Former Army Sergeant, George, was seriously injured in Afghanistan. Now his SSAFA Mentor David is helping him settle into civillian life.

George Norton

George was injured serving in Afghanistan, now his SSAFA Mentor is helping him settle into civvy street

George Norton

Former Army Sergeant, George, was seriously injured in Afghanistan. Now his SSAFA Mentor David is helping him settle into civillian life.

George Norton

He's helped me find a new direction when I haven't always known where to turn.

George, 32, was operating out of a temporary checkpoint in Helmand province Afghanistan in 2011, when he was seriously injured from a gun shot wound to the head.  Deployed with 5 Rifles, George was a Multiple Commander and one of his last recollections of that morning was planning for a routine patrol.

As his patrol was crossing an irrigation ditch they were fired upon by a single insurgent. One of the enemy bullets ricocheted off the ground and struck George in the side of the head.

The details of what followed next are a blur for George. The only real memory he can recall is waking up in the Queen Elizabeth hospital in Birmingham with his mother standing at the end of his bed.

George was left with brain damage, complete deafness in his right ear and weakness down the left hand side of his body. He stayed at Queen Elizabeth hospital in Birmingham for 3-4 months undergoing intensive treatment and rehabilitation. From here he moved to Defence Medical Rehabilitation Unit at Headley Court in Surrey where he spent seven months before finally arriving in Catterick Garrison and the Personnel Recovery Centre (PRU).

It was during this period of intense recovery that SSAFA stepped into his life.  George said he’d always known about SSAFA but never thought he’d have to call on them. “I'd been in and out of Headley Court for months and was waiting for an operation to have a cochlea implant inserted behind my left ear where I'd been shot, but my operation kept getting cancelled.”

After the second cancellation, Peter Little, Chairman of Somerset Branch took action and wrote a letter to Queen Elizabeth hospital outlining why it was so important that George had this operation and what a difference it would make to his life. “This soon got people talking and I remember when I was finally told the operation was going ahead, the Hd of Nursing said to me "we've heard a lot about you".”

Peter had taken efforts to ensure people stood up and listened to the needs that George had and he was fitted with a cochlear implant in his right side ear.

George Norton

David is someone different to talk to, on a different level.

He was allocated his SSAFA mentor, David Falcke, in June 2014 just after his medical discharge from the Army. It was whilst at the PRU that George was told about the SSAFA Mentoring scheme.  George had been paired with a neuro partner whilst he had been at a brain injury unit so was well accustomed to the benefits that could be gained and the outcomes that could be achieved on a one-on-one basis.

George had just one stipulation; that his mentor be male.  He had been surrounded by women throughout his entire recovery period, on every step of his care pathway, and said he just missed the male company, which had been such an integral part of his life before his injury.

Some months after his injury and whilst his medical discharge was underway, he took the radical decision to move back in with his parents in Somerset after not living at home for over 15 years.  Although it’s been strange living at home again, George admits that things have been on the up since moving back to Somerset.

George says that his SSAFA Mentoring experience has been brilliant so far and has played a significant role amongst the support that has been provided by other Service charities. “David is someone different to talk to, on a different level.”

“I have my mum and dad, good friends, both civilian and from the Army but David just gives me another perspective on my life and where I see it going.  He has a bit more life experience and a wise head to talk things through. He can say to me 'have you tried looking at it like this or like that, he helps me to explore ideas and come up with new plans.' He's helped me find a new direction when I haven't always known where to turn."

My advice for anyone offered SSAFA mentoring? Go for it.

David comments, "George is very independent, he takes the lead on what he wants from the partnership. He books himself into Tedworth House, he organises courses, develops his own contacts, I'm here for him as much or as little as he needs.”

David is also ex-infantry and although David admits there might be some years between the two of them, they share a common ground, a similar mentality and sense of humour, which aids the mentoring process. “I sometimes struggle to speak to someone who hasn't had the military background and experience, but David has."

Under current guidance, the Mentoring scheme lasts a year but as David explains: “It's flexible and is more about how long George needs me.  Eventually he'll want to get on with his life and I know that and the time will come for us to go our separate ways.”

When George looks back on his time and his rate of recovery over the last three years he says it's been full on: "I'd probably rather go back to infantry training than go through the three years I've just had.  I know that I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time when the injury happened.  I can't look at it in any other way. I obviously knew that I was deploying to a dangerous place but I never went away expecting this to happen to me."

George is now hoping to secure a volunteer placement at a local golf course. He is also hoping that DVLA will reissue his driving licence, which will give George the freedom to live a much more independent life.

“The last 7 months I've noticed the biggest change, in terms of how I've been feeling and how things are progressing for me. It's been all up hill I'm glad to say.”

George is being supported by a physiotherapist at his local hospital: “They told me they are astonished by the rate of my improvement. My dream is to run again and they haven't ruled it out, they want to help me work towards it. There was a time when I never thought I'd walk again."

"My advice for anyone who is ever offered the chance of being on the SSAFA mentoring scheme? I'd tell them to go for it. You've got nothing to lose."