Former Royal Marine, Alex Brewer, has recently spent a week relaxing as part of the Not Forgotten Association’s programme for veterans from all three services in Majorca. He was part of a group of veterans of all ages with varying wounds incurred during action in wars and conflicts dating back to the Falklands. Two other groups will be coming to the island as part of a programme which has now been running in association with the Bulletin, Son Amar and the local community for the past nine years.
Alex had always wanted to join the Marines but unfortunately his military career, like that of thousands of others, was cut short when he was seriously wounded while on active service in Afghanistan. Alex had ambitions of becoming a member of the Armed Forces from the age of 14, and in 2008 he joined the Royal Marines.
He completed the full 32 weeks of Commando training at the Commando Training Centre Royal Marines (CTCRM) in Devon and in 2009 was assigned to his preferred choice of 42 Commando based at Bickleigh, Plymouth. In the months before being deployed to Afghanistan he participated in various exercises and training packages, including a three-month cross-training programme with the US Marines in eastern America.
In April 2011 he went to Afghanistan with his unit and was subsequently injured in an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) attack during a foot patrol as part of a push into enemy held territory. He sustained serious injuries to his legs, groin and right hand.
As a result he spent nearly two-and-a-half months in hospital undergoing over twelve procedures to save his right leg, hand and as much function as possible. Unfortunately, the blast meant he had to have his left leg amputated below the knee and has left him with a lack of functioning muscle, tendon damage and damaged joints on his right leg. Not to mention the mental scars. But Alex is extremely philosophical about what happened that April morning.
"We were out on a routine foot patrol as part of an operation to try and secure a town built around a crossroads which was a popular route for the Taliban, when I stepped on the IED. God knows how long it had been there. Ok, I stood on it, but it could have quite easily been one of my fellow colleagues, a civilian, a young Afghan kid. It was lying there waiting for its victim and that happened to be me.
"I think I was lucky that apart from being treated by the best doctors, medical teams and physios at Stanford Hall (former Headley Court), I had access to the best treatment available. I guess there’s no better time to get wounded than now.
"Having gone to college before I joined up, I had experienced civilian life, I knew how to look after myself on civvy street. There are so many young kids who join straight from school or before finishing school, and the regiment is all they know, That can prove extremely problematic when they end up in a situation like mine.
"This is why associations like the NFA, and of course we have our own Royal Marines Charitable Trust Fund, are vitally important. Over the years, apart from having taken part in the Invictus games, I'm off to compete in a triathlon to raise funds for the Royal Marines soon. Going on trips with the NFA, be it to chill out here in Majorca, canoeing in the Alps, skiing, whatever activity holiday, you get to meet fellow veterans from other regiments and services and we can all bounce off each other.
"I've been on a number of trips with veterans of all ages with varying wounds and problems. Some may be young and new and going through an extremely tough time in adjusting to their abrupt and violent change in life. This is where the elder veterans like myself and many others can help. We're people that the youngsters, or anyone having a tough time - we all have our good and bad moments and always will for the rest of our lives - can talk to.
"They're with fellow military personnel in a fresh environment, and this always makes it easier for wounded veterans to open up. We can share our experiences with them, give them some guidance and support and quite often that applies to the veterans’ partners as well. The fallout from being seriously wounded on active duty, physically or mentally, does not only have a profound impact on the individual, it hits their other halves and families as well.
"It can be especially challenging for wounded veterans who have been discharged but still live in a predominantly armed services environment like Plymouth, for example. It makes it difficult to put that distance between the past and the future. Luckily for me, I don't have that problem, but I have mates who do.
"That is why this week in Majorca was great because not only can we disconnect, this time around we came out with our partners as well; they quite often deserve a break just as much, if not more. One very important thing I have learned is not to dwell on the past and what may have been. Like I’ve said, that IED was lying there waiting; it just happened to be me and life goes on. I’ve done my best to get on with my life with the help of the Marines and NFA as well as the Ministry of Defence but, to be honest and to be fair, I understand the MoD is primarily concerned with the fit and able. It does what it can for people like me, but not many of us want a desk job.
"So, I run my own business, keep as fit and active as possible and, when I can, do my best to help others. The NFA makes that so much easier because, apart from celebrating its centenary next year, it's not as 'mainstream' as some of the other service charities. It's a close-knit team, which cares for a massive community of tri-service veterans: it makes us feel like one big family."
That’s what the NFA stands for - encouraging service personnel and veterans to support each other and bring different generations, campaigns and services together.