A North Yorkshire veteran has praised the charity Help for Heroes for the support he has received in helping him “open his eyes” to opportunities beyond his injuries.

Through the charity’s Band of Brothers network, which provides life-long support to those with a career limiting/ending injury or illness attributable to service, Mark Appleby says he has come to realise there is a wealth of support out there for him.

“Band of Brothers means I’m not alone,” said Mark, 43, who lives in Catterick but is originally from Leicester. He was medically discharged from the Army in 2014 after a knee replacement.

“Previously I felt like a fraud with my injury because I am not walking around with prosthetics or in a wheelchair but talking to fellow veterans made me realise I need support too. My injuries might not be that obvious but I am not alone. Being a part of Band of Brothers makes me feel valued,” he said.

Mark joined the Army in 1988, straight from school, starting with the Light Infantry and then the King’s Own Royal Border Regiment, which amalgamated in 2006 to become the Duke of Lancaster Regiment.

He served all over the world, including four tours of Northern Ireland, Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan.

“I enjoyed the Army,” he said. “My Dad and my Uncle were in the Royal Marines and my Grandfather had served in the Army so for me to join up, it was in my blood.”

Mark first injured his knee in 1991 during a tour of Belfast where he tripped on a kerbstone wearing heavy equipment. Over the years, wear and tear doing infantry work and playing rugby in the Army caused his knee to deteriorate.

In 2012, Mark had to have a knee replacement, which left him unable to carry the required weights for exercises and he could not run further than 100metres without pain.

“I could not get into the fire position on the ranges and I also struggled to stand on parade,” he said.

Mark also suffered with painful ankles after falling up a flight of stairs in Germany in 1991 but just thought he had sprained them. However, an examination in 2010 revealed he had actually previously fractured them and both ankles have now been reconstructed.

“The reconstruction on my ankles has made things much better and I can now do light stuff in the gym but I am still in a lot of pain with my knee, especially in the cold,” he said. “At night, I get a lot of twitching in my leg and it wakes me up. I call it my ‘disco’ leg.”

Mark first heard about Help for Heroes in 2008 when he was based in Cyprus and raised some money for the charity – little realising he would later need their help.

He visited Phoenix House Recovery Centre in 2015 and has undertaken a number of courses through the charity, including a First Aid mental health course, First Aid at Work and a land-based skills course, looking at estate management and game keeping.

“Help for Heroes has really opened my eyes to a lot more opportunities, such as a wide variety of courses,” Mark said. “I am hoping to do a coaching course in the hope of becoming a rugby coach in the future.”

Mark said visiting Phoenix House and talking to fellow veterans always puts a smile on his face.

“I do miss the camaraderie of the military,” he said. “Every time I visit Phoenix House, I feel really happy. Being part of Band of Brothers makes me feel connected. My children really enjoy it and have been invited to events through the network. It provides support for the whole family.”

The Help for Heroes Band of Brothers fellowship has rapidly expanded in recent months, with more than 4,000 members across the country.

The growth is most rapid in the north of the UK, where there is a large veteran community.

In December alone, 33 new veterans and/or serving personnel from the North West joined the network while 20 joined in the North East. In January, 14 new people joined in the North West, 16 in the North East and 14 in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Band of Brothers, open to both men and women, provides a whole host of activities and support for veterans and serving personnel, from once-in-a-lifetime holidays to days out to meeting others who are living through similar experiences as well as financial and welfare support from the Help for Heroes Quick Reaction Fund.

The Band of Sisters network is open to the loved ones, who care for those who have sustained career limiting/ending injuries or illness during or attributable to service.

As a result of the success in the North, Help for Heroes is now looking to appoint regional coordinators in the North West and Northern Ireland, which, along with the Scottish coordinator Mary Wilson, will be managed by Lucy Wray, Band of Brothers and Sisters Manager North, who is based at the Help for Heroes Phoenix House Recovery Centre in Catterick, North Yorkshire.

She said: “The BoB network is rapidly expanding in the north, which is fantastic news. We are organising more and more events across the North West, North East, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

“Band of Brothers offers fellowship, support and a listening ear to our Heroes.  It’s about meeting people facing the same sort of struggles.

“We are looking forward to welcoming new coordinators in the regions in the coming months, which will mean we can support our Heroes further.

“We understand that no recovery journey follows the same path which is why it so important that a holistic, individual approach to support is available.  We are so pleased that Mark has found such help through the network.”

To find out how Help for Heroes can support you and your family, call 01980 844280.

Anyone who served in the Army, Royal Navy, Royal Marines or Royal Air Force who needs the support of Help for Heroes Phoenix House Recovery Centre in Catterick can self-refer by calling 01748 834148.

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