With every step that you take on the battlefields of Afghanistan, there is a potential for that one step to be life-changing.
I can recall patrolling across the unpredictable ground of Nad-e Ali, Helmand Province on many occasions, when I took a step, I would also take a deep breath. Although the men and I carried out our TTP’s (Tactics, Techniques & Procedures) correctly and to the highest standard, what if there was a slight chance of us missing that significant and critical piece of ground where an I.E.D ( Improvised Explosive Device) would lay.
Patrolling across a dirt track from one field to the next, following my point man who had just searched for signs of a possible I.E.D. Although we confirmed with each other and had given the thumbs up, the hairs on the back of my neck still stood on end. As I closely scanned the ground to my front, I had a horrible gut wrenching feeling as I anticipated an explosion beneath my feet.
However, on this particular occasion, I was extremely fortunate to walk away and was able to continue on patrol unharmed. I can’t ignore how lucky I am to be here now and in one piece. I will admit, that there have been some dark days when I have taken my life for granted and I probably needed a reality check. A good old-fashioned kick up the arse would have done me some good.
You may have also experienced this cloudy kind of day when you may have needed some inspiration, motivation and a size nine boot up the rear. Let me introduce you to a friend of mine.
Ben Stoten – founder of ‘Amputees Who Lift’.
Corporal Ben Stoten joined the British Army in 2004 and on completion of his basic training in May 2005, he then went on to join The Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment. During his time with the regiment, he was able to achieve a high calibre reputation as top student for both the sniper course and sniper instructors course.
Having already survived high-intensity fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan on ‘Op Telic 8’ and ‘Herrick 8/9’, Ben would have one more tour to do before leaving the Army in 2012.
“I was due to leave the army a few months after coming back from tour anyway, but I was considering to sign back on”.
With Ben’s past experiences of operating in Iraq and Afghanistan, he would have known what threats to expect, nonetheless, what he was unaware of at the time, was that this fight in Afghanistan was just the beginning of a long life-changing battle.
“Back in 2012 I was blown up in Afghanistan while going to the aid of a colleague. During the early stages of my three weeks induced coma, I was minus two legs, a broken arm and the remainder of my left leg was also broken. I would then go on to lose four stone in the coming weeks and months”.
I can only imagine what Ben and his family must have been going through during this horrific time in their lives and still my imagination can only go so far. I can’t truly put myself in the state of mind of someone who has just been blown up and lost their limbs as a result.
“I struggled to adapt to everything after what had happened so suddenly”.
I sometimes wonder how on earth is a soldier supposed to come to terms with the fact that his or her life will never be the same again following these types of injuries which were sustained on such a day that Ben refers to as ‘Boom Day’.
“Boom Day – This day used to bother me extremely, but I was quick to learn, that the only thing that will ever overcome a bad mindset is a good one. The depression, PTSD, sleeping all day and being awake all night. The endless cans of Red Bull to keep me awake because I didn’t like what I saw when I closed my eyes, none of that was sustainable. Nothing bothers me now and there’s a lot to be said for a positive attitude in life”.
So a strong state of mind and a positive attitude worked for Ben, how did he channel that in order to cope with the transition into civilian life under unexpected circumstances?
“I adjusted well to civilian life but I found it hard to see my friends carrying on with ‘Army life’, even the s**t things like being on exercises in Poland in the pissing rain. As a result, I took most of them and including nearly all my old platoon off of my Facebook page because I didn’t like seeing it all”.
“Gym work would not only go on to keep me sane and help build my strength back up but it also became a hobby. Four years on and it has given me the inspiration to become a personal trainer and to inspire others to better themselves, and to try harder along the way”.
After officially leaving the Army in February 2013, Ben was able to utilise his instructor skills in order to successfully transition into ‘civvy street’ and he became a freelance personal trainer. This led to Ben starting a Facebook page and an Instagram page titled:
‘Amputees Who Lift‘.
“The page started as more of a diary for me and my progression as a personal trainer and to observe my own changes. Be that as it may, within a week I had another amputee ask me to share their story who attached a picture of them working out in the gym. I thought – ‘yeah ok, why not?’ So I shared it. Overnight I doubled my small following and had loads of comments from not just amputees but able-bodied people, saying how much it inspired them and how it had put their own troubles into perspective. It was then I realised I had a means to inspire people”.
So without initially acknowledging the facts, unknown to Ben at the time, his bravery, strength and positive attitude went on to inspire and motivate both disabled and able-bodied people from around the globe.
I have recently been following Amputees Who Lift across both social media platforms and I can say that I have witnessed some incredible images of people demonstrating the true definition of the term ‘Fighting Through’.
I asked Ben if he would like to send a message out to other injured veterans and this is the key message that he would like you to take away from this blog:
“Keep up the positive thoughts and set yourself goals to achieve, small ones that in turn lead to big ones. No matter, if you’re injured physically, most who have been to that place, will have suffered in some way or another. It is important that you don’t let the negatives control your life and that you stay positive and carry on in life”
– Ben Stoten.
I hope you have enjoyed this blog as much as I have enjoyed learning from it. There are a few things that I have been able to take away from Ben’s experience and I would like to think that you too would also be able to benefit from this read.
Thank you for taking the time to read this blog and please head over to ‘Amputees Who Lift‘ and witness the inspirational men and women for yourself.
If you are a veteran and you would like to share your story, then please feel free to get in touch with the team. It would be an absolute pleasure and honour for us to help you put your story out there.
Jamie and special guest, Ben Stoten.