Lee Edwards (Cpl), 34, was medically discharged from the Army in September 2016 after being diagnosed with PTSD. He served in Northern Ireland (2001), Falklands (2004), Iraq (2003 and 2006) and Afghanistan (2009 and 2011) during his 17-year Army career which saw him transfer to the Royal Army Veterinary Corps in 2007 to work as a dog handler.
With the support of his SSAFA mentor Andrew Hawkes he has now set up a successful dog training and grooming business with his partner Jenna.
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Lee, from Wigan, joined the First Battalion, Duke of Lancasters Regiment in 2000 and was a section commander when he took the decision to move to the Royal Army Veterinary Corps in 2007. He said: “I used to train dogs before I went into the Army and I wanted to work with them again. I did one tour of Iraq and two of Afghanistan as a dog handler with RAVC.”
Lee and his dog Molly were with 101 Military Dog Working Unit in Afghanistan in 2009. They were in Sangin supporting a team searching for IEDs at night when one of the soldiers triggered an IED. Lee was blown up in the air by the explosion but still went on to save the life of a fellow soldier badly wounded in the blast for which he received a Certificate of Commendation from the Chief of Joint Operations. He said: “I didn’t realise I had a brain haemorrhage until I got back from the tour. The day after the blast I went out and did another search with Molly and she found an IED factory. They arrested four people.”
The experience was one that Lee found hard to cope with and on his return to the UK he struggled with PTSD. He said: “It was pretty bad. I was on the Operational Training Advisory Team (OPTAG) from 2012-15 in command of the specialist search dogs with my dog Angel (who I now have with me at home). I was medically discharged in September 2016. I train assistance dogs since I have left the Army. Molly was a good little dog. She saved my life so many times so I feel like I owe them something. We’re just scratching the surface on what we know about dogs and I’m learning something new every day.”
Lee was put in touch with SSAFA’s mentoring service which supports wounded, injured and sick service personnel making the transition to civilian life through one-to-one mentoring sessions. He said: “SSAFA have helped me massively. Andrew my mentor has helped me out so much. When Andrew first came round I told him what happened to me when I was blown up. He was just the right person for me to be matched with. He has given me the confidence to start my own business and to deal with day-to-day life. He’s always just a phone call away and has made me feel like I’m someone again.
“I have had more support from SSAFA since I left the Army than I did when I was in. I thought there was no hope but now I have got my own business, I’ve managed to get onto the property ladder and I’m helping other people.”
Lee and his partner Jenna set up K9 Elite Services in December 2016. “It has been all go. I’ve achieved so much since I was discharged. When I got really ill I trained my dog Bo to be an assistance dog. She’s one of the youngest trained assistance dogs in the country. She can unload a washing machine, open doors and if I have bad dreams she wakes me up and gets me out of bed. She’s only two. I’ve also got my ex search dog Angel.
“It’s been a tough time but Andrew has helped me out loads. He has served too so I can relate to him. I just needed to get my confidence back and I’m getting there slowly. You have to keep active and stay positive.”