Jan 18, 2024

Dogs like Boo can mean the difference between life and death for veterans

After Craig MacLellan was saved by his dog, his team of medical experts and dog trainers went on to help other war heroes and have been nominated for a Sun Military Award

SUFFERING from battle stress, former Royal Marine Commando Craig MacLellan walked with his dog to recce the spot where he would take his own life.

But as if she knew what he was about to do, Fudge the chocolate Labrador went rigid.

Craig, 48, says: "She’d never done anything like it before and I actually said out loud, ‘I’m not going to do anything, girl’ and I kept my promise."

Instead, Craig contacted Combat Stress, which helps former service ­personnel ­suffering from mental health ­problems.

The charity's experts diagnosed Craig, who joined the Royal Marines at 16, as suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

In 1989 he was at Deal Barracks in Kent when an IRA bomb went off, killing 11 ­Marines and injuring 21.

Craig quit the Marines but later signed up for the Scots Guards, with whom he served in Northern Ireland.

Craig says: "I saw horrific things that, even now, I can't speak of. Friends were involved in incidents, and I lost one of them. A policewoman was shot right next to me."

Dog-lover Craig was allowed to take Fudge into therapy sessions where other veterans were being helped by Combat Stress.

He says: "What happened next was ­amazing. It started with Fudge ambling round the room and somehow finding the person who needed the most support.

"Just by quietly sitting next to them, ­allowing them to stroke her, Fudge seemed to find a way to get them to open up"

Other countries including America, Canada, Australia and Holland had long been using assistance dogs.

In 2012, with the support of Combat Stress and two universities, Craig started his own charity, Veterans With Dogs.

This remarkable cause, based in Newton Abbott, Devon, harnesses the healing power of companionship with the animals.

More than 100 ex-military personnel have benefited from canine therapy, and 30 veterans now have their own assistance dogs.

These specially trained animals help with daily routines, from opening doors to getting them up in the morning to face the day.

Along with Fudge, now his loved family pet, Craig has assistance dog Boo.

Boo can even fetch his owner's medication. Craig says: "When I wake from a nightmare, for instance, I just shout out the word ‘light’, and she switches it on.

"If I sense a panic attack coming on, I have a safe command that means I can kneel and she will jump up and put her paws round my neck, a physical sensation that helps me calm down quickly, wherever I am.

"If I’m in a public place where I can't cope, I give her the command to get me out."

Craig has had six-year-old Boo since she was eight weeks old.

He says: "Boo was the blueprint for the programme. We expected to see results after a couple of years but by the time she was six months old she was doing it all."

Now the charity has a waiting list for assistance dogs like Boo, which cost £20,000 each to be fully trained.

One, Ziggy, is now with Richard Mearns, 35, a former Lance Corporal in the Royal Army Medical Corps, from Croydon, South London, who served in Iraq. They will both be attending the Millies tonight.

Craig says: "For our veterans, having a dog can be the difference between life and death. I hate to say that, I really do, but it's that important to the guys."

Craig and his team of medical experts and dog trainers were delighted to be nominated.

He says: "The Millies is the best of the best. Just to have that recognition is fantastic."

INVICTUS Games silver medallist, Sapper Clive Smith, was able to compete in September's event thanks to a remarkable charity that supports Britain's bomb disposal heroes.

A £3,500 grant from the Felix Fund's helped Clive, 33, get a bespoke wheelchair for the wheelchair rugby at Toronto.

Former Royal Engineer Clive, of Cannock, Staffs, lost both legs in a bomb blast in Afghanistan in 2010.

He is just one of dozens to benefit from the fund, which was set up in 2011.

It has since given out more than £1.5million in grants and assistance.

Bomb search and disposal experts are different to other military because they deploy to war zones as individuals.

Felix Fund's chief executive Melanie Moughton says: "When they would land back at Brize Norton, everybody would go their separate ways. Because of the experiences they had gone through, there were a lot of issues.

"People were dealing with it in different ways and felt they needed their own charity. We work across all three services, and the Met's counter-terror unit.*

"These teams would get back together for a week's adventure ­training where they could meet over a beer in a safe environment."

Explosive Ordnance Disposal gets around 2,500 call-outs to everything from rogue fireworks to the Manchester Arena bombing, meaning they are "deployed at very, very short notice which puts pressure on families".

Melanie, the charity's head for nearly three years, adds: "I was so excited when I heard we were being nominated for a Sun Millie. It is a phenomenal accolade for us."

NATHAN HOLLAND was a troubled teenager who had been excluded from school ten times.

But four years later, he was voted head boy at his school, studied ­business at college and has begun work as a trainee accountant.

And three months ago the boy who avoided games at school ran the 13-mile Great North Run alongside Chief of the Air Staff, Sir Stephen ­Hillier.

Much of the credit for Nathan's transformation is due to the Jon Egging Trust (JET), set up in the name of a Red Arrows pilot who died during a Bournemouth air display.

In just five years this remarkable charity has helped change the lives of 10,000 under-achieving young people like Nathan, 19, from Downham Market, Norfolk, by introducing them to military volunteers who can inspire teenagers to do well.

Teenagers on the JET Blue Skies ­programme spend time over three years visiting RAF, Navy and MoD bases, learning from military ­personnel who pass on skills and, above all, fire ­enthusiasm into the kids.

Flt Lt Jon Egging, 33, from Rutland, was experiencing more than six times G-Force in his Hawk Jet T1 jet Red 4 when he lost consciousness and crashed at Eastbourne in August 2011.

His widow, Dr Emma Egging, 38, who now works as JET's chief executive, said: "When Jon became part of the Red Arrows he understood the power of the red suit as a magnet to engage and inspire.

"After his death it felt like a natural step to set up a charity that was the ethos of Jon, the ethos of the RAF, the Reds and the military.

"Jon would be incredibly proud of being nominated."

WHEN Salman Abedi detonated his suicide bomb at the Manchester Arena, paramedic Philip Keogh was on night duty miles from the city.

Controllers asked him to return to Rochdale ambulance station and await further instructions as the terror attack unfolded.

But father-of-two Philip, 40, is also a Reservist Army medic who has treated bomb victims at Camp Bastion in ­Afghanistan.

Believing his specialist military expertise would be needed, he drove his rapid response vehicle towards Manchester, where dozens of victims — many of them young girls — had been maimed.

For his actions, Philip has been shortlisted for Best Reservist in the Millies.

Now in their tenth year, The Sun Military Awards shine a spotlight on incredible acts of gallantry and grit.

Philip, a Corporal with the Manchester-based 355 Medical Evacuation Unit, says: "Before they said to go to Manchester, I was already on my way.

"One of the strange memories of that ­evening for me was the drive there. My legs just felt really funny because the adrenaline was pumping.

"I was thinking that maybe I could help out a little bit more because I’d been in Afghanistan and done the training, through the battle courses the military do.

"One of my bosses, Dan Smith, said I should go and start doing triage in and around Victoria train station."

Because of the ongoing inquiry into the bombing, in which 22 people died and 250 were wounded, Philip cannot reveal too much detail about his part in the horrific events of May 22.

But such was the scale of the devastation — and the extent to which emergency services were stretched — that he was soon drawing on all his military training to save lives.

Despite the threat of a second bomb, he identified the injured and prioritised them for treatment.

Realising that patient evacuation was becoming an issue, Philip took charge by coordinating the stretcher lift of patients.

He worked tirelessly as part of a large team of rescuers to control the scene, detailing crews to undertake treatment and delivering life-saving care himself.

His dedication, bravery and calm in the chaos saved numerous lives.

Philip says: "I have a strong sense of duty to the community that I live with and that I work for.

"I joined the reserve as a medic because I like to help people, to serve and to make a difference.

"We do what we do and we do our job at great personal cost. It's not just physical but the psychological damage we endure because we, as ordinary people doing extraordinary things, have to endure some very nasty sights.

"People touched by the events in ­Manchester will always carry that scar with them. I know I will."

On being nominated for a Millie, he adds: "It's quite humbling to be nominated for something which I feel is part of my job.

"In some ways, I feel the recognition it has brought me is undeserved because it is for something that should never have happened.

"Countless people, not just ambulance, fire police and civilians, played their part in the aftermath. I have never been prouder to be a Mancunian."

FOUR reservists, led by Lieutenant ­Commander Beaton, play a crucial role in keeping perilous shipping routes in the Middle East safe from pirates and drug smugglers.

Based in Dubai, this small but vital unit uses military and commercial information to operate a 24-hour advice service to merchant ships.

The team, who have left their jobs, families and friends for the two-year posting, also coordinate rescue missions when things go wrong.

Like on the evening of April 8 this year, when the master of the bulk carrier OS35 reported that his 600ft ship had been boarded by pirates in the Gulf of Aden. Iain, 51, from Edinburgh, and his team discovered that the crew of 19 Syrians had locked themselves in the ship's strong room. Meanwhile, the pirates were trying to smoke them out.

Iain said: "A merchant ship nearby saw the OS35 was on fire and went towards the ship to try to help.

"I was screaming down the phone to the company's security officer, ‘Don't let your ship go anywhere near’. So they stood off and reported everything they could see."

Next morning five military vessels, including ships from the Chinese and Indian navies, arrived.

Using Iain's information, the crew was ­rescued and the pirates’ crew arrested. Former bank manager Iain added of his nomination: "To my mind it's really a team honour rather than an individual."

SQUADRON Leader Sue Shilladay has been a tireless servant of the Cadet Force for decades – and a trailblazer. She joined in 1978, becoming one of the first women to be ­commissioned into Bridlington School Combined Cadet Force.

She was also its first female ­Contingent Commander and fought for female recruits to be treated equally. However she initially had to fight prejudice, too.

She says: "I refused to participate in the first RAF camp for girls. It was arranged as a single-sex camp with a programme made easier for girls.

"Instead, we went to the mixed Army camp." During her long career Sue, from Bridlington, has inspired more than 5,000 youngsters with the best qualities of the Armed Forces – self-confidence, leadership skills, teamwork and social responsibility.

She says: "I was responsible for both male and female cadets but my role allowed girl cadets to see that they could aspire to ­membership of the Armed Forces."

One of Sue's proudest moments was taking a group of youngsters on a live firing exercise in the Mediterranean on board HMS Gloucester.

The ship's captain was one of her former cadets.

Of her Millies nod Sue says: "I’m quite overwhelmed. I see it as a ­recognition of the contribution of all those who work with cadets."

One cadet said: "Sue really is an incredibly inspirational leader."

AS flood water thundered around him and nitrogen turned the air toxic last April, Petty Officer Jones knew he had to close a door to contain a leak that ­threatened lives on board HMS Tyne.

But it also meant condemning his mate Rob Knott to almost certain death.

Petty Officer Jones, 40, a married dad- of-two from Emsworth, Hants, said: "Rob is a good friend of mine. You hope you never have to make that decision."

Catastrophe struck while the ship was docked at Faslane, HM Naval Base Clyde.

A fire exercise triggered a water leak in the internal fire extinguisher system. Meanwhile nitrogen, designed to stop a fire spreading, was seeping in.

With PO Knott inside, he ordered everyone out and closed the hatch.

PO Jones then took the breathing apparatus from another sailor and went back into the room.

He said: "It was pitch black. You couldn't see anything – just water splashing into your face."

Eventually he found his friend lying lifeless and not breathing, and dragged him out up a flight of stairs.

Toby said: "As the oxygen started to get back into his body, he gave what I can only describe as a life breath.

"It was one of those harrowing sounds I will never be able to forget.

"Closing the door, condemning a man, it was harrowing.

"You hope no one has to go through that. But we all got out alive."

WHEN a terror trio struck at the heart of London, off-duty soldier Jared Bambridge ran into the carnage – while everyone else was fleeing for their lives.

The young lieutenant was walking home from a theatre trip with his girlfriend when Khuram Butt, Rachid Redouane and Youssef Zaghba carried out their attack by London Bridge.

They killed eight people and injured 48 others on June 3 – but the death toll would have been higher were it not for Lt Bambridge, 23.

He treated around ten injured people, saving multiple lives.

He said: "It wasn't a pleasant thing to happen, but I am really glad that I was there and able to help people."

Jared, from York, first went to the aid of a 51-year-old man with blood gushing from two stab wounds.

As he applied pressure to the injuries, bursts of gunfire rang out.

Using his first aid training, he spent two hours treating four more bleeding casualties and helped more to safety outside the safety cordon – all despite an ongoing bomb threat.

He said: "There were so many people lending hands. It was fantastic how everyone – civilians or services – all naturally gelled."

Despite his heroics, he remains typically humble, saying: "I don't expect anything in return for what I did."

DESIGNATED base duty driver Lance Corporal Lindsay Clarke, 28, was collecting Corporal Vicki Keats, 32, from Gatwick Airport after an exercise overseas when the pair were flagged down and told there had been a crash.

Cpl Keats said: "I called the police as we were running there. I saw the driver was still in the car – which was smoking."

A red Corsa had careered off the country lane, smashed through the tree line, flipped over and was about to burst into flames.

Cpl Keats said: "We tried to pull him out but we couldn't, so Lindsay got inside."

L/Cpl Clarke added: "I got in ­underneath him, took his seatbelt off and I sort of got him on to my shoulder and pushed him out of the car.

"At that point Vicki had his arm so I had to get around him and we dragged him over the side of the car to get him out."

The pair, both based at RAF Benson, Oxfordshire, estimate the car caught fire less than a minute after they got the driver, a young carer, free.

They administered first aid until emergency services arrived. Police praised the pair's "moral fibre" for intervening at enormous risk to their own lives.

L/Cpl Clarke, said: "It was Army ­training kicking in – it was about getting that guy out of there."

WHEN Portsmouth Harbour was dredged to make way for new aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth, more than five tonnes of Nazi bombs were hauled up from the seabed.

Decades on from the Luftwaffe's ­Second World War aerial bombardment of the seaport, the unexploded devices were once again threatening the city.

And the fearless frogmen of Southern Diving Unit 2 were there to save the day.

Lieutenant Commander Jonny ­Campbell, Officer in Charge of the unit, said: "Purely from the amount of ­ordnance dropped or deployed during World War Two, we knew we were going to have our hands full.

"The grit and effort shown by the team was formidable."

The Portsmouth-based unit, just 25 strong, has responded to 34 major alerts since dredging began two years ago.

Every time the dredge crew found something, the divers would swim down into the murky waters to explore it. If it was a decaying device – liable to blow at any time – the harbour would be closed and the explosives dragged out to sea and detonated.

Lt Cdr Campbell said: "It is a sense of fulfilment that you are making the ­Channel safer and almost paving the way for the aircraft carrier which is the future of the Royal Navy. It is great."

THE UK's on-call warship has been ready to react to any threat in British waters at a moment's notice.

HMS St Albans and her crew of 200 have circumnavigated the country multiple times, guarding us from threats.

They were never more tested than when a Russian aircraft carrier and other ships sailed up the English Channel.

As President Putin's flotilla steamed within miles of our coast, HMS St Albans shadowed her every move.

Commander Chris Ansell said: "You see people at their best when they are doing something that they have been trained for. But it was not a surprise.

"We track these things all the time and we are prepared for these things."

The price of miscalculation was enormous but, thanks to the Navy's man-marking job, the Russians passed safely.

Cdr Ansell said: "You can count on several hands the sorts of things that could happen either deliberately or by accident, particularly with ageing bits of hardware using busy shipping lanes.

"We certainly felt very happy that it was a job well done at the end of it."

He added: "The crew have far exceeded my expectations and my expectations were pretty high."

On the crew being nominated for a ­Millie, he says: "The whole ship's ­company is over the moon."

HUNDREDS of serving troops volunteer their time to back ambulance service comrades saving lives in a Herculean job largely unseen by the public.

One such scheme is bolstering the vital work of the South Central ­Ambulance Service right now, with amazing results.

Between September and August, ­Military Co-Responders attended 5,626 incidents, conducting an impressive 2,496 volunteering shifts.

Since the start of October they have seen four "positive returns" – where patients’ hearts have stopped but were breathing by the time they got to ­hospital. And they do it all on top of their day jobs in the military.

Flt Lt Claire Stanley, 36, based at RAF Halton, Bucks, is an aerospace battle manager by profession. But she is also acting team leader at the RAF Halton Co-responder team. She said: "We want to give back into the communities we are part of. We want to help." The organisation is a charity and fundraises to ­operate rapid response vehicles to reach remote regions – which ambulances struggle to reach at speed.

Flt Lt Stanley added: "It's all voluntary, we do it in our spare time. We have rapid response cars supported by the ­ambulance service. On the team being up for a Millie, Flt Lt Stanley said: "We’re honoured and quite surprised. None of us do this for any glory or fame."

FOURTEEN sailors owe their lives to the bravery and leadership of Leading Seaman Sally Hughes and her team.

On February 11 this year, Type 45 destroyer HMS Dragon was ­heading for Lisbon when a mayday call was received from a stricken yacht 500 miles south-west off Land's End.

Sailing through the night more than 500 nautical miles, the Royal Navy ship arrived on the scene as the yacht was taking on water and drifting further out into a worsening Atlantic storm.

LS Hughes, 28, from Gosport, Hants, and her crew were there to save the sailors. She said: ­"Conditions were worse than we would ever think about putting the boat out in. We were in gale force winds, 50mph at times, and 18ft waves."

Despite the danger, LS Hughes along with bowman AB Kyle Porteous and the ship's PT instructor Ryan Billington made 13 approaches over a gruelling two-hour period to lift all the crew off the stricken yacht and ferry them back to HMS Dragon 800 yards away.

During one run, waves crashed the smaller rescue boat into the side of HMS Dragon and LS Hughes injured her arm but continued the rescue.

She said: "I just think that day I was doing my job and all 14 people got to go back to their families. It's enough for me to know that I did my job well."

RESERVIST nurse Kirsty Lyon-Taylor helped save the heroine behind the film I Dreamed of Africa.Animal campaigner and conservationist Kuki Gallmann, 74, who was played by Kim Basinger in the movie, was shot twice in the stomach by raiders at her ranch in Kenya in April.

She was being accompanied off her ranch by armed wildlife rangers when one spotted three people.

Before she could turn, a shot hit Kuki "like a punch in the lower abdomen" as she sat in the driver's seat of her open-backed Land Cruiser.

She fell sideways and felt another bullet tear through her guts before the rangers chased the ambushers away.

Kuki rang to ask for a neighbour's helicopter which took her to British Army medics at the Training Unit Kenya base. Among those waiting to give Kuki a blood transfusion and staunch the bleeding during a life-or-death flight to Nairobi was reservist Medical Emergency Response Team nurse Kirsty Lyon-Taylor, 35.

She said: "Caring for the patient as a tight two-person team was frenetic.

"It was only when she was safely delivered to hospital that I realised how much I’d been working and doing to save the patient's life."

While she was recovering Kuki contacted the military medical team. Kirsty, from Brize Norton, Oxfordshire, says: "She sent us a very kind message thanking us for our efforts to help her. It was really touching.

"I was simply doing my job to the best of my ability and was fortunate to be working with an experienced team."

WHEN a tanker sank in the Indian Ocean this summer, HMS Monmouth's crew were due to go on leave but turned round to race to the scene.

As the merchant ship Rana 2 went under, other ships saved 12 but two crew were still missing in the water.

From 300 feet above the water Air Engineering Technician Stu Rogers – a winchman on the ship's Wildcat Mk 2 helicopter – tried to spot survivors among hundreds of pallets and debris in the oil-slicked sea.

Stu, 29, from Marlborough, Wilts, says: "We were almost out of fuel when we spotted a man face-down in the water. He wasn't in his life jacket and had obviously drowned."

As they were about to pull the victim from the water a merchant ship nearby spotted a survivor.Stu says: "In harness, I was lowered down into the water and got hit by 30ft waves, nearly as high as a house.

"I managed to swim over and ­reassure him when I was hit by a wave. I was upside down in the water on the wire and had to let go of the guy.

"The crew lifted me out of the water and we lowered a strop down without me in it and the guy managed to get in it and we lifted him out."

HMS Monmouth and her crew have spent this year on maritime security operations, policing the high seas. They pulled off a helicopter rescue and a major drugs bust.

On March 6, Commander Ian Feasey and his crew of 225 set sail for the ­Middle East, returning in December, after patrolling though the Arabian Gulf, Red Sea and Indian Ocean. In June, they received a mayday ­signal from a vessel in the Indian Ocean, 400 miles east of Somalia.

The vessel had sunk in a storm and one sailor remained in the water. HMS Monmouth launched her ­chopper and rescued the last crew member.

Cdr Feasey, said: "Our winch man managed to pluck the Indian sailor from the water in a 40ft swell in an oil slick with seconds to spare before the aircraft had to return for lack of fuel."

Soon they were back in the policing role – spending two days tracking a fishing dhow feared to be ferrying drugs. Cdr Feasey added: "When we got on board, the chaps moved about three tonnes of ice from a fish hold and, in a hidden compartment, found three quarters of a tonne of drugs. The haul, worth £65million, was headed to Britain.

Talking about the nomination, Cdr Feasey said: "When I told the ship's ­company [of the Millies nomination] they were overwhelmed. This makes them feel extremely ­valued for all the hard work they put in."

THE Rangers of 1st Battalion Royal Irish Regiment were despatched to Kabul on a mission to keep the peace.

In May, they were called out when an IS suicide car bomber targeted a Nato convoy, leaving scores injured.

Major Paul Martin, Officer Commanding B Company, said: "There were a number of Afghan civilians killed and wounded and clearly a few of their vehicles were damaged."

Later this year, Kabul was rocked by a massive blast outside the German Embassy that killed roughly 150 Afghan civilians and wounded more than 600.

Maj Martin said: "When something of that magnitude, size and scale in that area goes off, everything is sort of exposed and a lot of people are in a lot of distress.

"We saved the lives of quite a few of the Afghan security workers and we also helped to extract around four of the most seriously wounded from the German Embassy."

Around 250 Royal Irish troops deployed between December 2016 and last August to Kabul, training Afghan ­security forces and standing ready to react to emergencies.

Without their rapid reaction times and extremely professional conduct, the number of casualties in both incidents could have been much higher.

Maj Martin added: "I will clearly be biased but the guys worked flawlessly throughout."

FEARSOME Reaper drones are saving lives every day in the fight against IS.

Crews operating from bases at RAF Waddington and America's Creech Air Base in Nevada have been flying ­continuous missions as part of ­Operation Shader since October 2014.

The officer commanding 13 Sqn, UK Reaper force, whose identity we are protecting, told The Sun: "Reaper has been ­central to every major engagement in the Shader campaign."

Recently over Mosul, Iraq, a Reaper crew protecting advancing friendly Iraqi security forces spotted a heavily armoured suicide bomb truck emerge from under the cover of a building.

The Reaper's Hellfire missile achieved a direct hit on the bomb truck seconds before it would have detonated.

In another incident, a Reaper crew took out an IS sniper guarding a public execution in Abu Kamal, Syria, in May. The officer revealed the precision of the strike meant hundreds were kept "entirely safe while we put a stop to that execution".

There have been concerns over the rise of drone machines in warfare.

But the officer explained: "We’ve got professional aircrew flying it. We work to the exact same rules of engagements . . . the only difference is the crew are not sat in the aircraft."

A TEAM of four amputee veterans inspired millions when they rowed across the Atlantic at the end of 2015.

Their audacious adventure — which took 46 back-breaking days — saw them cross 3,000 miles of the most treacherous seas on the planet while raising vital funds for charity.

All had overcome unimaginable ­injuries even before they got in the boat, thanks to charity Row2Recovery.

Skipper Cayle Royce, 31, a former Lance Corporal with the Light ­Dragoons from Dartmouth, Devon, lost both legs above the knee and part of his hand after stepping on a Taliban bomb in 2012.

Lee Spencer, 48, a former Royal ­Marines Colour Sergeant, from ­Yelverton, Devon, survived Afghanistan only to lose his leg to flying debris on a motorway in Britain after he stopped to help a stranger who had crashed.

Nigel Rogoff, 58, from Hereford, a former Flight ­Sergeant in the RAF, lost a leg when he attempted to ­parachute into Villa Park football ­stadium dressed as Santa during Aston Villa's match against Arsenal in 1998.

And Patrick "Paddy" Gallagher, 32, from ­Wisbech, Cambs, a former Guardsman in the Irish Guards, lost his right leg after stepping on an IED in ­Afghanistan in 2009.

Together they dubbed themselves the Legless Rowers on the unique voyage from La Gomera in the Canary Islands to Antigua, where they arrived on ­February 4, 2016.

Lee said: "For me personally it started in my first admission after being injured and losing my leg.

"I went from being a Royal Marines Commando to disabled overnight and that adventurous lifestyle was over.

"It's the first time I realised it was still possible to do things like this.

"A year later I got an email wanting volunteers to put together the first all-amputee crew. I’d never done anything like that — the most notable nautical thing I’d done before that was go on the Woolwich ferry."

The crew were raising cash for the Endeavour Fund, Blesma, Help for Heroes and Row2Recovery.

And it was brutal going, with the crews rowing two hours on, two hours off in the day, and three hours on three hours off at night.

Lee added: "It was incredibly tiring. I found the first couple of days really challenging — it was not so much the physical exertion, it was the sleep.

"And it was terrifying, the waves were massive. From the word go we had a large side swell, so that was scary."

But the challenge awakened something in Lee that he thought was gone — demonstrating the inspirational power of adventure.

He added: "It sounds trite that I went on a journey to discover myself, but it really was that.

"It was the single most important and positive thing to happen to me.

"I’m incredibly proud of being part of it, massively proud."

WOUNDED war heroes Ibi Ali and Luke Wigman conquered one of the toughest running races on the planet – the World Marathon Challenge.

RAF paratrooper Luke, 31, of Nottingham, was serving with the crack Special ­Forces Support Group when he ­suffered horrific leg injuries in a bomb blast in Helmand, Afghanistan in 2011.

And decorated former Army officer Ibi, 40, from York, lost part of his right arm to a roadside bomb in Iraq in 2007.

But together they ran seven marathons in seven days on seven continents to raise almost £1million for a new rehabilitation centre for injured and sick troops. Starting in Antarctica, the pair then ran consecutive 26.2mile races in Chile, Miami, Madrid, Marrakech, Dubai and Sydney in less than a week.

Determined Ibi became the first amputee to complete the challenge while Luke completed the race in the third fastest time ever.

They did it all for the new £300million Defence and National Rehabilitation Centre (DNRC), being completed right now in Loughborough, Leics, ready to open next October.

Ibi said: "The DNRC is going to be epic. I don't think people will get the full scale of it until it opens its doors.

"I want to allow servicemen and women who haven't even been born yet to have the best level of care."

In total the pair ran 183.4 miles and flew for 59 hours covering 27,000miles in a week.

When they started in Antarctica an international stop clock began, ­counting down the 168 hours the ­runners had to complete the challenge.

On being nominated Luke said: "We don't do these things for a pat on the back or to boost our own ego, we do it to make a difference.

"But when someone recognises you along the way, it's an incredible feeling."

PLUCKY Reservist Das has repeatedly beaten the odds to realise her dream of serving in the Armed Forces.

But the Officer Cadet, 26, of Telford, Shrops, has had to obliterate stereotypes and cultural, religious and gender barriers to make it happen.

Piya came to the UK from West Bengal aged 11 in 2002, when her dad moved here with work.

It was a seismic shock. She recalled: "I had left my friends, my family and everything back in India. I could not speak English, I could not make friends. There was a lot of taunting, which changed into bullying."

She found her solace in studying.

After completing GCSEs and A Levels in maths, further maths, physics and economics she achieved a BTEC in electronic engineering while working part time in Primark.

While studying aerospace engineering at university she also worked night shifts at Debenhams to pay the fees.

Piya then achieved a masters in the same subject and after 138 job applications was employed as a specialist instructor at the Engineering School, HMS Sultan. After multiple attempts to join the Armed Forces were thwarted by residency laws, she joined the Royal Navy Reserves.

She now works at RAF Cosford training engineering officers in aerodynamics, thermodynamics and engineering mathematics.

In her spare time she is an ambassador for the Royal Navy, visiting schools to promote engineering and inspire students, especially young girls.

All this was made possible through her determination to follow her dreams – and serve in uniform.

She said: "I am too stubborn to give up. The day I wore my uniform it was a massive glow of pride. I had earned it because I have stretched myself – the Reserves have stretched me.

"When I did my passing out parade I was the most happiest person on Earth."

AT a time of cutbacks, Warrant Officer Paul Moonan saved the MoD £4.5million – thanks to a brainwave.Britain's new carrier HMS Queen ­Elizabeth has four acres of aircraft deck.

If an aircraft bursts into flames, the only way to propel water or foam on to the blaze is from a fire-fighting vehicle.

American carriers use purpose-built fire-fighters costing £500,000 each, but Royal Navy WO1 Paul, 48, was convinced there was a better – and much cheaper – way to keep aircrew safe.

The father-of-two from Fareham, Hants, is married to Suzanne and joined the Royal Navy nearly 30 years ago. He spent much of his career on aircraft car-riers Ark Royal, Illustrious and Invincible.

Now working in military procurement, Paul was convinced a tractor already used to move aircraft on board could be adapted to also become a fire vehicle.

He took a huge gamble and approached the tractor's creator DFS of Halifax, West Yorks, and its engineers invented a module for the existing vehicles that included tanks to carry 450litres of water and 60litres of foam.

HMS Queen Elizabeth will now carry nine tractors, three of which will be ­fitted with the fire-fighting module. Paul says: "If a tractor fails, we have spares and it takes roughly three hours to convert an aircraft mover into a fire-fighter."

THE Army's current rifle system allows snipers to achieve precision shots over ­significant distances.

Successful shots at night can be more challenging, though.

But thanks to a team at the MoD, ­British snipers will have the edge with an ­amazing new sighting system that offers improved night-vision images.

Developed by scientists at the Defence Science and Technology ­Laboratory with industry partners, it has significantly improved night-vision images.

Snipers, who were involved throughout the tech's development, have confirmed it gives us a massive advantage, with one military adviser saying: "This gives the modern sniper a persistent 24-hour capability, regardless of background light levels."

UK defence companies Leonardo, Qioptiq and Insitu developed the ­concept and took it to the Army, who tested it in live trials. They found the new sight has better magnification and resolution, so snipers could easily make out targets, even in darkness.

One extra feature is new image matching software, which allows the spotter to take a picture of the target, and this is automatically matched with the image in the shooter's sight.

This means they can agree on the ­target quickly and don't need to use revealing markers, such as lasers.

OUR world-renowned bomb hunters will have a new comrade in the fight against deadly improvised explosive devices – the Harris T7 robot.

The tracked robots will soon replace the Wheelbarrow droid, used extensively in Afghanistan, to investigate and disarm deadly devices.

Equipped with digital cameras, ­lightning-fast datalinks, an adjustable manipulation arm and tough all-terrain treads, the robots are able to neutralise a wide range of threats.

The MoD is spending £55million on 56 of these remarkable robots, which have human-like arms that can be operated from a safe distance with a remote- control handgrip.

Its precision control and dexterity cuts completion time and improves mission effectiveness.

A variety of attachments enable the use of standard-issue sensors, disruptors and tools that support a wide range of missions, including Hazmat – hazardous materials clean-up – and the ability to disable IEDs planted inside vehicles.

Sacha Spragg, Project Manager at Defence Equipment and Support, which is acquiring the system, said: "The Harris T7 is a game-changer for the ­British Army. It will take bomb disposal tasks to the next level in confidence and control."

SPEAR 17 became the first all-British military team to complete a full, unsupported traverse of ­Antarctica.

The record-breaking outfit of Army reservists, led by Parachute Regiment Captain Lou Rudd, trekked 1,100 miles in 67 days to conquer the toughest terrain on the planet.

Their superhuman expedition was the brainchild of Capt Rudd, who wanted to raise the profile of the Reserves, raise money for charity and honour his fallen mate Henry Worsley.

Worsley — an SAS officer and explorer — died in January 2016 while attempting the first solo crossing of the Antarctic.

The full team was made up of expedition leader Lou, 48, plus Reservist doctors Ollie Stoten and Alex Brazier, both 27, James Facer-Childs, another Reserves doctor, 30, paramedic Chris Brooke, 35, and Alun George, 43, who left the Reserves in 2017.

They set out on the first leg of their 730-mile trek to the South Pole in November 2016 — reaching their target in just 40 days, in time for Christmas Day.

After taking on a resupply of fuel and provisions, and sadly having to say goodbye to Alun who was deemed medically unfit to continue, the second leg took them another 400 miles.

It was gruelling going, tramping for ten hours a day non-stop, in temperatures touching minus 53C, hauling 165kg of gear on sleds through a polar wilderness.

When they reached the location Henry got to, they paused for a moving remembrance service.

The team conquered the harsh weather, crevasses, isolation from the outside world and constant mental and physical rigours.

And they did it to raise funds for ABF The Soldiers’ Charity.

Capt Rudd was full of praise for his team, saying: "It was an incredible performance to go from zero to hero."

CAPTAIN Pun is an inspiration to the Gurkha community at home and abroad. He joined the Gurkhas aged 17 in 1979 and is still serving today.

In recent years Capt Pun, 56, a dad-of-three, has been fundamental in establishing The Gurkha Homes Project for veterans.

After actress Joanna Lumley's high-profile campaign to allow Gurkha veterans to settle in the UK, many veterans wanted to take up the offer.

Capt Pun, who served in ­Bosnia, Sierra Leone and Afghanistan, said: "The problem is with the housing and language. So I came up with the Homes Project."

Now 26 couples are housed in Colchester, thanks to Capt Pun. And he has confirmed a £1m investment to build a second home for Gurkhas in Kent.

His heroic efforts are also in action abroad. As in 2015 he was on the ground in Nepal within days of the earthquake.

He went on to help build a school for 350 children.

Capt Pun explains: "I came from a very poor background, so I always feel if I can make someone happy, I’ll be happy."

ANDY ‘Gibbo’ Gibbs is a one-man fundraising machine.

The tireless sailor, 47, of Chinnor, Oxfordshire, has single-handedly collected more than half a million pounds for Sun-backed military charity Help for Heroes.

Chief Petty Officer Gibbo, based at HMS Collingwood in Fareham, Hants, who joined the Royal Navy aged 16, revealed his fundraising ­odyssey was hatched over a beer on a beach with a ­comrade. He said: "We were coming back from the Far East and decided we wanted to do something for the guys that were wounded in Afghanistan.

"We started out to raise ten grand by walking across ­Scotland. We made £14,000 in one event and got the bug."

From there Gibbo took collection buckets to concerts and sports games. He has also walked more than 1,000 miles in aid of charity – all on top of his day job. CPO Gibbo was delighted by his Millies ­nomination, saying: "It's just ­amazing. I was gobsmacked when I was told. You could have knocked me over with a feather."

TO celebrate a decade of the Millies, a new judging panel has been assembled.

Additions this year include former chiefs Admiral Sir George Zambellas, General The Lord Richards, General Sir Richard Barrons and Air Chief Marshal Sir Andrew Pulford.

Joining them is adventurer Levison Wood.

The ex-Para, whose Channel 4 treks include walking the length of the Himalayas, said: "This is a real honour."

The rest of the panel includes judges who have been there from the start, including SAS legend Andy McNab.

Also on the panel will be Lorraine Kelly, TV host and Sun columnist; Jeremy Clarkson, TV host and Sun columnist; Penny Lancaster, model and TV personality; Sir Roger Carr, chairman of BAE Systems and Tony Gallagher, Editor In Chief of The Sun.

The judges pored over shortlists in nine categories before selecting their winners.

They also decide the Judges Special Recognition Award.

This is the "personal gift of the judges" to a unit, group or individual for a "unique and extraordinary" contribution.

By Gavin Williamson, Defence Secretary

THIS year marks the tenth annual ­Millies awards, so I want to thank The Sun and its readers for continuing to shine the spotlight on our mighty ­military heroes.

Over the past decade the awards have celebrated the distinguished deeds of great British sailors, soldiers, airmen and women across the world.

This year's nominees are no exception.

They’ve tackled Daesh in Iraq and Syria. They’ve evacuated the wounded after rocket attacks.

They’ve run towards danger when terror struck our streets.

They’ve stopped suicide bombers, thwarted pirates and busted drug smugglers.

Whether men or women, regulars or reserves, veterans or charity workers, the variety of nominees highlights the diversity of the Armed Forces community and they are an ­inspiration to us all.

While we champion the heroic actions of those shortlisted, the ­Millies remind us they are not alone – thousands of our brave personnel are currently involved in 25 ­operations in more than 30 countries.

All the while they continue safeguarding our shores, policing our skies and patrolling our seas 24/7,  365 days a year.

This is our chance to honour all those who keep us safe.

They are truly the best of British.

Felix Fund The Jon Egging Trust Lieutenant Commander IAIN BEATON, Maritime Trade Operations Branch Squadron Leader SUE SHILLADAY, Bridlington Sea Cadets Petty Officer TOBY JONES, HMS Tyne Lt JARED BAMBRIDGE 1st Battalion The ­Yorkshire Regiment L/Cpl LINDSAY CLARKE, Royal Logistics Corps, and Cpl VICKI KEATS, RAF SOUTHERN DIVING UNIT 2, Royal Navy HMS St ALBANS, Royal Navy MILITARY CO-RESPONDERS with South Central Ambulance Service Leading Seaman SALLY HUGHES, Royal Navy Sgt KIRSTY LYON-TAYLOR, 4626 Sqdn, RAF Brize Norton Air Engineering ­Technician STU ROGERS, HMS Monmouth HMS MONMOUTH, Royal Navy 1st BATTALION, Royal Irish Regiment UK REAPER FORCE, RAF Row2Recovery, Tri-service Former Snr Aircraftman LUKE WIGMAN, and ­former Captain IBI ALI, Yorkshire Regiment Officer Cadet PADMAJA ‘PIYA’ DAS, Royal Navy Reserves Aircraft Handling Warrant Officer PAUL MOONAN Sniper technology Harris T7 bomb disposal robot Spear 17, Army Captain UMESH PUN, Army Reserve Signals Unit Chief Petty Officer ANDY ‘GIBBO’ GIBBS By Gavin Williamson, Defence Secretary