Like many Veterans, Nathan Pickering struggled in the transition to civilian life after leaving the Army. He admits; leaving the forces and the job you loved is tough. Nathan struggled to get help from support networks that would meet his needs due to the trauma associated with his younger life, and which included PTSD acquired from tours, which included Afghanistan and Iraq. As a result, trauma led to Nathan having to accept that leaving the Army, had for him, meant his life had lost its purpose.
Nathan saw the article Armed Forces Veterans ‘Re-Engage’ students as mentors in local schools and contacted me. Nathan wanted to show what he could do to help kids in his community. However, the reality was vastly different. Re-Engage wasn’t just about what he could do to help kids in schools.
Nathan knew his skills in life, learned before, during and after leaving the army, would help. The reality was how ‘Re-Engage’ would help him. And it did; Re-Engage gave Nathan his life back…
Nathan Pickering, I’m not keen to label behaviour…
‘I’m not keen about going into details about my learning difficulties and ADHD. I don’t mind people knowing about it. However, when instructing kids, I am always keen not to label behaviour because I know many reasons people do this. However, I don’t mind mentioning my PTSD because it relates to my life and how I learn from it instead of it controlling me.’
‘I had a rough upbringing when I was a young child. I was homeless on a pier for the best part of a year until I hitched a lift north to find the family I hadn’t seen for over eight years. Do you know I could write a story about dragging all my belongings (mostly fishing gear) and knocking on my nans, uncles, and aunties’ doors, only to find out they were on holiday?’
‘I spent half a week in the cow fields at the back of their garden, waiting. I then spent the next six months with my aunt and uncle, my Nan and my brother. With their love and support, I thrived at so many things, and I saw how bad my parents were because they never showed me love. I was also used to thinking I would never be good at anything, but with love and good parenting, and proper support, I smashed everything I did.’
‘I have to put double the effort and practice in than most because of my barriers. But, again, I now use them to ensure I’m the best version of myself and aim to be become good at everything I do.’
The Army brought me PTSD.
‘When I joined the Army, I struggled. I was a bit of a shocker, to be honest; but I got stuck in it. During my career, I have been on several tours of Afghanistan that changed my life, one being when I had just turned 18 and I was miles from safety or electricity. Afghanistan changed me, and I worked up to Section Commander after completing one of the most difficult military courses there are.’
‘In Iraq, I was a Force Protection Commander. I was in charge of the safety of my men and members of the British Army, delivering courses to up to 300 Iraq soldiers. Sadly, I lost one of my men, which changed my life forever, even though I didn’t know how much. I was also the last person you would have thought would get PTSD. I loved the Army, and if I could, I’d have stayed on until the end.’
‘When I got diagnosed with PTSD, the psychiatric and medical board didn’t want to risk me carrying on in the Armed Forces. It broke me because I knew nothing else, and neither did I want to. I felt the Army drop and forget about you once you leave the Army. Also, there are many cases, like mine, where medical documents don’t get to GPs in civvy street.’
Civvy street don’t recognise my Army qualifications.
‘It’s frustrating. The courses I completed in the Army, like teaching (Skill at Arms) and Leadership and Management, BLS, Train the Trainer and many more, that civvy street don’t recognise; for whatever reason.’
‘It would be a massive step to make transitioning easier for Veterans leaving the Armed Forces if they became recognised. I’m also lucky; I’ve got a very strong wife and amazing kids. Thankfully, with their support I am finally getting the help I need because of Veterans Charities who have saved my life.’
‘I am one of the lucky ones because, unlike many others, I am alive. I’m fortunate I still have my wife, kids, and a small circle of friends and family. PTSD is what I can only describe as the black soul taking over me and making me do things I hated when in its grip.’
‘I did many sports in the Army, from boxing and football to carp fishing, and I have commanded men worldwide. I’ve travelled and seen the world, and I know how different the world is everywhere. Also, I’ve seen life and worked alongside lads, mostly from broken backgrounds. I think Veterans, especially Infantry Veterans, will receive help from Re-Engage because we work with children from similar backgrounds; they can relate to us.’
My future is promising; I’m overwhelmed.
‘On that note, I have to say, Chris Chudleigh, what a guy he is. I’ve just finished my first course in Re-Engage at the Lowry Academy after Chris gave me the opportunity to collaborate with him. He is now someone I call a friend, and what he has built is amazing; he is a true inspiration. Chris brought me on board, and I saw the change we made to the students in the Re-Engage programme. Also, I see how changing children’s lives has given my life meaning, and I know this is what I want to do forever.’
‘Chris and I have spoken at length and attended many meetings with people who have the same thoughts about Re-Engage. The future looks promising; Chris has asked me to take the lead on the North. Honestly, I’m overwhelmed.’
‘Re-Engage has given me a sense of belonging since leaving the Armed Forces. I know Re-Engage is going to be massive. I also know the plans Chris and I have to help veterans, and young people, help me. We are also planning to deliver Re-Engage to kids from residential care soon, and we should do because they need Armed Forces mentorship as much as we need them.’
Leaving the Army; Re-Engage gave me my life back.
‘We need Armed Forces Veterans to help us support young people on Re-Engage. If you want to find out more, do what I did and get in touch and have a chat. I’m glad I did because it is, honestly, the best thing I have ever done. I got my life back after leaving the Army. Sometimes, I never thought it would happen, but it did.’
‘I am so proud to mentor students in the Re-engage programme. We had some magic moments today as we took a selected few to train at a local gym. The gym owner coached them; he is an experienced coach and he controlled sparring. Only one lad had ever boxed previously, and they have done this in less than 16 contact days with us. I mean, you ask anyone who’s been in a boxing ring; it takes guts.’
‘One of the smallest boys volunteered to spar with the biggest student. He showed immense courage and should be justifiably proud of his performance. All the kids have grown over the course and it has been reflected in their performances elsewhere in school, too.’
‘To all those who stood in the ring; well done. You showed true heart and also, it is amazing to see how far you have come. Myself, and Chris couldn’t be more chuffed. It’s been MAGICAL to see them change in front of our eyes.’
Are you our next Re-Engage mentor?
The final word comes from Major Chris Chudleigh, ‘So we’ve finally taken Re-Engage to social media, please have a look at the Facebook page and like us. We take military veterans into schools to connect with kids who aren’t doing as well as they might. We use boxing and rugby to build the bonds then we simply develop that relationship and mentor them. It is the most immensely satisfying course to deliver.’
Many of the young people don’t necessarily come from deprived areas; they may have bigger stuff going on outside of school and need mentors they will relate with. Therefore, academic qualifications don’t matter. What really matters is you believe in young people to prevent exclusion, keep them in mainstream schools where they belong, and reduce the risk of the criminal exploitation lurking outside of school gates.
Together, we are stronger.
We know that leaving the Armed Forces, for many veterans is difficult and the transition often breaks us. However, this is true of young people who are disengaged. If you are interested in finding out more about the Re-Engage programme mentoring young people in mainstream schools; please contact us on the form below. As Nathan shows, a chat is all it takes to turn your life, and the lives of young people in schools around.