21 June 2010

More about Ben

Ben Parkinson was a 6'4" Para. His dream as a boy was to join the army or to be more precise - the Paras.!

Ben got his wish at 16 when he was accepted into Harrogate Foundation College. On the first day there were over 1000 boys - scared, tearful, apprehensive - and there was Ben, head and shoulders above the rest, massive smile upon his face, attracting friends like a magnet and collecting smaller boys like a mother hen. Nothing has ever changed!

Ben had found his niche in life. Perfectly suited to the hard physical challenges, responding to discipline and displaying strong leadership characteristics, he committed heart and soul to his regiment and his mates.

Ben was in the first British vehicle across the border in the Iraq war in 2003. He fought the Battle of Rommalia Bridge on his 19th birthday.
Still determined on a lifelong career with 7 Para RHA, he served a 7 month Winter tour in Kosovo aged 20, before volunteering to deploy to Afghanistan with G Battery Gun group in 2003.

On 12th Sept, 2 weeks before the end of his tour, Ben was the rear gunner in a WIMIK landrover when the rear axle detonated a huge anti-tank mine. Ben took the full force of the blast.

Given no chance of survival, he was flown home immediately, to die with his family. Ben had other ideas! Terribly wounded, he remained in a deep coma for several months. We, his family, remained at his bedside throughout, kept going through the dark times by the constant flow of his regimental family. Right from the start, boys came from Larkhill Camp - under threat of disciplinary action. Boys came straight off the plane from Afghanistan, in full desert kit. Some sobbed, some sat in silence and held his hand, some laughed and joked as if Ben were still amongst them and taking his part in the banter.

The bright spot of our day was seeing the tall marooned berets striding onto the ward.We learnt how Ben represented his regiment in the infamous Ration Pack Challenge, that he was a member of the ' Brown Bandits' entertainment group - how he covered himself in the luminous fluid from inside a light stick and charged into camp one dark night.

We learnt that he had won a regimental 'Blind Date' contest in Iraq, the prize being dinner with a page 3 girl. When the girl gave him a signed photo and wrote 'you were the best' - Ben responded by writing 'I've had better'. Mostly what we learnt was the love, respect and utter commitment that Ben inspired from within his regiment - The Big Unit was going to leave a massive hole in 7 Para and the boys did not intend to let go.

Slowly, slowly, Ben began to improve. Never downhearted, never giving in, totally immune to self pity, Ben has gone from strength to strength. Still determined to return to his beloved 7 Para, he works tirelessly on his physical fitness, his speech, his memory and learning to walk on prosthetic limbs - a feat never before attempted by anyone having suffered such a severe head injury.

Ask Ben today about his injuries and he will say - ' Its no problem, I'm getting better, and it could have been worse - it could have been one of my mates'