Friday of last week saw me travelling to Tidworth where I would sit in front of a two man med board. It would be these poeple who would decide my fate regarding my military career. The weather was typically crap yet normal for the time of year with grey skies and rain falling which immediately made me feel like this was not going to be a good day. I got dressed in to my uniform and I left the bugalow having allowed myself a little over an hour of “ballsache buffer zone” time to allow for any accidents or delays on the way and having allowed myself the time of an hour and a half to get to the medical anyway, it meant that I could drive at my normal leisurely pace without having to join in the racing that people feel they have to do on the A303. The A303 is a mixture of single and dual carriageway for its entire length heading towards London until it hits the M3 but to get from dual to single carriageways there have to be merging points, AKA choke points. Why do they become choke points? The answer is simple…ignorant narrow minded dick heads who cannot possibly be behind anything and therefore will not allow anyone in front of them. They don’t seem to have the brain power to comprehand the fact that if everyone merged in turn then it would all run so much smoother, instead they will try to force their way in front of each other which ultimitely just snarls shit up and causes accident further back down the queue.
The traffic was surprisingly quiet for the A303 which was nice as it meant that the dickhead drivers had already been racing to work earlier on and I was glad of this because it meant less spray from the road and less chance of someone having a collision. I made good time to Tidworth, even taking the slightly longer route than I would normally go proving that you don’t need to imitate Lewis Hamilton to get where you want to go to arrive in reasonable time. Having made good time it did mean that I had an hour before I needed to go in to the med centre but what to do? It was still raining and so I was clearly not going to go rolling around to find somewhere to have a coffee and so I thought about going in to the Help for Heroes recovery centre at Tedworth House for a coffee. Time appreciation; Drive to house 5 mins. Out of car, 5 mins. Cuppa 15 mins. Likelyhood of chatting to someone is high and with 5 mins back in to car then 5 mins back to med centre working on the chance that I would be able to park in a similar spot allowing me to get out of my car….I decided to stay in the car and listen to the radio.
I rolled in to the med centre slightly early and on my reporting to the reception desk I was given some forms to fill out and instruction on how to do just that; “Any questions or anything you are not sure of then please just come back and I will help you.” The receptionist was really helpful which was just as well because I had already frogotten the first thing she had instructed me on before she had finished the last, not great but with a visit or two back to the desk I cracked the paperwork and was ready to go in to the lions den. The first thing was a minor medical where my eyes and ears would be tested and my blood pressure taken. The nurse asked me to follow her and as I rolled down one of the corridors I was asked to stop, cover one eye and read from a line of letters. All eye tests I have done with the military before I have not struggled, the final line of letters has always been accomplished but this time was different, this time it went badly wrong. Right eye (my strongest and dominant eye); Third line down. Left eye (which is not even correctly alligned anymore since my eye socket was smashed and fitted with a metal plate), again third line down. I did try to make out the next line but was not happening. This was already not looking great. In to the room for the blood pressure; “Well that is a nice reading Sjt.” Result! Now for the hearing test. I was unable to get in to the sound proof booth as my wheelchair will not permit me to get in to it so I had to sit outside, underneath an air condtion vent but I was not phased as this may give me a little bit of a comfort allowance if it did not go 100% well. I listened intently pushing the headphone against the ear that I could hear the noises in hoping that it would help. Then the noises came from the other headphone and so I pushed against that one. Finally the test was over. I told the nurse that I was able to hear the fan but I hoped I had done ok but to my surprise she told me that my hearing was very good and that I had actually achieved better results than some who do the test in the booth. Yay, go me!
I returned to the waiting area and after only a short while I was asked to follow an older gentleman to a room, this was one of the medical board. Introductions over I was asked questions about what I could and could not do. I was asked about my feeling or lack of, my movement or lack of, my spasms and a host of other things. I was asked about what I had been doing and hoped to achieve and again a host of other things. We spoke of what I had been doing within the military and I explained my role in training recruits at 675 Sqn Army Air Corps, the unit that had been my beloved `B` Company of 6 Rifles and how I enjoyed teaching. How it gave me a real sense of purpose and how my teaching was helping to produce more personnel for the British Army Reserves. I very quickly realised by the tone and some of the things that were being said that this was not going my way, that there simply was not going to be a place in the British Army Reserves for a cripple, for a body that is dependant on a wheelchair to get around but I kept a chirpy smile on my face and answered all of the questions put to me in a confident manor. I tried to raise the humor level by suggesting that I could be mechanised infantry as I now had my own wheels but this did not work so I tried a different approach and offered the suggestion that I re badge as a Para (play on words of Para-plegic) but this also did not seem to go down as anything more successful than a bag of shit. It was then my turn to speak, I told them that I had been teaching recruits as a paraplegic for over a year. I would not cost the Army much money as I would never wear the boots out, I had my own chair and the only part of my uniform that would be likely to wear out would be the seat of my trousers and as I would be on that anyway it would not be seen. Humor aside I then told them that it was my body that did not work, I had experience and knowledge that I could still pass on and indeed had been. I have a knack of being able to make people understand because I teach “outside of the box”, in fact I am so far outside of the box that most people wonder if I even know where it is anymore but I NEVER fail to achieve the aim; The aim being to make the student understand and be able to confirm by demonstrating what they have been taught.
I was asked to wait in the waiting area and they would come back to get me, and again I knew that this was not going to go well because it was less than five minutes before they retrieved me from the waiting area. I parked my chair in the postion that it had been before I left the room and the gentleman of the med board spoke. Most of what he said I have forgotten, the duty they have….can you….if this….but the words that I haven’t forgotton or indeed probably never will were the words that I guess deep down I knew were coming but hoped would not as I can still teach, the words that will be etched for the forseeable future and will play over when I see military vehicles, parades or things on the TV and internet were;
“It is this medical boards decision that you be rcommended for medical discharge…you are to cease any and all military activities effective immediately.”
I suppose I should be and indeed I am eternally grateful to my old CO Colonel House and RSM (Now) Capt Evans as well as my PSAO Capt Barnes and OC Maj Webber for being able to keep me in for as long as they have and it was the one thing that I had managed to keep since my accident, one thing that I had kept from my life pre accident. Now though, that too has been taken from me. Some may say that I was only a reserve soldier anyway but those who know me will know that I saw it as a career and the time and effort I dedicated to it was more than most, I had just as well have been full time and since `B` Company became 675 AAC I would have been in uniform more than civvies as I would have been on every deployment and opportunity to work with the aricraft as it was the Army Air Corps that I wanted to join when I keft school and I so very nearly did it. When we became AAC all I kept thinking was that although it had taken 23 years, I would actually be where I wanted to be when I was a school leaver. Please don’t misunderstand me, I am immensly proud to have been infantry, to have worn the cap badges of the Light Infantry…
and obviously currently the Rifles…
but if I had been able to stay in uniform I could not have been wearing that badge and would have been transferred to the Army Air Corps…
who I would have served with the same enthusiasm and commitment although the days I would have served would have been much less, clearly. As it is though I am now awaiting my final discharge date.
Good aftermnoon all.