MAN UP OR QUIT
Army’s ‘callous’ ultimatum to hero medic hit by shell shock in botched rescue mission in Afghanistan
A BRITISH Army medic whose bravery was depicted in an awardwinning war movie has revealed how he was told to ‘man up or leave’ the Forces after suffering post traumatic stress disorder.
Corporal Paul ‘ Tug’ Hartley, 37, saved the lives of three horribly wounded comrades trapped in a Taliban minefield. His valiant attempts to treat them featured in Kajaki: The True Story, which won a Bafta award for its portrayal of one of the most dramatic and bloody incidents of Britain’s war in Afghanistan.
Corporal Hartley received the George Medal for his gallantry and became a poster boy for the Royal Army Medical Corps. But now he has revealed how ‘callous’ top brass ended his military career when he admitted he was mentally ill.
The father-of-three said he hoped he would receive his bosses’ support when he confided in them about his psychological issues. Instead, they gave him his marching orders.
He said: ‘ After the incident at Kajaki, I had dinners with the Duke of Gloucester. I was a hero who they wheeled out for special events. But when I needed help, I was told to lie.
‘My condition, which was rapidly worsening at the time, was all due to what had happened there. I was getting flashbacks to being in the minefield, seeing my mates’ bodies covered in blood.
‘I was becoming violent and causing difficulties at home with my wife.
‘ But my commanders’ response was sort yourself out and soldier on, because if you’ve got post traumatic stress disorder, you’ll have to be medically discharged. So I lost my military career, just like that.’ The film captured the incredible tension on September 6, 2006, as Cpl Hartley, played by Game Of Thrones actor Mark Stanley, rescued soldiers who had lost legs in two huge blasts.
With enemy gunmen closing in, the medic plotted a route through the minefield by throwing his kit bag on the ground and, when it did not explode, jumping on it. Eye witnesses said it was the bravest thing they had ever seen.
Then a UK helicopter arrived but without a winch to pull up the injured soldiers. Its backdraft set off another mine. Eventually a US chopper picked the men up, but by then Para commander Corporal Mark Wright had succumbed to his injuries.
Cpl Hartley, from Hereford, told how within months of coming home he was suffering nightmares, rowing with his wife and drinking heavily. So he sought help from his medical unit commanders.
He said: ‘When I saw my commanders in January 2008, they basically gave me the choice of hiding my illness or leaving. I knew covering up my symptoms wasn’t a viable option and insisted that I had to receive treatment. Our meeting ended quickly after that.
‘The Army’s treatment of me was callous. I was sick but they booted me back into civilian life. I wasn’t even allowed to attend the medical board hearing which decided my fate.
‘Almost a decade later, not enough has changed. Soldiers are suffering in silence because they know they’ll be treated as I was if they’re honest about mental illness.’
Since 2012, more than 1,800 Services personnel suffering from PTSD have been medically discharged. Soldiers with less severe cases receive treatment and are encouraged to continue their military careers.
Former head of the British Army General the Lord Dannatt has called for t he Government t o uphold pledges to support troops made as part of the Armed Forces Covenant.
An Army spokesman said: ‘ The Army works hard to reduce the sti gma associated with mental illness, encouraging those who need help to come forward to receive the care they deserve.’
‘I was sick but the Army treated me callously’
RAW COURAGE: Mark Stanley as hero medic Paul ‘Tug’ Hartley in Kajaki
POSTER BOY: Corporal Paul Hartley pictured on duty in Afghanistan in 2004