2008
23.11

Andy McNab on the battle that never ends

Combat Stress is one of the charities you can support in this year’s Telegraph appeal. Here, Andy McNab, who has seen brave friends devastated by the aftermath of war, explains why it is such a vital cause.

With thousands of members of the Armed Forces returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, the number of soldiers suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is rising dramatically.

We shouldn’t be surprised by this. The ancient Greeks recorded similar symptoms in their soldiers after they returned from battle. They understood that their veterans would require support. But somehow the Greeks’ lessons were lost on us.

During the First World War, a PTSD sufferer would have been placed against a wall and shot because it was believed that this condition was brought on by weakness of character. During the Second World War, the sufferer was instead sent down the coal mines and made to wear a LMF (lack of moral fibre) armband.

Even today, PTSD suffers are stigmatised. This has to stop. Any service personnel hit by the disorder are casualties of war, just as much as soldiers hit by an enemy bullet. More service personnel who fought in the 1982 Falklands War have gone on to commit suicide than the 255 killed in action.

I served in the British Army for 18 years: eight as an infantry solider, and 10 in the SAS. I have been captured and tortured as a prisoner of war in Iraq. I have been placed against a wall for a mock execution. I have stood beside friends as they have been shot or blown up in the mud, and I have killed men in many different ways, to prevent the enemy from killing me first. I don’t think I suffer from PTSD, but I am very aware that I probably just got lucky.

I’m a patron of Help for Heroes. We do a lot to help the physical wellbeing of injured soldiers, and we also work alongside the charity Combat Stress. But we need a lot more help if we are even going to begin to treat this condition properly. Combat Stress says it takes an average of 14 years before someone approaches its charity for help. And they usually do that only when their lives have already fallen apart.

I know this from experience. Two of my closest friends have committed suicide as a result of post-traumatic stress disorder, and many more have suffered terribly for years. My SAS troop, 7 Troop, was never more than 12-strong, so we knew each other very well. Frank Collins and Nish Bruce were a bit older than me and they became my heroes. I operated with both of these men in South East Asia, as well as under cover in Northern Ireland. Frank eventually left the SAS, got ordained into the Anglican Church and became an Army Padre.

Nish was decorated for his bravery and ranked as one of the top 10 free-fallers in the world. Both were tough, brave and thoughtful men. To see my two friends, and others like them, decline in body and spirit until they can’t bear to live any more, leaves me scared, frustrated and angry.

After my experience of being a POW in Baghdad in the first Gulf war, I was automatically sent for counselling. It was conducted by Dr Gordon Turnbull, then an RAF psychiatrist, and now one of the world’s leading experts on PTSD. He explains it very simply: a normal reaction to an abnormal experience.

Symptoms include flashbacks, nightmares, high anxiety, severe mood swings, hyper-alertness, violent and aggressive outbursts, lack of concentration, sexual dysfunction and depression, and an inability to readjust to ordinary life. It often leads to drinking, divorce, violence, unemployment, crime, prison, suicide and even murder.

Another member of my troop, Tommy Shanks, became a doctor after he left the SAS. One day he pulled an assault rifle from the boot of his car after an argument with his ex-girlfriend and gunned her down outside a pub. He is serving life in prison. Three guys who served with Shanks in the Gulf have committed suicide. Two were military doctors. Seeing young men carried into their wards scarred and with limbs missing must have taken its toll.

All sufferers of PTSD need treatment. But like the combat that is responsible for the disorder, fixing a broken mind is not a precise science. Part of the problem is that soldiers often don’t want to ask for help. Apart from anything else, they don’t want those close to them to think they are weak.

Post-traumatic stress disorder is not about being weak. I have been to both Iraq and Afghanistan with our troops, and today’s 19-year-old infantry solders are as hard as any generation before them.

Since late onset of PTSD can occur up to 13 years after a traumatic event, we are only seeing the tip of the iceberg. About 130,000 UK armed service personnel have now rotated through Iraq and Bosnia. So far, more than 2,000 Iraq veterans have already been diagnosed with PTSD.

Charities are at the forefront of care for our veterans. But what about the NHS? The state has made them responsible for veterans’ mental welfare.

I feel the NHS could do so much more but stands back, perhaps in the hope that the underfunded but committed charities will do it for them. There is a mental health crisis facing those who have served our country. We need to act now, before we discover in another decade that more soldiers have killed themselves since returning from Iraq and Afghanistan than were killed there in action. Our veterans deserve our help, our understanding and a whole lot of respect. And what’s more, they need it now.

Source: The Telegraph

2008
07.11

Quick as ever, Camban read AND reviewed Brute Force! He send me his review of Seven Troop a while back but I had not posted it yet *blush*, sorry Cam. Here both are!

Andy McNab Seven Troop
Seven Troop Review: Undeniably important, compulsive reading for the McNab fan, but I was left with mixed feelings. An enjoyable book in its own right but if you have read B20 and IA, plus those books by ‘Nish’ Bruce, ‘The Bishop’, Gaz Hunter, Cameron Spence, et al, there is little new here in terms of factual events, although we do learn much more about Andy’s feelings and relationships with his comrades in arms. It has to be said that he is either still holding back on some ops, or, he didn’t do many. The NI stuff is good though, if only a variation on the similar experiences of other writers; Duncan Falconer for example, or the few 14 Int/Det writers who have published their stories. So, not disappointing at all, but also not ‘explosive’ as the daft cover blurb would have us believe. Just hope there is more to come.

Andy McNab book Brute ForceBrute Force Review: Tour de Force! As fresh, interesting, and authentic as ever. One for the faithful too with lots of references to the earlier books and the return of Colonel Lynn. Plenty of gritty wit and funny asides as always but with more in depth geographical and historical content than usual; quite a lot to be learned here about the lost archeology of the middle east and the times of the Roman occupation of that region. Skillful intertwining of old enemies, Libya and the IRA. Satisfaction guaranteed. 

Can’t wait to start reading Brute Force too Cam, thanks a lot!!

2008
06.11

Female First (also Male First) Helen Earnshaw interviewed Andy who’s ‘on tour’ promoting the release of the ‘Tour of Duty’ DVD.

Andy McNab is a British soldier, serving in the infantry as a Royal Green Jacket, joining the infantry at the age of sixteen and serving in Northern Ireland before being selected for the SAS.

In the SAS he served in the Middle East as well as Southern and Central America. He shot to prominence in 1993 when, after leaving the SAS, he wrote a book on the failed mission Bravo Two Zero, which told of the events that happened during the Gulf War.

Since then he has gone on to write a series of fiction and non fiction novels and has, more recently, been behind the documentary Tour of Duty which looked at the soldiers serving in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. I caught up with him to talk about his new project.

You are promoting your DVD Tour of Duty can you tell me a bit about it?

“For the past three or four years all the stories that are coming out of Iraq and Afghanistan it’s always someone else telling the stories, so the idea is to get the guys that were involved in these things to talk about it themselves. Instead of me sitting there all day gobbing off about it, lets get these lads in as they know the story well, they are articulate and actually what happens is you get all the emotion and you can identify with them.”

Read the full interview here (2 pages!)

2008
06.11

An article in InTheNews:

Thousands of servicemen and women ‘at risk through policy change’

Andy McNab has argued that putting post-operational care in the hands of the NHS has left thousands of servicemen and women at risk.

The former SAS soldier, one of the most highly decorated servicemen in the history of the British army, says early 90s reforms which closed military hospitals have resulted in a significant number of ex-servicemen suffering from physical and mental problems after leaving the forces.

Read the article here

2008
06.11

I’m a bit behind with posting, been pretty busy and then got the flu. So trying to catch up since there’s been a LOT of interviews. This one we learned about thanks to Lisle, great!! Andy was a guest on the  Christian O’Connell Breakfast show.

You can ‘Listen Again’ to the show here, select 31 October

2008
01.11

On the 30th of October Andy was the Guest speaker at the National Army Museum in Chelsea London. Gary Curtis was lucky enough to get a ticket and he wrote us a review: 

National Army Museum, London
19.00 hours

I sit in the shop come cafe eating my muffin pondering if a 33 year old man like myself can justify buying the Action Man I can see on the shelf in front of me, even if he does come with full SAS black assault gear.

There was a certain amount of excited browsing going on from the people gathered here waiting to hear a talk from the SAS hero and author, Andy McNab!

I for one was very happy to buy Brute Force, the new Nick Stone thriller a week or so before it’s official release.

We all moved down to a rather grand room in the museum, took our seats and after a short bit of faffing about out comes Andy McNab, ahhh, so that’s what he looks like!

Andy starts by telling us his story in the army. From a young boy facing a life of crime to the Green Jackets and the various tours of Northern Ireland. His main motivation at this point was to buy cars between the tours and write them off! Next onto selection for the SAS. Andy mentioned his work in the regiment and the funny first meeting of his new mates in Seven Troop.

After Bravo Two Zero he said the MOD were keen for him to write about his experiences in Iraq. How this led to a best seller and his work in the media for newspapers and TV. Several trips to see the troops in Afghanistan and Iraq have shown him that the current British soldier is the best equipped of any generation of soldiers the UK has had, particularly the Osprey body armour which has stopped 50 cal rounds. He also mentioned the trauma care in Basra is the best in the world and doctors are keen to do a tour there to gain experience.

Andy mentioned a lot of people back in the UK are concerned about he amount of soldiers getting injured but he said 5 years ago they would have been killed instead.

Questions.

Andy offered to answer any questions the audience may have. Of course there was so many questions and so little time!

Firstly Andy was asked about PTSD and how it effected both friends of his in the Regiment and how army is much better in recognising it in soldiers today. He mentioned that the MOD were supportive of Andy writing Seven Troop and bring PTSD to the publics attention. He also mentioned his work for Help for Heroes. When asked how he was feeling, Andy said he barks at the moon every Thursday!

Secondly he was asked about women not being able to fight on the front line and Andy said that he had witnessed female soldiers fighting and there is no issues with it. He said that the lack of a front line is giving them a chance which isn’t often reported.

Andy was asked about the armed police being used more and more and how and when the SAS would be called in on counter terrorism duties. Andy said that the regiment would be used as the police do not use explosive entry. The SAS would always be called for any jobs that involved this.

There was talk on how his friends reacted to the success of Bravo Two Zero and some were jealous but most were very supportive. Sadly time ran out and there was a huge round of applause from us fans!

Book signing.

I was about fifth in line for the book signing, I was keen. Before hand I decided to take Bravo Two Zero, my original paperback as this was the book that got me hooked on McNab’s writing. My turn came. I walked up and put it down for Andy to sign, he laughed and said “that’s an old one”. He wrote ‘buy new one! Andy McNab’ in it! Next up was my wife with my Brute Force book and she asked Andy to sign it for me. ‘Two R’s or one’? he asked.

I was always nervous about meeting my heroes but Andy was down to earth and friendly. Once signed I shook hands with Andy, I got a grin and that was that!

No dramas!

Andy McNab signed Gary Curtis' book