Unionist MLA who lost legs in blast nominated for military award
An Ulster Unionist MLA who lost both his legs in Afghanistan has been shortlisted for a high-level military award in recognition of his work in helping other veterans.
Former Royal Irish soldier Andy Allen was just 19 when his life was changed for ever by a Taliban bomb.
Ten years on he is running the charity AA Veterans Support, which helps veterans in Northern Ireland, and has been shortlisted in the Inspirational category in the Soldiering On Awards, chaired by former Army chief of staff Lord Dannatt.
He told the Belfast Telegraph he felt incredibly proud to have been nominated.
He said: "Given where I was at day one, the doctors and nurses didn't think I would survive.
"Now to reflect on how far I have come and achieve a number of goals in my life, that was only possible with the unwavering help and support of my family and friends and the wider public, who have been phenomenal.
"I am very much grateful to have been given a second chance at life and I very much live each day like it's my last.
"I always try to remind myself where I was, in that I very nearly didn't survive the incident in Afghanistan."
West Tyrone-based charity Military And Police Support (MAPS) has also been shortlisted in the awards, in the Healthcare and Rehabilitation category.
MAPS chair Richard Scott said it was a proud moment for Northern Ireland to have two mentions on shortlists. The charity was formed around six years ago to look after the welfare of former members of the security forces in West Tyrone who served during Operation Banner.
Covering a large rural area from Clogher Valley to Magheramason, the charity has grown to 1,000 members, and helps people who need support - ranging from befriending to transport to hospital appointments - on a shoestring budget of just £70,000, with 30 volunteers and only one salaried part-time worker.
Mr Scott said: "It means an awful lot for us, and I am sure Andy is the same. What we do is very low-level, we have been going since 2012 and we knew from the very start that we had a lot of people, military, police and prison officers, who have been forgotten about.
"We cover a vast area and that area covers unique problems, north of Strabane, you can have UDR people who because their local benefits office was in Strabane it was a security risk for them to go and say anything. A lot of people, even to this day, have sat and not said anything."
The winners will be announced at a ceremony in April.