right ankle had been completely crushed in the impact. That terrible injury dominated the rest of my childhood.
For years Mum suffered a series of painful operations and eventually she had to have the joint frozen and immobilised. It was awful for her, she could hardly walk and life was very difficult. When I was ten she went back into hospital to see if there was anything they could do. There was. I remember going to see her and finding her very tearful. She explained that the surgeons had just told her that the only way they could improve her mobility was to amputate her leg just below the knee. I recall her telling us that it was not so bad and would mean that she would not have to be way from us so much having treatment.
She had the operation and was fitted with a prosthetic foot. So, when I suffered my own injuries I was no stranger to the demands that it places upon the injured and their families, and I also had a pretty good idea of the demands it would place upon me. In particular, adapting to the loss of my right arm was considerably helped by my previous experiences. Losing the use of your right hand, even temporarily, is no joke, especially for a young, growing lad. Writing and performing other functions with the left hand can take some getting used to I can tell you. Fortunately I had had previous experience of a similar loss having broken my right arm twice when I was at school.
The first time it was my sister's fault. I was only 11 and we were in her school messing about in a room used for drying washing. I was stood on a radiator and above my head were a series of pipes running the length of the room just below the ceiling, so you could swing from one side of it to the other using them as monkey bars. My sister bet me that I couldn't make it across without letting go, and I was dead sure that I could. I was pretty athletic even then, playing rugby league, cross-country and mountain biking. So this would be a doddle.
She grinned slyly and told me to try. I leapt off the radiator in true Tarzan style and grabbed the first pipe. Now forget Tarzan and think Tom and Jerry instead. The bloody pipe was red hot (as had been the radiator, I later remembered) and the instant I grasped it I let go with a scream of pain. I now took on the aerodynamic properties of a sack of potatoes and fell to the ground landing on my right wrist which snapped like a twig in a car crash. My sister swore me to secrecy on pain of death and tried to hide my injury from our dad when he came to take me home. Of course he spotted something was wrong at once; probably something to do with my chalky face and whimpered moans. She attempted to explain it all away by telling him that I had simply fallen over whilst messing about contrary to her specific instructions. Nice one, Sis!
Later, in my teens, I fell off a table in a local youth club under circumstances that need not detain us further, and again broke my right arm. So when it came to losing it completely, at least I remembered that I could use my left hand for most of the important things in life.
However, some activities still piss me off, like trying to put toothpaste on my toothbrush. I lie the toothbrush down then try to squeeze the paste on, and nine times out of every ten the fucking brush falls over. Another real pain is trying to fasten the zip on my jacket. You try it one-handed and I guarantee it will really get on your tits.
But, apart from those irritating little niggles, when I realised that I had lost my limbs I just thought, well, they are gone, so I just have to get on with it. I knew it was going to be hard and frustrating but I suppose in some ways, in view of what has happened to me, I was lucky to have had that prior insight. I was certainly lucky with my mum. Her example of being able to come to terms with and overcome her injury has inspired me to overcome mine. Any time I felt things were getting on top of me and that I really could not cope, I would think of Mum and remember her words: 'If I can hack this, so can you.'
Excerpted from Standing Tall by Andy Reid. Copyright © 2014 Andy Reid. Excerpted by permission of John Blake Publishing Ltd.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Foreword Si King Dave Myers, the Hairy Bikers vii
Foreword Major General Sir Evelyn Webb-Carter KCVO, OBE, DL ix
Chapter 1 Waking Up 1
Chapter 2 Childhood 11
Chapter 3 Hospital 25
Chapter 4 Army Life 39
Chapter 5 Kosovo and Iraq 63
Chapter 6 Afghanistan 73
Chapter 7 Fighting the Taliban 89
Chapter 8 Losing Mates 107
Chapter 9 Handjar 123
Chapter 10 The Day that Changed Everything 135
Chapter 11 Karl's Story 147
Chapter 12 Claire's Story 155
Chapter 13 Rehab, the Parade and the Parachute 165
Chapter 14 The Millies 191
Chapter 15 Standing Tall 201
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