Belfast Telegraph

Royal Marine recounts horrors of war and mental health scars he continues to battle

A former Royal Marine Commando from Northern Ireland who served in Afghanistan has told of how he ended up addicted to drugs and in prison after returning from the horrors of war.

James, now 27, completed a tour of Afghanistan in 2011 when he was 19.

Speaking on the BBC’s Nolan Show on Radio Ulster he said what he witnessed in Afghanistan haunted him, including an incident where a close friend died.

“An IED [Improvised Explosive Device] went off, one of my mates stood on it,” he said. 

“He lost a leg and he was badly damaged and I was one of the guys who had to run over and put a tourniquet on his leg. Then he ended up dying. It was a mess, an absolute mess, that is all I can describe it, it was hell on earth.

"He was able to talk to me, I was trying to reassure him and then I put the morphine in his other leg. We were waiting on the helicopter to get him, unfortunately he passed away before doctors could get to him.

“Sometimes I think ‘did I put that tourniquet on tight enough, did I do it wrong or could I have done anything different?’

“It haunts me to this day. Maybe I could have got to him a bit quicker.”

It haunts me to this day.

James said he killed people when fighting in Afghanistan and that their faces haunted him at night when he tries to sleep.

He said: “At the time it feels like you have done your job and you don’t really feel any consequence but after, in the months leading after it, you actually think that that person had a family, that could have been a father, a son, a dad, that could have been anybody and you have taken their life off them.”

James said that he felt let down by the NHS and mental health services when he returned to Northern Ireland.

He became addicted to Tramadol and Diazepam prescribed to him by doctors to treat mental health and pain problems.

He became addicted to the prescription medications before moving on to other painkillers and Fentanyl- an opioid.

“It ruined me,” he said. “I became a completely different person. I became violent, I ended up in jail. I headbutted a police officer, I don’t know why.

“I am really sorry for what I have done, it was not me acting out, it was me in a psychosis attack and I didn’t understand.”

James served a three year jail term but upon release he was hospitalised around 15 times after overdosing.

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Andy Allen MLA

He is now receiving addiction treatment in England and has been 21 days sober. He lamented the lack of addiction and mental health services in Northern Ireland but said he received help from UUP MLA Andy Allen, who himself lost both legs after an IED blast in Afghanistan.

James said he hoped to become a recovery worker to help other people who have gone through similar problems as him.

“It’s not to late to rebuild my life, and that is what I am doing," he said.

Belfast Telegraph Digital

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