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He lost both legs (and nearly his life) in Afghanistan, but this former soldier from Northern Ireland still insists he's a lucky man... and is looking forward to his wedding

Former Irish Guard Bryan Phillips, a father-of-two from Carrickfergus, tells Ivan Little how he survived being blown up and shot by Taliban, his determination to walk again, and his fundraising efforts to thank those who helped him to recover

Bryan Phillips, who lost his legs in an explosion while on his second tour in Afghanistan, with his partner Natasha and daughter Poppy
Bryan Phillips, who lost his legs in an explosion while on his second tour in Afghanistan, with his partner Natasha and daughter Poppy
Bryan with Natasha, Poppy and son Archie
Bryan visited by Prince Charles while in hospital
Bryan Phillips and partner Natasha are planning their wedding
Bryan in the army

A disabled Carrickfergus war veteran who lost his legs in an IED blast in Afghanistan six years ago is planning to walk down the aisle with his new wife on his prosthetic limbs.

Bryan Phillips and his fiancee Natasha Milligan are preparing to get married in 2020, eight years after the ex-soldier was critically injured while serving in Helmand with the Irish Guards.

And Bryan (32), who is currently organising a massive fundraiser later this year for military charities, says he's a fortunate man. And not just in love. For he insists that in Afghanistan he was also lucky.

Which is a word you wouldn't normally expect to hear from someone who didn't just lose his legs in the Afghan ambush, but who was also hit by gunfire from the Taliban as he lay perilously close to death.

But 'lucky' is the only word that Bryan Phillips feels does justice to his experiences six years ago in the heat of battle in the searingly hot war zone.

"I really was fortunate," says the upbeat veteran. "Fortunate that I had such a brilliant group of colleagues around me who knew what to do in a medical emergency. I have them to thank for my life. I had stepped on the IED, which was buried in the ground and covered with weeds and grass.

"After the blast I quickly realised that my legs were gone above the knee. I wasn't screaming in pain - there was more of a burning sensation than anything else.

"Then the shooting started and a bullet that wounded me is still in my thigh because the medics thought that trying to get it out would have caused too much damage."

Quite remarkably, however, the Lance Corporal didn't lose consciousness or lose his sense of duty in the midst of the chaos.

Despite his severe injuries Bryan was still able to shout out orders to his shocked men to take cover or look away because some of them had never seen such horrendous injuries before.

As the gunfire intensified Bryan pretended he was dead to fool the Taliban, and eventually the insurgent who shot him after the blast was, in military parlance, "neutralised".

However, just about the last thing that he remembers from his brush with death was getting carried on to the helicopter that took him to Camp Bastion.

But the morphine and other drugs he received soon put him under - and how.

"When I came round I was in hospital in Birmingham. I knew nothing about Camp Bastion or the medivac operation to fly me back to the UK," he says. However, he recalls every last detail of his rehabilitation, which took place on and off over the following three years at the renowned Headley Court defence medical centre in Epsom, Surrey.

And he says that his positive response to his injuries helped him to cope on his long journey.

He adds: "I wasn't going to allow the Taliban to beat me or to let my injuries get me down. I was told that when I was learning to walk on my prosthetic legs my determined attitude was a factor in me progressing faster than some of the others at Headley Court.

"I did suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder but I told myself I was in the rehab centre to do a job, to find out how to walk again and to get home to my family and to live a normal life.

"It was hard work over there and eventually I got as far as I could. You are never going to be amazing on prosthetic legs, but I got as good I could.

"My care was transferred to Musgrave Park Hospital in Belfast but I'm pleased to say I haven't had too many problems."

And now with his novel but emotive fundraiser he is 'standing up' for everyone who helped get him back on his feet, or rather his prosthetic legs.

"I'm also doing it for all the soldiers who didn't come home and for their families to let them know their loved ones aren't forgotten," says Bryan, whose fundraiser, Poppy 100, is designed to raise at least £10,000 for the charities who supported him in the days, weeks, months and years of his rehabilitation at Headley Court.

His aim is to ensure that 100 wreathes are placed at 100 different war memorials in Northern Ireland in the week running up to Remembrance Sunday in November, with sponsors paying £100 for each of the floral tributes.

He says he wants to give something back to the people who rallied round him, like the Poppy Appeal and the Irish Guards Benevolent Fund, whose coffers he has already boosted with a sponsored hand-bike ride from Mizen Head to Malin Head.

He says: "This time I wanted to do something to mark the centenary of the end of World War One so the Ulster branch of the Irish Guards Association are helping me to lay the wreathes at 100 war memorials.

"We have had a great response already from politicians, businesses and families who want to pay their respects to ancestors who fought in the Great War."

It's not known yet which wreaths he will lay or where - apart from one.

"I will definitely be going to a little-known RAF memorial at Castle Archdale. We don't want to leave any of the memorials out," says Bryan, who reckons there are well over 100 war memorials - big and small - in Northern Ireland.

Bryan, who was born on a Remembrance Sunday and who's from Rathcoole, says he has always been "Army barmy".

He adds: "I always wanted to be a soldier. So when I was 18 I joined the Irish Guards after a recruitment campaign at my school."

And despite his life-changing injuries, he insists that he has never once regretted his decision to enlist.

He served in Basra and Baghdad in Iraq in 2007, when two musicians from the Irish Guards were killed.

Three years later he did his first tour of Afghanistan. And in 2012 he was back there with a platoon of Irish Guards who were attached to the Grenadier Guards. And that's when he was caught up in the Taliban ambush.

A number of his colleagues were killed and injured in Afghanistan during his time there. Bryan says in a message on a special Poppy 100 Facebook page: "I have comrades who were injured a lot more severely than me. I make the most of every day and embrace it. It means the world to me that I can put myself in the position of helping others and I will continue to do this so long as it's possible for me."

Bryan met his fiancee Natasha two years before the Afghan attack and they have two children - seven-month-old son Archie and daughter Poppy (2), who got her name for obvious reasons.

In 2016 the Belfast Telegraph reported how a passport problem in Rosslare for the then four-month-old Poppy stopped her family from travelling to the Euro finals in France, where her parents had tickets for Northern Ireland games.

Bryan, who was able to go to Paris for the game against Wales, has been a member of the Green and White Army for years and publicly criticised Fifa for its since-rescinded ban on Northern Ireland displaying poppies on players' jerseys.

The Linfield fan will ensure all the family's paperwork is in order for the big wedding, which it's hoped will take place in Gibraltar.

"We're going there next month to check things out. We just like the place," says Bryan, who now operates his own locksmith's company. He adds: "The business is going well and it suits me perfectly. So you see, I am a lucky man."

Belfast Telegraph


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