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Sunday, 23 November 2014

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Don’t cut the army says Cumbrian ex-soldier who survived bomb attack

A former soldier from Carlisle who survived a Taliban bomb says the decision to cut 20,000 Army jobs is “a massive mistake”.

Derek Spry photo
Derek Spry

Derek Spry, 36, who spent almost 20 years as a professional soldier, was medically discharged last November as a result of old injuries he sustained from a deadly improvised explosive device.

Just a week after that blast, in the town of Babaji in southern Afghanistan in 2009, two of Derek’s best pals were killed in a similar explosion.

As he began life in Civvy Street, the former sergeant with the Royal Signals highlighted the daily dangers faced by his comrades – and spoke of his fears for the Army.

“The Government wants to rely more on Territorial Army reservists, but that would be a massive mistake,” said Derek, who lives with his partner Lisa Garner, 39, in Petteril Street, Carlisle.

“I’ve worked with reservists, and, yes, they do a good job but the standards of professional soldiers are a world apart.

“British Army soldiers are totally dedicated to the job, and you won’t find better professional soldiers anywhere.”

Derek is more than qualified to hold his opinion, having put his life on the line in an Army career that began when he joined up at the age of 16, straight after school.

He went on to describe the day when he cheated death back in 2009.

He was with a small group of soldiers sent out to retrieve three injured comrades whose Jackal armoured vehicle had been caught by an improvised explosive device (IED).

Under small arms fire from Taliban fighters, they rescued the three soldiers, one of whom lost a leg as a result of the blast. The other two had broken backs.

“We expected to find them dead,” said Derek.

As the three were being helicoptered back to Camp Bastion for treatment, Derek’s squad were sent back to retrieve sensitive equipment from the bomb hit Jackal.

Again under small arms and mortar fire, Derek was reversing his Jackal towards the damaged one when a second IED exploded. The force of the blast was such that it threw the vehicle several feet.

“I didn’t hear anything,” said Derek, who was hurled into the footwell, his ears damaged by the blast.

His commander, sitting at his side in the front of the vehicle, was blown out of the Jackal and on to the sand. He suffered serious burns. The third in the squad, a medic, escaped unhurt.

Derek suffered permanent 60 per cent hearing loss in one of his ears, and a brain injury which has affected his short term memory. Even so, he has retained that matter-of-fact attitude when speaking of the brutal realities of the life of a soldier.

“It’s your job, and you just get on with it,” he said.

But now,Derek faces a new kind of battle: finding a new career outside of the Army.

“The Army is a way of life, and now I need to find a new job. I realise there’s more to life than the Army.

“I lost a lot of friends. A week after I was injured, in the same area of Afghanistan two of my mates were killed in a very similar incident.”

Last year, the Government announced that it will reduce Army numbers by 20,000 to 82,000 by 2020, and plug the gaps by doubling the size of the Territorial Army to 30,000.

Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said: “We will have smaller Armed Forces but they will in future be properly equipped and well funded, unlike before.”

Derek spoke out after the MoD announced a third swathe of cuts, with 5,300 job losses, including some still serving in Afghanistan.

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