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Behind a pay wall so I included the full article. Very interesting points...

The Invictus quandary: is sport the best way to rehabilitate the war-wounded?

Prince Harry launched an Olympics for veterans in 2014. The latest games open in The Hague under the shadow of a new war


Apr 14th 2022

By Simon Akam

The bullet that did for David Wiseman bored into his chest one Sunday in November 2009 when he was on patrol in Helmand province in Afghanistan. Wiseman, a 27-year-old captain in the British Army, commanded a small detachment charged with training Afghan troops. That morning he had been ordered to visit an isolated base in an area that British forces had recently taken over. The base was manned by five or six British soldiers and a larger contingent of Afghans. Wiseman’s job was to encourage them onto the offensive.

When he arrived, the unease was palpable. There had been a spate of attacks by Afghans on Western troops who were mentoring them. “Everyone looked a bit scared,” Wiseman said. The British soldiers had segregated themselves from the Afghans, contrary to the army’s preferred approach, and Wiseman discovered that garrison members had almost stopped going out on patrol. This part of the country was thick with Taliban.

Wiseman sat on a camp bed in a small, dark room that smelled of goat, his knees knocking against those of the senior Afghan officer present. He insisted that the soldiers needed to leave their redoubt and impose their authority on the surrounding area. “I’m going to come with you,” he said. Reluctantly the Afghan officer agreed to go out on patrol. “I’ve heard of you,” he replied. “You’re the guy that always goes forward.”

The patrol advanced methodically, searching with metal detectors for buried bombs. The radio they used to intercept Taliban communications spat out a crescendo of chatter. Clearly, they were being observed. “It was constant and really personal,” Wiseman remembered. They were “talking about the tall guy” – Wiseman is 6’7” – and how they were “going to get them in the next field”.

“My lasting memory of the bullet is searing heat. It felt like someone had come along with a poker and put it in”

During a cigarette break, Wiseman’s corporal floated the idea of returning to base: “We could just walk down that road and be back.” Wiseman flicked his cigarette into the ditch. “But you know we’re not going to do that, don’t you?” he said.

They moved off and approached a small building. That was when the attack came, a “heavy, concentration of fire, ambush-style”. Wiseman saw an Afghan on a mobile phone who seemed to be directing the shooters. A warning shot from Wiseman frightened him off but attracted the attention of other fighters. Wiseman heard a crack as a round whizzed past his head. Instinctively he knelt down, which proved to be a devastating mistake. The front plate of his body armour left much of his upper chest unprotected. The next bullet “just – wallop – straight in” above his right armpit.

The impact felt like a “crushing hammer blow”. Wiseman weighed 100kg and his gear 40kg more, but he was hurled back a few metres. At first, he felt like a fool. During his training, recruits who had to play-act injured were treated like an “embuggerance”. Then came the fear. He slithered into a ditch and tried to claw his way through the mud to safety, but realised that he couldn’t move his entire right side. “The lasting memory of it is searing heat,” he recalled. “It felt like someone had come along with a poker and put it in.”

Lying in the ditch, Wiseman was losing blood and consciousness. The unit’s medic struggled to stanch the bleeding. Around 15 minutes later, Wiseman was picked up by a helicopter and injected with ketamine, the preferred painkiller for chest wounds, as morphine depresses the breathing. The drug engulfed him and time seemed to slow down.

Wiseman lived to tell his story. So have many like him, injured in similar circumstances. Between 2001 and 2015, over 450 British servicemen and Ministry of Defence employees died in Afghanistan and nearly 180 in Iraq. Almost four times that number were wounded in combat. Many soldiers survived wounds which would have proved fatal in earlier conflicts: helicopters could evacuate the injured speedily; improvements in medical technology helped, too. And because the number of Western casualties was relatively low compared with past wars, each one could be lavished with medical care. In the American armed forces, the case fatality rate – the proportion of injured people who died from their wounds – fell from 55% at the start of the second world war to 12% during the recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

More than 300 British servicemen suffered amputations in Afghanistan between 2001 and 2019

For centuries society has faced the problem of rehabilitating soldiers who return home physically incapacitated and with severe mental trauma. The triumph of wartime medicine is keeping more people alive, but many are left with grievous disabilities. In Afghanistan between 2001 and 2019, more than 300 British servicemen suffered amputations. Over a third of these were “significant multiple amputees”, having lost more than one limb above the wrist and ankle.

There has often been an imbalance between the public gratitude afforded to veterans and their experience of life after a conflict. Some have turned to competitive sport and endurance challenges to dispel the stigma of disability and recreate the extremities of experience they felt in wartime, encouraged by organisations such as Help for Heroes and Walking with the Wounded.

This approach reached its apotheosis in 2014, when Prince Harry, himself a veteran in search of direction, opened the Invictus games, a glitzy Paralympics-style sports contest for wounded soldiers from across the world (the Paralympics had itself begun life as a competition for second world war vets). Prince Harry started Invictus, he told 1843 magazine, because “those returning from conflict…were not being properly recognised, and I felt more needed to be done.” The competition would put them on a podium.

Not all experts think that wounded veterans are best served by pushing themselves to their limits. “The general ‘higher, faster, stronger’ Olympic ethos, mixed with the ‘crack on’ philosophy so beloved of our military…works for a lot of those with serious physical injuries, but not for everyone,” said Simon Wessely, a professor of psychiatry at King’s College London, who founded the Centre for Military Health Research at the university. Not all crises can be overcome through willpower alone. There is a danger that those who will fail lambast themselves for lack of effort.

Physical exertion may not help the severely wounded. According to Wessely, the “very strenuous regimes promoted by Invictus and other similar schemes” could actually “cause longer-term cardiovascular problems, or at least an acceleration of existing issues” to bodies that have already been vastly stressed by the loss of two or more limbs. (A new, 20-year research programme established in 2018 at Imperial College London will examine this question, among others.) Injuries suffered by disabled sportsmen can inflict catastrophic disruption on their everyday routines. “If you’re dependent upon propelling yourself…from chair to toilet, from chair to car, and you damage your shoulder…then that messes up the whole of life,” said Nick Webborn, medical officer for the first Invictus games and himself a wheelchair user.

Some reckon that money and effort are better spent on reintegrating veterans into everyday life than on challenges that stretch damaged bodies, with potentially unforeseen consequences. “The biggest factor that actually improves the life chances of any veteran, with any condition, is having a job,” said Johnny Mercer, a former officer in the Royal Artillery and an MP, who served for a time as the veterans minister. Howard Burdett, who studies veterans’ mental health at King’s College London, said he “would broadly agree”.

“The ‘higher, faster, stronger’ Olympic ethos, mixed with the ‘crack on’ philosophy so beloved of our military, does not work for everyone”

Like other casualties, Wiseman needed to recover both from his physical injuries and the psychological trauma of the attack. In time he became involved as both an organiser and a participant in the Invictus games. On April 16th, the fifth iteration of that competition will open in The Hague. It has been less than a year since NATO troops withdrew entirely from Afghanistan and the Taliban took over. A new war in Ukraine is creating thousands more injured service personnel. The question of how to make those harmed in war feel valued by society will not go away.

Doctors at Camp Bastion, the British Army’s main base in Helmand, managed to stabilise Wiseman’s injuries. A few days later he flew back to Britain on a transport plane that had been configured as a flying ward. He was more or less conscious when he landed, and the cool, damp air of the English autumn felt strange after the heat and dust of Afghanistan. Wiseman and the other wounded soldiers on the flight were whisked to Birmingham’s Selly Oak hospital, which treated military and civilian injuries.

The wards were full of new amputees from bomb blasts in Afghanistan. Wiseman’s injury was less severe than some, but the damage was still considerable. The bullet had smashed through Wiseman’s chest. It nicked an artery under his collarbone, causing internal bleeding, shattered half-a-dozen ribs and grazed the nerves under his arm before coming to rest in his right lung. After rounds of surgery he was left with a deep hollow under his right collarbone, where surgeons had stripped away the muscle, and a horizontal scar on his upper chest from a repair to an artery. Wiseman has memorialised his injury with a tattoo on his back that shows a bullet encased by an olive branch wrapped in barbed wire. He has enduring physical reminders too: chest pain, and nerve pain that runs down his arm and hand, particularly in winter.

Wiseman was offered the chance of long-term rehabilitation but he insisted on returning to his battalion in Germany and his wife, who was six months pregnant when he was shot. He was eager to be reunited with his family and was back in Germany by the time his son was born in February 2010. After that he returned to work. But he found little support. Wiseman nominally served as his battalion’s training officer but in private he was a mess. “I was really unwell,” he said. “I had no mental-health treatment.” The few psychiatric nurses treating British soldiers were frequently unavailable and he was taking large quantities of prescription drugs for his nerve pain.

“We’re going to put it in the Olympic Park. We’re going to make it international. And we’re going to stick it on the BBC”

He was haunted by his experiences. A few days before being shot, he’d been involved in the rescue of British troops who’d been attacked by an Afghan policeman. Five British soldiers were killed. Now, Wiseman felt like a dead soldier was following him around. “If I was driving along in the car at night I’d sense he was sitting in the back. If I was washing my face…and couldn’t open my eyes, I’d sense he was there with me,” Wiseman told me. Eventually, another officer sat him down and told him that, for the sake of his family, he had to get help.

Wiseman went for an assessment at Headley Court, an Elizabethan mansion in southern England that became a rehabilitation centre for the armed forces after the second world war. A psychiatrist asked him how he was getting on.

“I’m all right,” he replied. “Stuff which I’d expect…that’s a normal reaction.”

“What about any flashbacks?”

“I don’t have any of those,” Wiseman replied.

“Any extreme memories?”

Wiseman described an experience he’d had at the railway station that morning on the way to Headley Court. A workman was cutting stone and the acrid smell reminded him of a phosphorous grenade blowing up a radio. He felt compelled to kneel on the train platform.

“That’s a flashback,” the doctor said.

“Oh,” Wiseman replied. “I have those all the time.”

The doctor told him he wasn’t going anywhere.

Wiseman remained at Headley Court on and off for around two years. Military ranks weren’t used and therapists addressed soldiers by their first names. But there was still an officers’ mess, where Wiseman ate, which insulated him a little from the traumas of his fellow patients. “We had people who heavily considered suicide,” said another soldier at Headley Court who lost both his legs in Afghanistan.

These days, Wiseman is physically imposing and fizzes with restless energy. As an officer, he encouraged his men with backslaps and arms around the shoulder. He’d draw people towards him so he could speak to them nose to nose. “He’s in the middle of everything. He’s in the thick of it. Everyone loves him. He’s everyone’s mate,” said Ed Janvrin, chief executive of the first Invictus games. Wiseman told me on one voice-note that he wanted me to make him “sound as…fucking cool as you possibly can”. When I met him at his home he showed me the room he worked out in, complete with rowing machine, the antlers of a stag he’d shot and a certificate of proficiency at karate.

His time at Headley Court helped him recover some of that verve. He received intensive physiotherapy and played sports like seated volleyball, as well as having regular psychotherapy: “Every day you’d have a trip to the shrink.” Wiseman found it “an incredible environment…But I got to a point whereby – I remember the moment – when I went, ‘I’ve had enough Headley’.” One morning Wiseman walked past a soldier whose face had been almost completely obliterated by burns. He didn’t even register the injuries. “You should notice that. It shouldn’t be normal,” he recalled. “When you walk past a bloke and he’s got no lips, or nose or eyelids or ears. And you think that’s normal?” In 2013 he felt that it was time to leave for good.

Wiseman had recently celebrated his 30th birthday: he was not ready to become a pensioner. He had already attempted an ascent of Mount Everest, organised by Walking with the Wounded. He trained in the Alps then successfully climbed Manaslu, another 8,000-metre Himalayan peak, but poor conditions thwarted his team on Everest. “It was absolutely devastating, this was something I’d dedicated my life to for going on for two years,” Wiseman remembered. In theory, Wiseman remained in the army for the 18 months he devoted himself to mountaineering, but his superiors granted him time off. “It’s good to have poster kids who recover after serious injury,” he said. At this point, at the height of the Afghan war, there were so many activities for wounded soldiers that it was possible to put off a return to work almost indefinitely.

“We have no money. We have no venues. We don’t know what we’re going to call it”

But being a role model is no substitute for the satisfaction of pursuing a career. And Wiseman’s was faltering. He had been posted to Yorkshire in mid-2010 to instruct infantry recruits, which seemed to be a demotion. “It was really poorly managed by the army and I felt I’d taken a real sideline,” he said. Nerve damage meant he couldn’t fire a rifle without the recoil causing him pain. Eventually, a medical board told him that he had no future in uniform. Wiseman left the army in the spring of 2013.

He got a job at the Royal Foundation, a philanthropic organisation set up by Prince William and Prince Harry in 2009. Wiseman ran a programme dispensing grants to former service personnel to participate in sport and expeditions. The prospect of leaving the army was “gut-wrenching and terrifying”. His identity was founded on being an officer. But his new role offered more possibilities than he had imagined, including a ringside seat at the conception of the Invictus games.

The year 2013 marked a turning point in Prince Harry’s life. The prince had been no stranger to scandal – in 2005, shortly before joining the army at the age of 20, he had been photographed in Nazi uniform at a fancy-dress party. His breaches of decorum became harder to tolerate as he got older. In 2012, pictures were published of him in Las Vegas, naked after playing a game of strip billiards. According to the newspapers, Prince Charles sat his wayward son down for a “heart-to-heart” and told him to focus on his military career. After the dressing-down, Prince Harry went back to Afghanistan for four months as an Apache helicopter pilot.

The army had been reluctant to send Prince Harry to the front line, knowing he’d be a valuable target. In 2008, he managed to spend ten weeks in Afghanistan before his cover was blown by an American website. He shared the flight back to Britain with a number of wounded soldiers, some with multiple amputations. This was the first time Prince Harry had “seen our own with life-changing injuries”, he told 1843 magazine. He realised that the “real fight” for these veterans began once they got home.

The crowd chanted the prince’s name before the Foo Fighters broke into song – Prince Harry had personally called the band’s frontman, Dave Grohl, to invite him

His second Afghan tour seemed to instil in him a new sense of sobriety. Prince Harry later reflected that the debauchery in Las Vegas was “probably a classic example of me…being too much army and not enough prince”. Shortly after his return, he went to America to watch the Warrior games, a sporting competition hosted by the United States Army for wounded service personnel, first held in 2010. Britain was sending a team for a second year in a row, taking part in athletics, swimming and wheelchair basketball, among other events.

The prince was accompanied by an entourage of British veterans, including Wiseman. “It was fantastic,” Wiseman recalled. “But it was fairly parochial.” At the start of the cycling, “someone shouted, ‘Go’, and off they went.” One morning on the trip, Wiseman sat down to breakfast with Prince Harry. “Wisey, we’re going to take this,” said the prince. “We’re going to take it back to the UK. We’re going to put it in the Olympic Park. We’re going to make it international. And we’re going to stick it on the BBC.” At a reception, Prince Harry publicly proposed bringing the competition to Britain: “I don’t see how it wouldn’t be possible to fill a stadium with 80,000 people…to watch wounded servicemen fight it out amongst each other.”

The announcement blindsided those who would be responsible for actually organising the games. According to Martin Colclough, a former soldier who served on the advisory board of the Royal Foundation and worked for Help for Heroes, “He gets back to London and the Royal Foundation are running around, the Ministry of Defence are running around going, ‘Fuck, he’s just said we’re going to run a games like the Warrior games’.” One British general had to reassure his American counterparts that “we were not trying to hijack the brand”. (Prince Harry told 1843 magazine: “Our team there with me in Colorado knew what was coming.”)

Prince Harry’s star power gave the nascent competition a fighting chance. On his return from Afghanistan, he was the “golden boy”, according to Dominic Reid, the events director of the first games. “He could do no wrong and was incredibly popular.” Michelle Dite, who had years of experience staging sporting events, wrote a proposal for the games.

The team considered holding the games at a military barracks or outside the capital, in Manchester, Sheffield or another city with a record of hosting sporting events. They thought they had two years to prepare for the first competition in 2015. Then the event was brought forward by a year to coincide with the withdrawal of most Western troops from Afghanistan and the 100th anniversary of the start of the first world war – and to avoid clashing with the build-up for the Paralympics in 2016. Keith Mills, a former marketing executive who chaired the games, recalled thinking in his initial meeting with Prince Harry: “We have no money. We have no venues. We don’t know what we’re going to call it. We have no countries, no competitors. We have nothing.”

Mills had been deputy chairman of the London Olympics in 2012. “By 2013 I was one of the world’s experts on running large-scale sports events,” he said. Prince Harry told him that “you can put the band back together” – some arm-twisting by Buckingham Palace helped too. Mills concluded that, realistically, they could have no more than 500 competitors (the 2012 Paralympics had over 4,000 participants). They would need transport and accommodation. Security was of particular concern because a concentration of military personnel could become a target for terrorists. There was a pressing need to sign up sponsors and sell broadcasting rights. Here Prince Harry’s name had a transformative effect. “Everybody wanted to give you stuff…and to get involved,” Reid said.

It was not clear how participants should be categorised. The Paralympics has a well-established classification system to ensure that athletes compete against other people with similar physical impairments. The new games could not adopt this wholesale, as the competition was open also to veterans with psychological conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). And the organisers wanted the emphasis to be as much on participation as excellence.

“You couldn’t walk down the street without people saying, will you sign this? Can I have my photo taken with you?”

Dite was charged with devising the parameters. She designated three broad types of competitors: those with major disabilities, such as amputations of limbs; those with other disabilities, such as the loss of some fingers; and an open category, for people with minor injuries or PTSD. Team sports required a mix of participants from each category.

The other problem was that the event had no name. Nine months before the games were due to open, “We had no branding, we had no website, we had nothing,” said Janvrin. Some options were rejected as too boring (the Army games, the Forces games) or already in use by veterans charities (the Phoenix games). Prince Harry’s preference was for the “International Warrior games, to ensure the continuation of a programme I recognised as being really successful, and to make sure they got credit”

Then a Royal Marine general called Buster Howes came to visit the foundation’s office. “We still haven’t found a name,” Janvrin told him as he was leaving. Soon after, Janvrin received a call. “Have you ever read the poem ‘Invictus’?” Howes asked. “You should really look it up.” Invictus means “unconquered” in Latin, and the poem was written in 1875 by William Ernest Henley, who had a foot amputated as a result of tuberculosis, in the grizzly aftermath of Victorian surgery. It ends with a rousing assertion of indomitability in the face of suffering: “I am the master of my fate/I am the captain of my soul.” “Oh my god, this is it,” Janvrin thought. “I even have goose-bumps about it now.”

The organisers settled on nine sports: athletics, archery, indoor rowing, powerlifting, road cycling, sitting volleyball, swimming, wheelchair basketball and wheelchair rugby. Then Prince Harry insisted that javelin be added, even though the event had just 11 competitors. This was no simple matter. “Adding a sport…doesn’t add a bit of complexity, it squares the complexity,” said Janvrin.

“You can get your gold medal, but it doesn’t really mean anything. At the end of it all you still might be skint, you still might have mental-health issues”

Prince Harry’s insistence on the javelin caused frustration among those charged with scheduling the competition. He pushed for this, he told 1843 magazine, because a few nations had participants who were “fully trained and prepared to do javelin, as most expected it to be included”. He wanted all the elements that “competitors and their families would love or benefit from…Anything less than awe-inspiring might have made them feel less worthy or less cared about.” The javelin contest ended up being held before the main games, in a park in east London, with Prince Harry cheering on from the sidelines. Dite described it as a “huge distraction”.

On September 10th 2014 Prince Harry spoke at the opening ceremony of the Invictus games at the Olympic Park in London. Veterans, he said, would no longer be “defined by their injuries, but as athletes, competitors and teammates”. “You prove that anything is possible, if you have the will,” he proclaimed.

The Red Arrows, the ceremonial squadron of the Royal Air Force, performed a fly-past, streaming red, white and blue smoke behind them. Massed bands from the air force, the Irish Guards and the Royal Marines played stirring tunes. The Royal Horse Artillery wheeled antique guns around in a ceremonial display before unleashing a six-gun salvo. Celebrities were out in force: Michelle Obama, then First Lady, broadcast a message by video, Idris Elba read “Invictus” and singers performed “The Invictus Games Anthem”, composed for the occasion by Chris Martin of Coldplay.

Over 400 athletes from 13 countries took part. The selection process for the 130 British competitors had been informal; what little training they’d done had been in sports centres around the country. Yet as they walked out in their red and navy tracksuits, led by Fire, a former bomb-detection dog, members of the British team realised they were part of something larger.

“If I’d known how big it was, I probably wouldn’t have done it,” recalled Catherine Nightingale, an army doctor who had developed PTSD after serving in Afghanistan. Nightingale swam in the Olympic Pool before a crowd of 2,800 people. “You came out and you couldn’t walk down the street without people saying, will you sign this? Can I have my photo taken with you?...I couldn’t understand why people would be interested.”

Despite the glamour, the sporting element of the games retained an endearing amateurishness. Some members of the wheelchair-rugby team had played only three or four times before competing in front of 5,000 spectators. Wiseman was selected for the swimming squad, but had been so busy organising the games that he hadn’t attended training. He went straight from a shift in the operations room to the pool. “I put my Speedos on, and the rest of the team were like, ‘Who are you?’” (Both Wiseman and Nightingale won medals.)

At the closing ceremony, essentially a pop concert with some celebratory speeches, Prince Harry read letters he’d received about the games. He quoted a woman called Kara, who had an auto-immune disease: “I’m starting to think, now, that my game has just begun too,” she wrote. The crowd chanted the prince’s name before the Foo Fighters broke into song – Prince Harry had personally called the band’s frontman, Dave Grohl, to invite him. The next morning, Dite cried all the way home to her flat in south London: “What we’d achieved was quite extraordinary.”

The media gushed over the Invictus games for showing disabled veterans at their best. “Lives will be changed” by the event, Prince Harry promised at the opening ceremony. But as the euphoria faded, the extent to which Invictus had really helped veterans remained unclear. Some competitors migrated into elite disabled sport. Jaco van Gass, a South African-born paratrooper who lost his left arm at the elbow in Afghanistan in 2009, won two cycling golds at Invictus and later competed in the 2020 Paralympics in Tokyo. This group of star graduates was tight-knit. “We’re all mates. Everyone on that list of golden boys, we’re all bezzie maccas,” Wiseman told me. But they comprised a minority of participants.

“What’s the point, if you don’t have those men and women who have sacrificed themselves and bled for their country?”

Others said the games helped them get out of a rut. Nightingale, the swimmer, couldn’t return to her job as an anaesthetist because the medical equipment reminded her of the kit she carried in Afghanistan. She began training as a GP in August 2014, just before the games. Competing “certainly gave me more confidence to believe that I could achieve something again”, she said. “Achievement breeds achievement. If you’re surrounded by people whose attitude is, ‘I can do this’, and not…‘I can’t be bothered, or it’s not for me any more’, then it’s catching.” Celina Shirazipour, an assistant professor at Cedars-Sinai Medical Centre and UCLA, has shown that participants who trained for and competed in the Invictus games felt improved psychological health, at least in the short term.

Not everyone shares this view. Wessely, the psychiatrist from King’s College London, argues that sport as therapy could contribute to a notion that “mental health disorders are really failures of willpower or character, which is what the Victorians thought.” In his closing speech, Prince Harry mentioned the most fundamental challenge faced by veterans: getting a job and holding it down.

To critics, the Invictus games were just another well-funded distraction that might delay the reintegration of former soldiers into society. “They were benefiting from the fact that they were on a merry-go-round, and there was no exit strategy for them,” said Colclough, the former soldier who worked for the Royal Foundation. Ben McBean, the wounded soldier who inspired Prince Harry on the aeroplane back from Afghanistan, is also an Invictus sceptic. He declined to take part: “You can get your gold medal…but it doesn’t really mean anything, at the end of it all you still might be skint, you still might have mental-health issues.”

The conviction that extravaganzas such as the Invictus games help veterans seems to emanate from a certain aspect of the military mindset that caused problems in Afghanistan. There, particularly in the early years of the campaign, commanders planned aggressive, spectacular operations that would earn them promotions and medals. But the widespread killing of civilians poisoned local opinion and drove Afghans into the hands of the Taliban. British soldiers cracked on until they couldn’t crack on any further.

The games in 2014 had been conceived as a one-off event, but its success inspired the organisers to hold it regularly. Wiseman went to work for the newly established Invictus Games Foundation. He moved from being “one of those guys on the merry-go-round to one of the guys in the cubicle, making the merry-go-round work”. As time passed, he realised that challenges like the Invictus games would be effective only if they engaged in “rehabilitation by stealth”. They shouldn’t be ends in themselves, but spurs to earning a qualification or just spending time in the company of others.

“My kids know they can’t surprise their daddy. They know that I sometimes have to go off into a room by myself”

In the months that I spent talking to Invictus competitors and organisers I was struck by the insistent use of the word “recovery”. People spoke of “recovery centres” and “recovery journeys”, of “sports recovery” and “recovery services”. This was understandable, but it contained within it a self-deception. You don’t recover from the loss of a limb. There is no chance of it growing back.

After London, three more Invictus games were held in quick succession: Orlando in 2016, Toronto in 2017 and Sydney in 2018. The plan was then to hold it on a two-year cycle, but the pandemic intervened. The games opening at The Hague on April 16th were due to take place in 2020.

The event has changed over time. After the withdrawal of most Western troops from Afghanistan in 2014, the proportion of competitors with combat injuries fell, even as the selection procedure became more rigorous. In 2017, following the Toronto games, some organisers discussed whether to close the event, despite its popularity. Prince Harry told 1843 magazine that such an outcome wouldn’t have bothered him: “The moment they didn’t serve a purpose, I was prepared to put it all in a box, because that would have meant we didn’t have any more service members coming back with life-changing injuries, and that would have been a very good thing.”

One suggestion was that it be opened to first-responders such as police officers or paramedics. In the end, organisers decided to confine the games to current and former service personnel, but those whose injuries didn’t happen in war – in car crashes or climbing accidents, for example – would also qualify.

The rising number of competitors with non-combat injuries upset some, such as Mike Goody, a former RAF gunner. Goody had lost the bottom half of his left leg after the vehicle he was in drove over an IED in Afghanistan in 2008. “It just rippled through my body, I felt everything,” he recalled. “Everything on the inside of your body is lifted up and then goes back down.” Goody was trapped under the vehicle for three hours, inhaling burning rubber and plastic. His leg didn’t look severely damaged when rescuers reached him but the shockwave from the impact had travelled up his calf, leading to compartment syndrome (when pressure within part of a limb builds to a dangerous level).

After 15 operations, Goody was left with excruciating pain in his leg and clinical alcoholism. Finally, a doctor told him he was likely to be dead by the age of 30 if he kept on drinking: he opted for an elective amputation. He had previously swam competitively. Now he took it up again, crossing the English Channel, before competing in the Invictus games in 2014. He found the experience profoundly moving: “Everyone was a family…There were no cliques.”

But Goody fell out of love with Invictus in subsequent competitions, particularly over the tensions between those wounded in battle and others with civilian injuries. In 2018 competitors gathered on a boat in Sydney harbour. A thunderstorm broke out. One Invictus athlete started sobbing, saying that the loud noise was triggering his PTSD. Goody watched, bemused, as what seemed like a “chain reaction” of hysteria spread across the boat.

A number of participants with serious physical injuries were nonplussed. “There were double, triple amps literally looking around going, ‘What the fuck is going on?’” Goody wasn’t convinced the reactions were genuine. “It just turned out to be a toxic environment,” he remembered. There was no sense of solidarity. The cyclists kept apart from the swimmers who distanced themselves from the archers. “People were really dicks. They wouldn’t help each other out,” he said. When Goody developed a cyst on his stump that meant he had to withdraw from the cycling, his wife was asked to remove herself from a photo of the squad’s supporters. Goody left Sydney feeling worse than when he arrived. Help for Heroes, which co-ordinates the British team, said in response, “PTSD can be very complex and presents in many different ways. What one individual may see does not determine how another individual may be feeling in that moment.”

Even those whose reaction was less extreme worried about the dilution of the competition. “I think that that is an existential issue for Invictus,” Wiseman told me. “What’s the point, if you don’t have those men and women who have sacrificed themselves and bled for their country?”

As I tramped with Goody through muddy fields on the outskirts of the West Sussex town of Bognor Regis, I realised that, though he may have been angry at the direction the Invictus games took, participating and then leaving it behind had served a purpose. Two spaniels trotted at our feet, part of the canine-care business that he and his wife set up in 2017. He is looking to the future and thinking about starting a family.

I took a train from London to York to see what Wiseman’s life is like these days. He lives in a converted 19th-century building just outside the city. His home was tidy and bright. An ash tree stood in the garden, along with five young fruit trees which he insisted is “technically an orchard”. A sign in the kitchen read: “Gardening, it’s cheaper than therapy and you get tomatoes”. We ate spaghetti bolognese, then took the family Labrador for a walk.

Wiseman acknowledged that the attack 13 years ago continues to haunt him and affect his relationship with his wife and children, who are now ten and 12. “They’ve got to live with me, for a start,” he said. “And all my funnies. They know they can’t surprise their daddy. They know that I sometimes have to go off into a room by myself.” He praised his kids for their sensitivity.

Though he will never completely rid himself of the trauma, Wiseman believed that he had experienced “post-traumatic growth”. But he acknowledged that the plethora of activities into which he threw himself was a manic attempt to keep his inner demons at bay. “It was that for a long time,” he said. “Can’t sit still, can’t stop thinking, because if you stop thinking, that’s when the intrusive thoughts come in.” In 2017 Wiseman founded the Casevac Club (short for “casualty evacuation”) for wounded servicemen airlifted from battle. Part of its mission is to promote medical research, but it also offers a less strenuous opportunity for camaraderie among veterans. Membership is restricted to those “wounded by the enemy”. He is also working on a mental-health startup.

The collapse of the Afghan government last summer and takeover of the country by the Taliban demoralised many former servicemen who had suffered in the fighting there. Wiseman’s phlegmatism on this subject is hard-won. “I try not to get too worked up about things which are beyond my control…You stamp your feet and say, everyone died in vain, or was injured in vain or what was all that for? You can do, but it doesn’t help anyone.”

Wiseman has been working on a project to expand the number of teams competing at the Invictus games, as battlefield casualties from NATO countries have declined. He has recently been to Nigeria. We spoke a week into the Russian invasion of Ukraine – the country has sent a team to the Invictus games since 2016, largely comprising those wounded in the war with Russia that had been going on in the east of the country since 2014. Wiseman told me that Ukraine’s Invictus team manager, a “lovely blonde lady”, was now working for the Ukrainian armed forces, as were others whose injuries allowed it. One past Invictus trialist had died in the fighting.

Despite the length of his own recovery, Wiseman said that if he didn’t have children, he would have considered going to Ukraine to fight. Other veterans of the wars since 9/11 have felt the same way and joined Ukraine’s international legion. Some are driven by the need for an adventure. Others are attracted by the moral clarity: in Ukraine it’s plain which side is in the right. That goes some way to explaining the psychological attraction of the Invictus games to those who might have doubted the purpose of their service. Unlike the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, wheelchair rugby always has a clear winner. ■

Simon Akam is a contributing writer for 1843 magazine and the author of “The Changing of the Guard: The British Army since 9/11”



The Invictus quandary: is sport the best way to rehabilitate the war-wounded?
 

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UK to send 8,000 soldiers to eastern Europe on expanded exercises​

British army also deploying tanks in joint action with Nato and Joint Expeditionary Force

About 8,000 British army troops are to take part in exercises across eastern Europe to combat Russian aggression in one of the largest deployments since the cold war.

Dozens of tanks will be deployed to countries ranging from Finland to North Macedonia this summer, and joining them will be tens of thousands of troops from Nato and the Joint Expeditionary Force alliance, which includes Finland and Sweden.

The Ministry of Defence said the action had been long planned and subsequently enhanced in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in late February.

Commander Field Army Lt Gen Ralph Wooddisse said: “The UK makes a significant contribution to the defence of Europe and the deterrence of Russian aggression. The British army’s series of exercises is fundamental to both. The scale of the deployment, coupled with the professionalism, training and agility of the British army, will deter aggression at a scale not seen in Europe this century.”

The UK deployment is expected to build to a peak of about 8,000 personnel operating in mainland Europe between April and June.
Advertisement

The defence secretary, Ben Wallace, said: “The security of Europe has never been more important. These exercises will see our troops join forces with allies and partners across Nato and the Joint Expeditionary Force in a show of solidarity and strength in one of the largest shared deployments since the cold war.”

Troops from the Queen’s Royal Hussars have been deployed and will be embedded in an armoured brigade in Finland, which shares an 830-mile land border with Russia. Exercises alongside American troops are also taking place in Poland.
https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2022/apr/21/uk-training-ukrainian-soldiers-weapons-equipment
The announcement that Britain will conduct large-scale exercises in Europe comes after Vladimir Putin raised the prospect of attacks on western targets, warning of a “lightning-fast” retaliation if countries intervened in Ukraine.

The operation, called Exercise Hedgehog, will start in May and involve British troops exercising on the Estonia-Latvia border alongside 18,000 Nato troops, including French and Danish forces, who are part of the British-led Nato enhanced forward presence.


 

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Only six? Not bad... ;)

Six Irish Guards held on drugs and money-laundering offences​

MoD says none of soldiers detained will take part in Queen’s platinum jubilee parades



Six Irish Guards and a Coldstream Guardsman veteran have been arrested on suspicion of drugs and money-laundering offences, the Ministry of Defence has said.

A statement from the MoD press office said: “As part of a planned operation, the Royal Military police arrested six Irish Guards soldiers and a Coldstream Guardsman veteran from across the UK on suspicion of conspiracy to supply drugs and money lending and laundering offences.

“None of the soldiers under investigation will participate in planned Queen’s platinum jubilee parades.

“The army does not tolerate any type of illegal or fraudulent behaviour. As this is now the subject of an independent Royal Military police investigation, it is inappropriate to comment further.”

The Daily Mirror reported that the suspects were detained on Wednesday during raids in Hampshire, Berkshire, north Wales and Northern Ireland.
The Irish Guards has been the most operationally active unit in the British army over recent years.

The 1st Battalion Irish Guards is set to take part in the annual trooping the colour ceremony on 2 June as part of the Queen’s platinum jubilee celebrations. The regiment was presented with new colours last week by Prince William in preparation for the event.

 

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“None of the soldiers under investigation will participate in planned Queen’s platinum jubilee parades.
. . .
The 1st Battalion Irish Guards is set to take part in the annual trooping the colour ceremony on 2 June as part of the Queen’s platinum jubilee celebrations. The regiment was presented with new colours last week by Prince William in preparation for the event.

But will they receive the medal?

  • Medal will be awarded to serving frontline members of the police, fire, emergency services, prison services and Armed Forces with five years service as part of four-day commemorations taking place next year
2022 will be a blockbuster year of celebrations with plans to mark Her Majesty The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee with a four-day Bank Holiday weekend from 2 - 5 June which includes Trooping the Colour, the lighting of beacons, a Service of Thanksgiving, a concert, Platinum Pageant and nation-wide street parties.

From the UK MODs criteria.
(3) Personnel subject to either disciplinary action which could result in dismissal or a period of service detention, or subject to the Major Administrative Action process on 6 Feb 22 will not be eligible for the medal until either the final outcome of the disciplinary action has been determined or the Major Administrative Action process has concluded. If the disciplinary action results in dismissal or a period of service detention and if no appeal against that outcome is upheld, the individual will not receive the medal. Those discharged from Service as a result of Major Administrative Action will not be eligible for the medal. In all other outcomes, the individual’s eligibility will be determined in accordance with the normal criteria.

By my reading of the criteria if you hadn't been caught by 6 Feb then you were still eligible for the medal.
 

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Hoofing idea.

I noticed, however, that old Rob didn't seem to include those Army members of the Commando brigade (artillery, engineers, log etc) as he starts with 'Royal Marines', so I assume they're off the hook ;)


A statement from the Commandant General Royal Marines released to the Corps Family at his request.

Commandant General Royal Marines’ message to the Corps – Progress since the Marine A Incident


Royal Marines,

It is over 10 years since the Marine A incident, and I wanted to update you on what we have learned to better prepare for the future. Although this journey continues to be, at times, painful for some parts of the Corps – and so a fracture in our moral cohesion – we have come a long way. Learning from these events has had its own human impacts, and mistakes were made – this is perhaps inevitable in the delivery of important change in any organisation.

To be clear, the illegal killing of an injured Taliban insurgent in Afghanistan in 2011 by a then sergeant in the Royal Marines was truly shocking and appalling. This was a war crime, irreconcilable with the values which underpin our Corps’ ethos. To reduce the chances of something like it happening again, the Royal Navy commissioned an internal review, called Operation Telemeter. The Telemeter report made many recommendations which have either been implemented in full or, where they are enduring in nature, are managed as ‘business as usual’, a term which, rather than underplaying the importance attached to these issues, reflects that this is now core regimental business.

Although learning from the Marine A incident is entrenched in Royal Marines training, our current approach has advanced significantly beyond only implementing the Telemeter recommendations. Now we are focused on preparing for the challenges of conducting commando operations in the contemporary operating environment. The Commando Force concept, very familiar to many of you, envisages small teams of mainly Royal Marines, commanded by non-commissioned officers and junior officers, deployed at range from their chain of command in operational contexts defined by uncertainty and ambiguity. Whilst this is not unprecedented, preparing our marines to deal with extreme stress, to make good decisions in difficult circumstances and to recognise when things are going wrong is something we are taking extremely seriously.

So, what, specifically, are we doing? Working with the Royal Navy and academia, we have developed the following:
  • Scalable training packages for every rank, from recruits and young officers through to commanding officers and regimental sergeant majors, to educate marines in ethical leadership.
  • A set of case studies, including examples from Operation Herrick 14 and the Marine A incident, for use at unit level. These have been developed with leading academics and are under regular peer review.
  • The new Commando Leadership Handbook, also with a Marine A case study, situating ethical leadership as a core part of our approach.
  • A range of advisory functions, from confidential consultations to formal command climate assessments, to assure that the culture in Royal Marines units is aligned with our values and standards.
  • Bespoke ethical leadership symposia tailored for specific user requirements.
  • Periodic independent expert reviews of Royal Marines culture and our approach to ethics and leadership. The most recent, conducted by Professor Anthony King, the Chair of War Studies at the University of Warwick, reported in December 2021, concluding: “The Corps has instituted an impressive set of processes to inculcate ethical leadership”.
All of this is overseen by the Royal Marines Ethics Group (RMEG), chaired by the 1* Deputy Commandant General Royal Marines, which, at present, convenes monthly to assure the delivery of all aspects of our ethics programme. The RMEG also collates best practice from across Defence, the other public services, the civilian sector, academia and international examples to ensure that what we deliver for our marines continues to evolve and remains at the vanguard of contemporary understanding.

Some have questioned why the Telemeter report has not been made available for public scrutiny. Put simply, this was an internal review to identify lessons. Those who contributed to it did so knowing they were not under scrutiny, allowing them to speak candidly. On reflection, undertaking the review in this way was critical to ensuring we learnt as much as we have. Publishing the report now would breach these assurances. Nevertheless, as I have explained above, pursuing the Telemeter report’s final recommendations, which are publicly available, has been and remains a critical part of our learning journey.

No one is blind to the fact that the Marine A incident remains an emotive topic, especially for those who may be dealing with the mental health impacts of their operational service. It is important, therefore, that we, as a Corps family, come together. There is no room for complacency, but we can be confident that what we have put in place since Telemeter will prepare our people as best as we can to prevail on operations, irrespective of the circumstances.

I hope this letter offers reassurance to some and closure to others. As I said in my video about the withdrawal from Afghanistan last August, if this triggers painful memories please reach out. Serving commando or veteran, help is always available to us – once a marine, always a marine.
Yours ever,

Lieutenant General Rob Magowan CB CBE
Commandant General Royal Marines

 

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Jolly good show ...


UK to send 8,000 soldiers to eastern Europe on expanded exercises​

British army also deploying tanks in joint action with Nato and Joint Expeditionary Force

About 8,000 British army troops are to take part in exercises across eastern Europe to combat Russian aggression in one of the largest deployments since the cold war.

Dozens of tanks will be deployed to countries ranging from Finland to North Macedonia this summer, and joining them will be tens of thousands of troops from Nato and the Joint Expeditionary Force alliance, which includes Finland and Sweden.

The Ministry of Defence said the action had been long planned and subsequently enhanced in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in late February.

Commander Field Army Lt Gen Ralph Wooddisse said: “The UK makes a significant contribution to the defence of Europe and the deterrence of Russian aggression. The British army’s series of exercises is fundamental to both. The scale of the deployment, coupled with the professionalism, training and agility of the British army, will deter aggression at a scale not seen in Europe this century.”

The UK deployment is expected to build to a peak of about 8,000 personnel operating in mainland Europe between April and June.
Advertisement

The defence secretary, Ben Wallace, said: “The security of Europe has never been more important. These exercises will see our troops join forces with allies and partners across Nato and the Joint Expeditionary Force in a show of solidarity and strength in one of the largest shared deployments since the cold war.”

Troops from the Queen’s Royal Hussars have been deployed and will be embedded in an armoured brigade in Finland, which shares an 830-mile land border with Russia. Exercises alongside American troops are also taking place in Poland.
Ukrainian soldiers training in UK to use British armoured vehicles
The announcement that Britain will conduct large-scale exercises in Europe comes after Vladimir Putin raised the prospect of attacks on western targets, warning of a “lightning-fast” retaliation if countries intervened in Ukraine.

The operation, called Exercise Hedgehog, will start in May and involve British troops exercising on the Estonia-Latvia border alongside 18,000 Nato troops, including French and Danish forces, who are part of the British-led Nato enhanced forward presence.


I’m still so confused, and I’ve been trying to figure out which direction the British MoD is going for a few years now.

Are they cutting critical capabilities and troop levels due to budget constraints?

Or are they deploying 8,000 troops to various places in Europe, rebuilding their Royal Marine Commando units from the ground up, a player in naval aviation, etc


I swear some of their media releases seem to completely contradict each other…
 

daftandbarmy

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I’m still so confused, and I’ve been trying to figure out which direction the British MoD is going for a few years now.

Are they cutting critical capabilities and troop levels due to budget constraints?

Or are they deploying 8,000 troops to various places in Europe, rebuilding their Royal Marine Commando units from the ground up, a player in naval aviation, etc


I swear some of their media releases seem to completely contradict each other…

You, and alot of other people...

It seems they're spending alot without a clear strategy which, I suppose, might in itself be some kind of (weak) strategy:


The Guardian view on UK defence plans: spending but no strategy​


Boris Johnson’s statement to parliament on future defence spending showed the prime minister at his worst. The language was grandiloquent – he spoke of ending an “era of retreat” over which, in fact, Conservative governments have presided – as well as bombastic: “tipping the scales of history”. It was studded with dubious invocations of Britain’s past designed to stoke national pride. However, as Mr Johnson has done throughout the Covid crisis and over Brexit, it put the rhetorical cart in front of a horse that is still being tended in the stable.

There were very few specifics about how the £24.1bn extra spending at the core of the statement would actually be used. Some of that sum has been promised already, in the Conservative manifesto. There were even fewer details about how any of it is to be raised, especially in the tight post-Covid public financial world which the chancellor will outline in the spending review next week.

Most frustratingly of all, the post-Brexit strategic choices, which the government’s own integrated review of foreign, defence and security policy was supposed to have resolved, all remained unaddressed. That review has not yet been completed, not least because the US election has changed the global picture. Yet here was Mr Johnson, acting as prime ministers often do, jumping the gun to trumpet his commitment to Britain’s armed forces when they do not yet know how the government really sees their future role.

 

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One may argue about whether or not Brit's defence strategy is on point or not but for the Guardian to say there isn't one is hypocritical.

There have been many initiatives in the UK and in Mar 2021, the Secretary of State for Defence tabled this document in Parliament which articulates their strategy.


If the Guardian disagrees with the strategy then it should address where it fails and not make a blanket assertion that there isn't one.

🍻
 

daftandbarmy

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One may argue about whether or not Brit's defence strategy is on point or not but for the Guardian to say there isn't one is hypocritical.

There have been many initiatives in the UK and in Mar 2021, the Secretary of State for Defence tabled this document in Parliament which articulates their strategy.



If the Guardian disagrees with the strategy then it should address where it fails and not make a blanket assertion that there isn't one.

🍻

Dude, that's not the 'Guardian Way' ;)

Black Lives Matter Jazz GIF by TIFF
 

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You, and alot of other people...

It seems they're spending alot without a clear strategy which, I suppose, might in itself be some kind of (weak) strategy:


The Guardian view on UK defence plans: spending but no strategy​


Boris Johnson’s statement to parliament on future defence spending showed the prime minister at his worst. The language was grandiloquent – he spoke of ending an “era of retreat” over which, in fact, Conservative governments have presided – as well as bombastic: “tipping the scales of history”. It was studded with dubious invocations of Britain’s past designed to stoke national pride. However, as Mr Johnson has done throughout the Covid crisis and over Brexit, it put the rhetorical cart in front of a horse that is still being tended in the stable.

There were very few specifics about how the £24.1bn extra spending at the core of the statement would actually be used. Some of that sum has been promised already, in the Conservative manifesto. There were even fewer details about how any of it is to be raised, especially in the tight post-Covid public financial world which the chancellor will outline in the spending review next week.

Most frustratingly of all, the post-Brexit strategic choices, which the government’s own integrated review of foreign, defence and security policy was supposed to have resolved, all remained unaddressed. That review has not yet been completed, not least because the US election has changed the global picture. Yet here was Mr Johnson, acting as prime ministers often do, jumping the gun to trumpet his commitment to Britain’s armed forces when they do not yet know how the government really sees their future role.

So kind of like us then?

The PM promises troops to help with forest fires, reassure allies constantly that Canada will commit troops to their defence, Canada will support this mission & that… while the CAF are scratching their heads wondering where all these troops are coming from?

At least we KIND OF have a strategy with SSE. Basically ‘replace old kit with new kit, and hopefully that new kit does all this hi-tech networking sensory stuff they keep talking about…’

I swear the UK will release an article one day talking about deploying 8,000 troops + equipment to several places, and how they will forward deploy most of their Royal Marine forces to fulfill their global commitments.

And I kid you not, the very next day will release an article saying they are cutting essential equipment due to ‘money problems’
 

daftandbarmy

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So kind of like us then?

The PM promises troops to help with forest fires, reassure allies constantly that Canada will commit troops to their defence, Canada will support this mission & that… while the CAF are scratching their heads wondering where all these troops are coming from?

At least we KIND OF have a strategy with SSE. Basically ‘replace old kit with new kit, and hopefully that new kit does all this hi-tech networking sensory stuff they keep talking about…’

I swear the UK will release an article one day talking about deploying 8,000 troops + equipment to several places, and how they will forward deploy most of their Royal Marine forces to fulfill their global commitments.

And I kid you not, the very next day will release an article saying they are cutting essential equipment due to ‘money problems’

Well, they've got 'Five Cs' now, so that sounds like TOTALLY radically different ;)

Britain unveils new operating concept for a ‘fundamental transformation in the military’​


“In an era of persistent competition, our deterrent posture needs to be more dynamically managed and modulated. This concept therefore introduces a fifth 'C' — that of competition — to the traditional deterrence model of comprehension, credibility, capability and communication,” he said. “This recognizes the need to compete below the threshold of war in order to deter war, and to prevent one’s adversaries from achieving their objectives in fait accompli strategies, as we have seen in the Crimea, Ukraine, Libya and further afield.


 

daftandbarmy

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Is it just me or is that headline really weirdly worded? I know it means "visited 31 times" but it's just an odd way to write it.

It's The Sun.

Proper grammar and punctuation always play second fiddle to dramatic adjectives ;)
 
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