IT WAS on January 31, 2012 that Sgt Jay Baldwin’s life changed forever while on a “routine” patrol in Afghanistan.
As fate would have it, the now 28-year-old had offered to stand in as platoon sergeant on a patrol near Gareshk, in northern Helmand Province – or else he would never have been there.
He wasn’t to know it would be a day that would end his career.
Jay said: “It happened on what the Army would say was a routine foot patrol. We were overlooking the remainder of the call signs.
“We just went out and did the stuff we were taught. I took it on myself as if they were my platoon, I was looking after the boys. I was making sure my guys were in position when I stood on the device and was blown up.”
It was a TA soldier who leapt into action, diving on top of Jay in line with the emergency medical training they had rehearsed so many times.
Jay recalled: “He came running over to me, jumped on me and immediately applied pressure to my groin. Ever since then I have been that kind of guy who has never had a bad word to say about the TA.
“He was on the ball that day. We had done all our drills over and over because we knew we were going to a hot area, but I didn’t think they’d end up being used on me.
“I was awake for the whole thing and remember it all. I even tried sending a message over my radio, but I didn’t know that I only had the handset left – the whole of my day sack had been blown right off my back.”
Despite being gravely injured, Jay somehow managed to continue commanding his guys on the ground, helping to format a plan of how they should get him back to his sergeant major using a map he pulled from his pocket.
“There was a lot of banter at that point – it’s the Army way,” Jay laughs.
“There was one point when I thought I was going to lose consciousness and I remember saying ‘I don’t really want to die here’. I was telling them they needed to get me back to the sergeant major ASAP. We came up with a plan to get me back, they were talking to me and trying to get me out. There were people around me who kept trying to make me take water, to the point I had so much I felt like I was dying.”
Jay with his two children before he was injured
Jay was rushed to Camp Bastion’s world-renowned medical hospital where he was treated and then flown back to the UK, where he was taken to Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham and its specialist military ward.
Jay said: “When it is you who is the injured one it gives you some sort of weird buzz. Being awake through the whole thing, I remember it all, even the helicopter ride with the Americans.
“There was no pain to be honest, just a mild burning feeling.
“When they got me to the hospital they took all my clothes off and I was just lying there, naked on the bed. That’s the point when I asked them to put me to sleep. I don’t know if that was because I was embarrassed, feeling weird lying there naked in front of all these people, or if it was because I was starting to feel the pain.”
He added: “I knew straight away that my legs were gone. The extent of my injuries I wasn’t sure of, but I could see that one had gone from the knee and the other was just a bone hanging down.”
The graphic pictures of Jay’s injuries are on his phone and just a tap away – a constant reminder, should he ever be able to forget. The collection of images are one of the first things he wanted to see when he woke, to try and get his head around what had happened.
“I felt like I just had to get it done. There were a couple of hours that I cannot account for after waking up. I knew my girlfriend was there. I knew people were around me. I remember opening my eyes and not being able to move. The next thing I recall was waking up, apologising to everyone, thinking that I had done something really wrong but really, I didn’t have a clue. I was quite emotional.”
Soldiers from 1PWRR on the front lines
Jay was in intensive care until his condition improved.
“I remember breaking down for about half an hour. After that I thought ‘You’ve just got to snap out of this’.
“I knew that I could be as upset as I wanted, but nothing was going to bring my legs back. I have moved on from there now. I look back now and think ‘It’s just one of those things that happens – it’s done with now’.
“There have been times when there has been anger, but ultimately you can’t change what has happened.”
Jay has been recovering and receiving physio at Headley Court in recent months, where he has been fitted with prosthetic limbs and has learnt to walk again.
He added: “It was all so weird. I never thought for a minute I would experience something like this in my life. Being out there was an amazing experience and I felt lucky to have done it. I wish everyone could have walked in my shoes – without getting injured of course.
“I’d happily go and be the injured one again if it meant that others could experience what I have. If you gave me a full set of legs now I could go and do what is required of me out there. Mentally I definitely could, anyway.”
Jay had completed two tours of Iraq and then two in Afghanistan – not knowing the most recent would end up being his last with the British Army.
In three months’ time he will leave the job and the regiment he once lived for – there is no longer a role for him.
But he doesn’t want sympathy and he doesn’t want help finding a job that will be as worthy and exciting as what he has known.
He said: “I need to look for a job that is going to get me out of bed every morning like this one did.
“This regiment, hand on my heart, is my life. It has always has been since I joined the Army.
“I’ve got no legs. They are not coming back. The quicker I deal with it and find something else for me, the better.”