Guardsman Alex Harrison was mentioned in despatches sent by the CO of the Grenadier Guards in Afghanistan, Lt-Col Carew Hatherley, for his bravery and determination: 'Guardsman Harrison remained alert and calm at all times despite sustaining a gun shot to the head at close quarters. The bullet entered behind his right ear and exited through his right eye. Before collapsing he drew a model of the enemy locations so as to aid their defeat.'
An article in the Daily Telegraph of 28 Jan 2013, by Tom Rowley details Alex's actions in May 2007, and how he adjusted to life after the army with brain damage.
Flying high over the mountains of Afghanistan, Alex Harrison, 19, knew that this tour would be harder than his previous deployment in Iraq. When the Chinook helicopter spun around, he remembers his shock at seeing Taliban compounds scattered across the desert. But he only learnt how much harder it would prove on May 3 2007. That day the Grenadier Guardsman, who was attached to the Royal Anglian Regiment, was waiting outside an enemy compound at dawn, at the head of a line of 50 troops. At 7.30am, the order came to go in. They reached the first building but found nothing, so ran on to clear the next. Still in the lead, Harrison was passing a smaller building when he was shot by a Taliban fighter hiding behind the doorway. The first round went through his helmet, pierced his temple, ricocheted off his eye socket and lodged in his right eye, causing instant blindness. He fell to the ground and, as he lay there, shrapnel from grenades lodged in his backside. At last he managed to clamber to his feet and ran to a waiting doctor. His priority, though, was for the welfare of the section. Before he was treated, he had information to pass on. "I was the first person to go forward, so I got a good look," he recalls. "I was trying to explain the enemy's positions to the sergeant but because my face was numb I couldn't really speak." So he drew a map in the sand.
This intelligence led to the cancellation of the operation. Instead the site was bombed, saving the lives of several probably British soldiers who might otherwise have been shot. "He said they killed 40 per cent of the local Taliban on that day, all because of my little map," Harrison proudly recalls. He was later mentioned in dispatches. Harrison succumbed to a coma that lasted six days. Waking up in Queen Elizabeth Intensive Care Unit in Birmingham, he thought he was still in Afghanistan. "My mum was sitting next to me and I said: 'What are you doing here? You don't have a passport,' " he remembers. She explained, but it took Harrison far longer to adjust to what had happened. The boy who had wanted to be a soldier since seeing footage of the first Gulf War at the age of three would never see service again. Living with his mother again, he became depressed and began drinking heavily. The attack had left him with a degree of brain damage, which made everyday tasks frustrating. "Even just making a cup of tea, I would get it in the wrong order," he says.
Then he got a call from the On Course Foundation. John Simpson, who has managed some of the world's top golfers, was establishing his charity and needed to test out his theory that the game could help ex servicemen get back to work. "He contacted me and said, 'Do you want to go to Florida for 10 days?' I just treated it as a free holiday. One day John pulled me aside and said, 'What about greenkeeping?' " After work experience at Gainsborough Golf Club in Lincolnshire, he was won over. "It is pretty similar to the Army - you are working outside in a small team with a specific job to do. Everybody has got their own perfect job and I have found mine." His employer had only one complaint. "That was that I worked too fast," he laughs. The club were so impressed that they kept him on, making him the first soldier the foundation helped into full-time employment, with the support of the Poppy Factory, which assists ex-servicemen and women back into work with a first year salary contribution.
So it is not surprising that Harrison credits On Course with helping him adjust to civilian life. Now 25, he lives with his fiancee Sarah and their daughter Isabella, four, and baby, Eliza. He has also found a place for the Army in his new life. A Union flag flies above the door of his home in Lincoln, and he coaches the cadet force he joined when he was a teenager. He has just received his NVQ Level 2 qualification in greenkeeping. Tellingly, he is as proud of this as the framed copy of his dispatches. "I didn't get very many grades from school," he smiles. "This is the first piece of paper that means I can actually do something."
Regimental details | Soldiers
Armed Forces | Art and Culture | Articles | Biographies | Colonies | Discussion | Glossary | Home | Library | Links | Map Room | Sources and Media | Science and Technology | Search | Student Zone | Timelines | TV & Film | Wargames |