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Last Updated: Tuesday, 4 March 2008, 07:17 GMT
Welsh soldiers talk of Iraq scars
Stuart Hughes
By Stuart Hughes
BBC News

Stuart Hughes lost part of his right leg after stepping on a landmine in northern Iraq while working at the BBC.

His cameraman, the Iranian photojournalist Kaveh Golestan, was killed.

Five years on, he wanted to meet others whose lives have been affected by the same conflict and the progress of two young Welsh soldiers who were injured in Iraq for BBC Wales' Week In Week Out programme.

Coalition forces have been in Iraq for five years.

Peter Hire and Samantha Bowen
Peter Hire and Samantha Bowen were both serving in Iraq

The conflict has been bloody and increasingly unpopular. More than 170 British troops have been killed - 13 from Wales. In recent months the number of British troops in Iraq has been scaled down -- but for some, the fight isn't over.

For Peter Hire and Samantha Bowen, the war in Iraq has left its scars - both physical and psychological.

Peter, 23, from Tredegar, was sent to Iraq with the 12th Regiment, Royal Artillery.

He enjoyed army life and was planning a long military career - but all that changed on 4 September, 2006.

He was driving the lead vehicle in a convoy near the town of Ad Dayr, north of Basra, when a roadside bomb exploded.

The two soldiers in the back of the vehicle were killed.

Blind and deaf

One of the doors of the vehicle landed on Peter's head, critically injuring him.

"They took me to Baghdad and they cut half my skull out, my eye sockets were shattered and I broke my jaw in 3 places" he said.

Peter Hire in hospital
Peter Hire was flown from Baghdad to Birmingham for treatment

"I'm blind in my left eye, deaf in my left ear and I've got brain damage.

"I have problems understanding certain things and coping with certain situations which I never would have before."

Peter was flown to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, where he underwent emergency surgery.

He has no memory of the ten weeks after the explosion.

He spent months at the military's rehabilitation centre, Headley Court in Surrey.

During his recovery he met another young Welsh soldier, Samantha Bowen, from Mountain Ash.

Samantha, 21, suffered severe injuries to her right leg when her base in Al Amara was attacked by a barrage of mortars.

She was hit by razor sharp shrapnel and would have bled to death within minutes without medical help.

Samantha Bowen home from Iraq
I still suffer from nightmares. I can smell the smells on the night
Samantha Bowen

"It did actually hit a very big artery in my leg. I was bleeding pretty fast and pretty dangerously," she told me.

Samantha also bears mental scars.

She has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder - or PTSD - a psychological illness that can develop after exposure to a life-threatening event.

"I still suffer from nightmares," she said. "I can smell the smells on the night.

"I just wish I could forget everything about Iraq or maybe better still everything about the Army and I just wish I'd never joined now"

Bitter

Samantha wears a brace on her foot and walks with a crutch.

She has had eleven operations on her leg and has regular physiotherapy sessions.

But she is bitter about the level of help she has received from the army for PTSD.

"Physically they have done quite a lot for me and I'm grateful for it", she says.

"But mentally I think they have done nothing. They've given me counselling sessions but it's not trauma focused and it hasn't really helped with my problem."

The Ministry of Defence wouldn't comment on individual cases but told Week in Week Out it recognises mental illness as a serious and disabling condition which can be treated.

White wedding

It is funding a new community mental health service for veterans at the University of Wales Hospital, Cardiff.

Samantha became one of its first patients after she was discharged from the army four weeks ago.

"My belief is that for veterans coming in with mental health symptoms, such as Samantha's that this is the appropriate service for an individual like that's needs," said consultant psychiatrist Dr Jonathan Bisson, who runs the service.

Samantha is hoping that this new service will help her to look to the future.

She's planning to marry her fiancÚ, former soldier Carl Davidson, when her injuries improve.

"I want a lovely big white wedding. I'm moving to Newcastle so I'd like to get married in south Wales, " she said.

"I think it will be quite emotional, because it will be an achievement to actually be able to walk down the aisle without a crutch."

Peter and Samantha talk more about their experiences in Week In Week Out - Back from Iraq, tonight at 2235 GMT on BBC1 Wales

SEE ALSO
Cautious optimism for landmine ban
03 Dec 07 |  Special Reports
Bionic man
16 Nov 06 |  Magazine
Timeline: Iraq
01 Mar 08 |  Country profiles



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