Twenty years after the Iraq invasion, veterans still face daily war trauma
Twenty years after the first western cruise missile barrage fell on Iraq, the scars of the battle are still visible on many members of the British military community.
Paul Minter, who served in and around Basra during a remarkable 18-year army career, is among those who have struggled to erase the dark memories from their minds.
In 2007, as Lance Corporal of the Brigade Reconnaissance Force, he was targeted by insurgents, conducting covert surveillance missions from their base in the southern city.
After enlisting at the age of 17, the Household Cavalry soldier also served on four deployments to Afghanistan, where he miraculously survived RPG hits and was blown up by an IED.
Suffering from the mental aftershocks of war, he was medically discharged from the military, where he most recently held the rank of Staff Sergeant with the D Squadron of the Cavalry Regiment.
The veteran, now 37, would later found Head Up, a mental health charity for the armed forces community, and believes that work is as important as ever — even at a time of conflict in Afghanistan and Iraq are relatively over sight.
“Iraq has engaged the British for quite a while and there has been a lot of intense fighting that hasn’t been seen up to that point,” he said.
“There were a lot of negatives and some positives that came out of it.
“Many people are still suffering the effects of what they saw, what they went through and what they had to do. An important factor right now is that there isn’t much help out there for people to cope with their problems.
“We know from psychological research that it can take anywhere from five to 15 years for the brain to really calculate this trauma, so there has to be a lot more to helping people quiet their minds.
“As a charity, we’re trying to teach people different ways to quiet their minds and calculate what they’ve seen.”
20 years ago today, the first air strikes on Iraq were launched in what the Pentagon dubbed Operation Shock and Awe.
A US-UK-led coalition launched the massive invasion the following day, the precursor to the capture of Saddam Hussein, a bloody uprising, and years of instability that have lingered to the present.
Paul’s involvement came while he was taking part in covert surveillance operations in the south of the country as second in command of a four-man reconnaissance team. Missions have included laying on rooftops and in bushes, with one operation installing cameras on a river between Iraq and Iran, narrowly avoiding detection by Iranian security forces.
Iraq is part of the charity’s CEO’s ministry, which included hundreds of gun battles and the deaths of friends.
“There was a lot of fighting around high rise buildings and when we were moving as a convoy there were two or three vehicles that got hit, it was like a stroke of luck,” Paul said.
“It puts a lot of stress on the mind.
“Because I was in a surveillance role, I would watch and see these things happen without much involvement.
“I had to sit back and watch it all unfold even as the insurgents settled and locked in and were ready to attack British and American forces, which was very difficult. As a force, we were constantly under indirect fire, many mortars and artillery shells were seen falling.
“Sometimes people were hit head-on, which was very difficult to see.”
Paul, from East Ham, London, also served in Afghanistan which took another heavy toll on British forces in terms of casualties and the psychological scars that remained.
Among his experiences was being involved in the day-to-day fighting in Helmand province, where he was deployed with the first British troops in the region.
A fatal incident in 2006, when he was a 20-year-old gunman, shows the combat stress they faced as troops deployed to rebuild became involved in intense firefights with the Taliban.
“We were mugged pretty badly and unfortunately three people died straight away,” Paul said.
“Another was badly injured with 80% burns. Three of us survived, but we had to fight our way out. It was very traumatic circumstances, but the next day we fought again, there wasn’t much time to calculate what had happened.
“You didn’t have much time to think during your vacation either, as I was in Iraq just a few months later.
“I love the armed forces and am a huge advocate for them, but as with many industries, just a little more needs to be done to deal with potential trauma to individuals later in life.”
Paul was awarded a Dispatches Mention for bravery in 2011.
However, the darker side of his ministry caught up with him eight years later when he fell into a deep depression and suffered from severe paranoia, anxiety and other symptoms associated with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
He wasn’t the only one with a troubled mind.
A number of friends, including serving soldiers and veterans, took their own lives seemingly every week.
Twenty years since the Iraq invasion
The invasion of Iraq began on March 19, 2003 with a spate of airstrikes dubbed Operation Shock and Awe.
The US-British-led ground element of the invasion began the next day, with Allied forces in Baghdad by 9 April.
Then-US President George W. Bush declared victory the following month, framing it in a war on terror that began on 9/11. However, a bloody uprising led to ongoing fighting across the country.
The rise of ISIS would also mark another dark chapter in post-invasion Iraq’s history. The terrorist group’s territorial hold was eventually broken by a global coalition, but it still poses a threat to the world.
In July 2009, British combat troops were withdrawn from Iraq.
In all, 179 members of the British armed forces and civilians from the Ministry of Defense died between the start of the campaign and the withdrawal.
Paul was released on medical parole in 2020 and has shared how after “a lot of hard work, deep digging and soul searching” aided by some “amazing people in the military” he managed to see bright skies again.
On his first day as a civilian he started a fundraiser for the charity which would see him walk 5,000 miles up the British coast in 218 days.
Head Up, which he directs full-time, aims to curb suicides in the military community and promote mental health awareness by helping individuals build positive mindsets.
“The five of us who started this charity lost a lot of friends to suicide,” Paul said. “I have spoken to friends and family of those who have taken their own lives and they all agree it is something that is not going away.
“Right now it’s still happening on a daily and weekly basis, so more needs to be done. There are many people trying to do as much as possible, but there needs to be greater involvement from the armed forces and the government itself.’
One of the charity’s aims is to create a ‘non-militarised’ retreat in the Worcestershire countryside where guests can take part in seven-day residential courses aimed at spiritual well-being.
“As a charity, we teach people ways to improve their overall mindset and well-being through things like meditation, breathing techniques and a better understanding of nutrition,” Paul said.
“We offer different types of therapy such as cold water, nature and music to make them feel positive rather than negative.
‘Although it may just be for a day or during an in-person class, the goal is for them to feel better about their everyday lives and to calm the mind that may have been traumatized by their experiences in the military towards making meaningful change.’
To contact the Samaritans, call toll free 116 123 or click here
The Veterans App is also available here
Do you have a story you would like to share? Contact firstname.lastname@example.org
For more stories like this, Visit our news page.
Get the top news, feel-good stories, analysis and more
https://metro.co.uk/2023/03/19/twenty-years-after-iraq-invasion-veterans-still-face-daily-trauma-of-war-18447886/ Twenty years after the Iraq invasion, veterans still face daily war trauma