Lee and his dog Molly were with 101 Military Dog Working Unit in Afghanistan in 2009. One night in Sangin, they were out supporting a team searching for IEDs 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 - an action for which he received a Certificate of Commendation from the Chief of Joint Operations. Astonishingly, Lee didn’t realise he had suffered a brain haemorrhage until he got back from the tour.
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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. "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. The day after the blast in Sangin I went out and did another search with Molly and she found an IED factory. They arrested four people," he recalls.
The experience was one that Lee found hard to cope with and on his return to the UK he struggled with the memories. "It was pretty bad," admits Lee. He was medically discharged in September 2016 after being diagnosed with PTSD after a 17-year Army career which had seen him serving in Northern Ireland (2001), Falklands (2004), Iraq (2003 and 2006) and Afghanistan (2009 and 2011).
Since leaving the Army, Lee trains assistance dogs. "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 later 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. "SSAFA has helped me massively," says Lee. "When Andrew, my mentor, first came round to see me, 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 served too so I can relate to him. 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."
With support from mentor Andrew, Lee and his partner Jenna set up K9 Elite Services in December 2016. "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.
“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. I just needed to get my confidence back and I’m getting there slowly. You have to keep active and stay positive.”