To mark Armed Forces Week, we spoke to Ricky Furgusson MC, an injured veteran and a valued member of the Pilgrim Bandits community.
While serving in Afghanistan in January 2010, Ricky lost both his legs, his left eye and five of his fingers across both hands in an IED explosion. Despite the severity of his injuries, he has never let his disabilities defeat him, always pushing forward with determination and an inspirational ‘can-do’ attitude.
He talks to us about his experiences of war, suffering life-changing injuries and how Pilgrim Bandits has supported him in recent years.
Joining the Forces
“I signed up to the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Green Jackets before I’d even left school. I’d spoken to someone who was in the army and heard their stories and I thought, why not, I’ll join the army. I started training in Harrogate in September 2001.”
Ricky went on to have an accomplished military career and became a Lance Corporal by the young age of 19. He completed his first tour of Northern Ireland from 2004 to 2006. Ricky was also a keen boxer and joined the Battalion Boxing Squad where he boxed for three seasons, winning eight out of ten fights. For him, boxing was a release and a way to keep fit.
“I wouldn’t go out and fight, I wasn’t a street fighter, but I was good at boxing. It was a sport where you had to train hard. Three times a day, every day. You get super fit and then when you get in the ring. You win or lose, I mostly won, and then at the end you shake hands and go and have a beer with your opponent.”
The Iraq and Afghanistan Wars
There was an amalgamation of the Battalions in 2007 and Ricky proudly became part of the Rifles Regiment, serving in Iraq for six months.
“You can train as much as you want, but until you’re in the thick of it, nothing can really prepare you for that. We lost five men from our battalion in Iraq. There weren’t too many injuries – the IEDs were bigger than in Afghanistan, they were designed to kill, whereas in Afghanistan it seemed they were more to injure.”
Ricky was promoted to Corporal in 2008, before being deployed to Afghanistan in 2009. He said: “Our job was to safely secure one of the main roads running through Afghanistan – to keep everyone safe. We had to have eyes on the whole of the route all the time.
“On January 13th, we’d had information from the locals that The Taliban had been moving in and out of the area. We occupied the compound and cleared it all. Then early in the morning, I got communication to pull out, so I packed up the kit and got the guys ready and, as we deployed, I triggered an improvised exploding device. And Bang. I woke up in hospital.
“I got blown up, lost both legs, five fingers, took extreme facial damage – it took half of my face. I lost my lips, my cheek, my left eye socket. I also took a bad fracture to the head and lost parts of my brain. I was in a bad way. I think the only reason that I survived it was because I was super fit. I think fitness plays a massive part in surviving such an incident – apparently, after the blast I wouldn’t stay still, my body wanted to keep moving, I even fell off the Quad Trailer because my body wouldn’t give up, it kept me going. Now I tell lads in the military, ‘you’ve got to keep fit’.”
“I was in intensive care for five weeks and on so many drugs that I don’t really remember much. I’d had a tracheotomy and feeding tubes and so there had been no reason to get up. But I do remember my mum being at my side and a doctor telling me about the extent of my injuries. I knew I had no legs, but I didn’t really react to that. I think my mind had already processed it.
“But the doctor mentioned my face. I didn’t know anything about my facial injuries. I was all wrapped up like a mummy, so I hadn’t realised that I’d lost my eye. I asked if I could have a mirror, but then I said… ‘actually, no sir, I don’t want to see’. He came back with a mirror anyway and said to me that there was no pressure, but if I wanted to look then I could. I took a glance and that was that. I didn’t then look at myself again for weeks. In my head, if you’ve lost your legs you can learn to walk on prosthetics and wear a pair of trousers to hide it, but your face is the first thing people see. I thought people would look at me differently.”
Ricky was admitted to Headley Court five months later, the Defence Medical Rehabilitation unit for injured service men and women, where he spent the next six months. He has since made a remarkable recovery to get up on his Prosthetic legs and become a full time C-Leg user.
“I was determined not to be in a wheelchair. I didn’t want to be different. That gave me a stronger mindset. It gave me a determination to get my legs on and try to walk. I don’t even keep a wheelchair near me now, I keep it in the garage, so that I always push myself to use my prosthetics. You have good days and bad days, but I’ve always been active. You’ve got two choices in life; you can sit around and mope or you can put your legs on and crack on.”
Always A Little Further
Ricky received the Military Cross from the Queen for acts of bravery and risking his own life to save four other soldiers who were injured by IEDs. He was presented with the award at Buckingham Palace in December 2010, soon after receiving his first pair of prosthetic legs. Ricky walked to meet the Queen and received his medal using only two walking sticks.
Following this he received The Millie’s Award for life-saving, presented to him by renowned British boxer, David Haye. He also carried the Olympic Torch in May 2012, again demonstrating his remarkable determination to push forward in his recovery.
Ricky credits much of his ‘always a little further’ mentality to Pilgrim Bandits and the life-changing expeditions organised by the charity.
“I was invited on a skiing trip with Pilgrim Bandits and met some really good guys. I got to go to a few black-tie events with them. I then cycled London to Arnhem on an expedition with the charity a year and a half ago and then John O’Groats to Lands’ End last summer. I was also part of the Pilgrim Bandits record-breaking sky-diving team, I jumped out of a plane three times that day – we received the Guinness World Record for the most tandem jumps in one day. You chuck a group of military guys into an event and you enjoy it all along the way and have a lot of fun.”
“Last month I went on a kayaking trip with Pilgrim Bandits in Dorset. I hadn’t been on the water since I’d been injured, so I thought I’ve got to do this. We were in two-man kayaks, I took a very good friend of mine with me who I used to serve with– he’s ex-army and was my battle buddy in the back of the kayak. It was a really casual paddle down the river Stour, lovely scenery, calm water.
“Unfortunately, towards the end of the paddle, double amputee Ben Parkinson decided to have a little swim! Ben and his partner capsized. He was in a life jacket, so he was safe, but it does show the challenge of these trips – it’s not easy and there are risks, but it’s all about facing challenges together and pushing ourselves in difficult situations. Ben was all smiles. Everyone is there to help – we are in it together.”
Ricky is now a keen advocate for the charity and wants to help other injured veterans to get involved.
“Pilgrim Bandits is a social charity, all about building friendships with others. You meet up, have a great time and do things out of the ordinary – skiing, kayaking, cycling, skydiving. The charity shows you that just because you’re injured doesn’t mean you can’t do something. They will improvise and adapt certain activities and show you that actually, you can still do this. And, Pilgrim Bandits is a charity that you can contact whenever you need them. You become friends with a great group of people. People that have been through similar experiences and have a lot in common.
“The charity helps gives direction. You meet other people that are in the same boat as you, if not worse than you, and you see how they cope. And it keeps you going too. When you hear of a trip, it’s something that you look forward to for the next couple of months.”
If you would like to learn more about Pilgrim Bandits and how you can get involved, contact firstname.lastname@example.org