When (Major) Bernie Broad was blown up in an IED explosion in Afghanistan in 2009 he was left not only with life-changing physical injuries but also with an overwhelming sense that he was no longer the person he and everyone else wanted him to be.
Sign up for our email newsletter to get our latest news in your inbox
Bernie, 52, was injured on November 29, 2009, when the vehicle he was travelling in hit an IED. He was flown back to the UK where doctors fought to save his legs, but nine months later they took the difficult decision to amputate Bernie’s left leg. "After I lost the first leg, I thought everything was going to be ok,” says Bernie. “Three years later they had to take my right leg as well. To be honest, that was the start of my true recovery as it meant I could come off the painkillers."
Bernie and wife Jan lived in an Army quarter in Uxbridge at the time. “SSAFA initially helped us by speaking to the council on our behalf and sorting out ramps when I was in a wheelchair,” recalls Bernie.
Bernie spent the next few years being treated at the Defence Medical Rehabilitation Centre at Headley Court in Surrey where he would spend spells of up to six weeks at a time. When he and Jan moved to Derbyshire she was still able to spend time with Bernie at SSAFA's Norton House, Headley Court, a home-from-home for injured serving personnel and their families.
"Headley Court is a medical facility but it’s also a military camp. As a soldier you are used to being able to go home at the end of the day but that’s not possible when you are in hospital. For me Norton House was home," explains Bernie. "Once we moved to Derbyshire we became regular visitors. The staff are just so friendly. They don't see you as an injury or a problem - just as a person – and they make sure you are happy and relaxed and enjoying time with your family. They are all fantastic.
"Norton House is a peaceful place. I find it very relaxing to be there. I wanted to be a good civilian so the more I could leave the Army camp and stay at Norton House, the better. It set me up to be a civilian and it will always feel like home for me.
"Almost more importantly, Norton House does wonders for friends and family and if they are happy then the patient is happy too."
Hidden wounds, unseen challenges
Bernie entered the Army as a Junior Leader in 1982 and later joined the Grenadier Guards, serving in Northern Ireland, Kosovo, Bosnia, Belize and The Falklands before Afghanistan. After such a successful military career, when he was medically retired in 2014 after 33 years in the Forces, it was important to him to also be the best civilian he could be - but he admits it wasn't easy.
"All I ever knew was the Forces. They were good at teaching you to be a very good soldier but then all of a sudden you're out and civilian street is a very different place. Everyone still expects you to be the person you have always been and I found myself putting on an act and pretending everything was alright to make my friends and family happy.
"It wasn’t until I took part in the Invictus Games and rediscovered the person I used to be that I stopped having those feelings."
Bernie was proud to captain the UK's 2017 Invictus Games team in Toronto. It was an experience that not only helped him to reconnect with his former self but also allowed him to embrace his new life as a civilian. However, he is well aware that there are others still struggling to adjust to a life beyond the military. "Being in the Forces is who you are," says Bernie. "It’s part of your make-up and, for a lot of us, asking for help is hard. I think for a lot of people by the time they ask for support they are a long way down the line."
The journey from career soldier to civilian might have taken longer than Bernie anticipated but it's safe to say he is now living life to the full: relishing his role as a new grandfather and enjoying spending time on the golf course.