I'd been home for maybe 6 weeks when I woke up screaming for the first time in my life.
'Where's my weapon' I shouted as I thrashed about next to my Girlfriend in our bed 'Where's my fucking weapon?'
I was covered in sweat and sucking in lungfuls of night air as I fought against the rising terror and panic inside me.
'It's ok babe. You're home now' said my partner. She looked frightened and had hold of my hand. In my sleep I'd been unconciously feeling for my rifle. It hadn't left my side for over 6 months - I'd slept beside its cold steel. Eaten along side it. Gone for a piss with it. Fought with it. Now it was gone.
The nightime screaming continued. I would wake my infant Son up and his cries would fill me anger at myself - why couldn't I sleep? I started drinking with the soldiers I'd been out there with. None of us spoke about it, we just simply got obliterated every weekend. It dawned on me that I slept through the night when I was drunk. So my drinking began to increase.
My Girlfriend and I would argue a lot. She hated my drinking - my spending more time with my mates than her. I hated her expectations of a perfect life. She would prepare us a dinner, that I would eat maybe a mouthful of. I began sleeping in the spare room so as not to wake the boy. Intimacy dissapeared from our relationship.
I left the Army and my Girlfriend left me. I would sit at home staring at the photos of my War. The grainy images masking the fear and obscenity that made up that short part of my existence.
I staggered from job to job, unable to take anything seriously. Bosses would whine about deadlines 'get fucked' I'd tell them - 'Who'll die if we miss them'
In the Summer of 99 I went to a BBQ at my Mum and Dads. It was a beautiful day and the mood was relaxed and fun. The Barby went out and my Dad poured petrol over the coals.
The smell of roasting flesh and burning fuel filled my nostrils. I was no longer at my Parents. I was in Iraq - looking at a dead soldiers burning body hanging out of a Tank. His lips had burnt away to nothing. He was grinning at me.
I was surrounded by dead troops. I was going to die. No one was going to live. We were all going to die. The war had followed me home.
I started screaming and fell to the floor. I then curled up into a ball and started crying. I hadn't cried since I came home - nothing phased me. But now I'd started I couldn't stop. My Mum sent everyone home and called the man who saved my life. My Doctor.
Over the next few weeks and months he selflessly researched my problems and what was bothering me. He told me one cold morning in November that he thought I might have PTSD.
'Fuck you Doc' I stabbed at him 'I'm not a fucking coward' I had heard of PTSD. A shirkers illness, a made up condition for the weak and cowardly...
I was diagnosed with Acute PTSD the following January. I learnt about Combat Stress an organisation that is dedicated to helping troops who suffer from what they have seen in the service of the Crown.
I had counselling and spilled a lot of tears. In time I learnt to live with myself and what I had seen and done over there. I got to spend time with others like me. We shared stories and felt less alone.
Right now our troops are fighting a desperately nasty war. Casualties are mounting as every day goes by. There will be many who come home unscathed who will get on with life and not look back.
There will be others though who struggle with their experiences. Soldiers are self reliant, highly motivated and struggle to ask for help. It is our duty as a Nation to ensure they are looked after.
The Military Covenant has been shattered. It needs rebuilding - dedicated Hospitals must be found to help those with both physical and mental wounds.
It remains to be seen who will win the election in May. But whoever has the unenviable task of rebuilding Britain must also re-establish the Covenant with our Forces.
Our veterans will mostly try to cope with the trauma they have witnessed. It's what British soldiers do. There are organisations who can help them and they need to be spoken of. Not in hushed whispers but with pride.
Combat Stress will have a fight on their hands in the coming years as they struggle to help our unseen wounded. Honouring the Covenant is the least we can do...