Page last updated at 09:45 GMT, Saturday, 7 November 2009

Injured soldier's road to recovery

Soldier Michael Stoker spoke to the Politics Show's Yvette Shapiro

The Defence Medical Rehabilitation Centre at Headley Court in London is by now familiar territory to Michael Stoker.

The 22-year-old son of UUP councillor Bob Stoker is receiving treatment there for the third time since being badly injured while serving with the Queen's Royal Hussars in Afghanistan.

Michael suffered a broken pelvis and severe burns to almost a third of his body when a roadside bomb exploded under his vehicle in Helmand Province last May.

"I can't actually remember much about the day of the attack," he said.

"I can only remember stopping up at a place short of where we were going and that's about it.

"We were going to shut a camp down. What I've been told from other guys was we were driving down the road and unexpectedly, bang, we just went up.

"All I remember is being inside the vehicle and seeing the hot oil burning me and shouting for my mates to get me out.

"They were trying to calm me down and saying they were going to flip the vehicle over and get me out.

"I do get small things coming back, but they're not in great detail, still really fuzzy. I have been told that through time, it will come back to me."

After the attack, Michael was airlifted to Camp Bastion before being moved on to Selly Oak Hospital in Birmingham.

I was just so used to seeing guys getting hurt and losing their legs.

"When I came round I was confused because one minute I was in Afghanistan and the next thing my family are standing around me.

"That's when I was was told what my injuries were.

"It was really shock, thinking, 'how's this all happened?' Because you never expect that it's going to happen to you.

"It is quite unnerving, it truly is.

"The vehicles we were in, it was always the thing that if you drove over a bomb you were losing your legs, but obviously because it had been modified and people were walking away from the vehicles unscathed.

"I was just so used to seeing guys getting hurt and losing their legs."

Camaraderie

After weeks of major surgery and skin grafts at Selly Oak, Michael arrived at Headley Court where he began on the long road to making a full recovery.

"Being in Selly Oak, you've got a brilliant support system. You can all sit and joke about your injuries, obviously you are all going out at nights, going on trips.

"A lot of the guys do make a hell of a recovery even though they've been really badly hurt. It's just one of those things, you just have to get on with it."

Despite sustaining such severe injuries and his father saying that he does not support the war in either Iraq or Afghanistan, Michael said he believes the Army is making a difference.

"A lot of the time going through the villages, people would come out and tell us where the IEDs (improvised explosive devices) are, as long as there's no Taliban sitting watching them," he said.

British soldiers in Afghanistan
Michael said he believes the Army is making a difference in Afghanistan

"They know helping us is better in the long run than helping the Taliban because now they have a lot more freedom to do things that they couldn't do with the Taliban in control, so it is quite important that we do stay and we do our job properly.

"There are times when you are there when you get really low and you miss home and you think, 'why am I here?'

"But when you do see small things changing for the good, it does make you proud that you are there and what you are doing, you are happy to be there for what's happening."

The speed of Michael's recovery has been driven by his desire to get back with his regiment after Christmas.

"That's been my aim all along - get fully fit and get redeployed out to Afghanistan.

"It's quite easy to say, 'I've been hurt, I don't want to go back there, I don't want to get hurt any more'. But there are guys there who have no choice in the matter.

"They haven't got hurt, they're still going out there, you really just do it for your mates, you just go back and carry on with your job.

"I've loved my entire time in the Army, this is just a small thing that comes with the job, and I will return back to work, fully fit.

"Hopefully, I will spend the rest of my career in the job that I'm doing and I love."

The full interview with Michael Stoker can be seen on the Politics Show on BBC1 Northern Ireland on 8 November at 1215 GMT.



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