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Posted on Jun 14 2023 by Fiona Bailey

An active RAF reservist who served in Iraq has warned of the “silent struggle” that former personnel and veterans may be experiencing.

Speaking ahead of Armed Forces Day, which is held annually to show support for everyone who makes up the forces’ community, Martyn York says people need to be “reminded to reach out” for support.

The 46-year-old, who has had a long and varied career within the forces, said: “I’ve been called up a few times, but serving in Iraq was my main deployment. The main threat when I was there was indirect fire to the camp, such as rockets and mortars, which were fairly regular.

“Although I was a bit shell-shocked from my experience afterwards, I walked away from the deployment relatively unscathed both physically and mentally, but I am one of the lucky ones. There is a pattern of behaviour in the forces where people try to hide their feelings and experiences as they think it makes them look vulnerable. They bottle it up, masking their true feelings, insisting they can’t and won’t talk about what’s really going on, but we need to change that.”Jo Martyn York 1 v2

Jo York – Martyn’s wife – has supported his career choices throughout their 20 year relationship, but said she thinks sometimes the situation can be harder for the loved ones back at home.

Jo, who is a Recovery College Peer Trainer at the mental health charity St  Andrew’s Healthcare, said: “I really struggled with Martyn being away from home, particularly as our son was a baby at the time. One time I was on the phone to Martyn while he was in Iraq and a rocket went off. The phone went dead and I had no idea whether Martyn was still alive. It was awful.

“When he eventually finished his deployment and came home, Martyn was withdrawn and any sudden noise would impact him, he’d be on edge. It’s hard for those who serve our country – of course it is – but I don’t think people realise how challenging it can be for those who are left at home worrying about them.

“I still struggle with Martyn going away, I don’t sleep and I worry for his safety. But I also worry about the impact it has on the children. Our son was very aware when Daddy went away and his behaviour became very challenging.”

Martyn added: “The day I arrived I back in the UK from Iraq I was allowed to go home, but I had to report back to barracks then next day. When Ryan saw me in my uniform when I was getting the next day he thought that meant I was going away again and he went ballistic. That was very hard to see, but doing this is part of me – it’s part of my identity and is a way of life for me.”  

Years later Martyn recalls a specific memory one Remembrance Sunday when he was with his son who was a Cub Scout at the time. They both spotted an older man who was wearing lots of medals.

Martyn said: “I thought Ryan was going to say to me something about how brave the man was, but he didn’t. Instead he said to me ‘those medals mean he must have been away from his family a lot’. That was tough to hear and just highlights why supporting specific campaigns such as Armed Forces Day is so important for all those involved.”

Jo and Martyn will both be in attendance at a forthcoming event which is being held on Friday, June 23 from 11-2pm to mark the day. It is being hosted by the St Andrew’s Healthcare’s Community Partnerships team’s veteran service, which is part of the Op COURAGE programme, an NHS mental health specialist service which has been designed to support serving personnel due to leave the military, reservists, veterans and their families.

The special event will take place on St Andrew’s Healthcare’s public-facing site – Workbridge – to show support for the all of those who make up the Armed Forces community. All are welcome – including veterans, active personnel, families of serving troops, cadets, as well as the wider community across the town and beyond.

Refreshments will be served and there will also be an arts exhibition displaying different artworks created by the veterans themselves.