I was a Combat Medical Technician for 11 years and served in places such as Germany, Canada, Bosnia, Belize, The Falkland Islands and Afghanistan. My job was to provide medical care in a variety of settings, from medical centres providing day to day care and routine medical treatment to working in the field as a platoon medic providing emergency medical cover. I absolutely loved sport and took the opportunity whenever it was available to do any sport that came up. I particularly loved competing in athletics and Biathlon (Nordic skiing and shooting) and was lucking enough to do it quite often throughout my career.
I have a lot of great memories from being in the Army and it has definitely shaped who I am today. However, when you actually start the process of leaving the army and you realize it's all you've ever known since you were 18 and it has impacted every part of your life since then, you can really start to panic.
Leaving the forces for me, was very daunting but, like most people that have been in for a while, you just put your head down and keep doing what you're told until your last day. There are services in place such as lectures, seminars and short courses designed to wake you up to the responsibilities and realities of leaving the service which can be quite useful. However, suffering from any illness or on going medical problems makes things considerably harder and just turning up to lectures can be difficult. I had to fight hard for some of the medical treatment I received before I left the services and I am grateful to the few people that really helped me even though it was above what was required of their job role. Without their help I would have been a lot worse off when I finally left the service.
When I did leave I was surprised at the things I found difficult, and it was things I completely took for granted in the Army and things no one mentions in the resettlement briefs. Despite being extremely busy in the Army and working away for months on end or losing your weekend to guard duties, I could always leave the stresses of work there. There was always something happening in your accommodation to take your mind off things, people you could chat to or go and have a drink with. Most things you needed were on camp, the cookhouse, shops, the gym, the bar and the doctors, living so close to work that rush hour traffic was never a problem. When you leave, you have no idea that not having a set up like that in the barracks can massively impact your life and before you know it the minutiae of daily life can eat up all the spare hours of your day. Driving to and from endless doctors and hospital appointments, food shopping, sitting in traffic, trying to cook healthy meals and messing it up, before you know it, you have got absolutely nothing done but the bare minimum and your to do list keeps piling up. All of this ends up leaving you with no time to socialize or relax and no way to separate the stressful events of the day with your home life.
The first time I attended a group activity with Forward Assist was great. Spending time with, and talking to people who have been through similar challenges to me has given me that sense of comradery I have missed since leaving the forces. Forward Assist provided me with a chance to get away from my normal stressful environment and do something completely different, which allowed me to take my mind off the things that usually grind me down. There was no pressure to be introspective and start figuring things out, where I needed to go or what I should be doing to progress in 'Civvi street'. They provide an environment where you can just turn up, be yourself and have fun trying new challenges at your own pace. It's like therapy, without getting therapy. Forward Assist has offered me many opportunities to meet new and interesting people and try things I have never done before and provides so many different activities and opportunities for veterans. It gives you the opportunity to find something you enjoy or that you are good at and provides a much needed link to other veterans in your area, and these are the people that will know a lot about the difficulties you're facing that often can make you feel isolated.
There is always a comradery between people in the forces, whether you are serving or not but when you leave, you are often separated from that community. Forward Assist reopens that link by providing a fun and relaxed environment that allows you to find confidence in yourself through rediscovering the strengths and skills cultivated in the Army, that were lost in the process of suffering through difficulties associated with the huge life changing step of leaving the forces.
Sarah works with Forward Assist, a charity shortlisted for the Centre for Social Justice Awards 2015, which recognise UK charities that display innovation and effectiveness in addressing the root causes of poverty, transforming lives and reversing social breakdown. The Huffington Post UK is the media partner for the awards