I kinda cringe to be honest, when I look at that first photo.
It was taken in Germany, on a huge training area where we were going through the build up of live fire drills.
All I had was the issued kit from Chilwell, including yes, my Robo-Glasses look, courtesy of the Defence Logistics chain. I hated them but it was what it was, I wanted to play, I had to wear my lenses eye pro.
The thing that makes me pay attention, is the stark difference between the two photos; inexperienced, no clue what I was doing in Germany, through to Normandy Ranges in Iraq, knowing by then, that I was good at what I did.
The confidence levels were vastly different that’s for sure; by that point on deployment, we’d done pretty much all the different rotations and I’d been a patrol signaller for a while
I'd already gotten used to, and looked forward to, the Merlin coming to pick us up, flying just over the desert floor at times with sharp high banking turns, enabling me to look directly down through the side gunner/crew chiefs hatch.
Bowman carrier straps wound around my right leg, just in case we went down and we needed instant coms with a QRF element.
All these thoughts and the apprehensions of wandering the desert highways and villages while I stare down at the desert floor spinning past so fast it's a blur, or looking aft, out the back past the rear gunner/loadie and seeing the shadow on the ground as the stink and the heat of the rotor wash, sweep through the compartment and into our faces and throats.
As well as the ever present fugue of unwashed body armour in high heat, the smell of fuel sticks to our uniforms and kit, and even when I came home, I thought I could still smell it's scent, impregnated into my kit.
I had to sell that kit for food money not long after I got back from Iraq.
I'd met Tracy online as previously said, and we had moved in together in my flat in Lake, on the Isle of Wight.
I shared the flat with Nick, a friend since childhood, a future best man, and a serving combat medic, posted to an armoured Infantry company who had deployed twice to Iraq.
Nick had seen some pretty gruesome things on his tours and there was definitely PTSD and survivors guilt going on, of which he was aware.
Anyways, Trace and I were struggling as soon as we'd had that car accident on The Isle of Benbecula, with her Fiat Punto thankfully dying a warrior's death.
The economy of the Isle of Wight is predominantly catered to elderly retirees holidaying and retiring there, care homes, tourism of all the normal kinds, agriculture and the the normal British style industrial estate firms who truth be known probably keep our economy afloat sometimes.
When the global recession hit on September the 15th, 2008 I was, at that moment, mobilising at Chilwell, the Reserves Mobilisation and Training Centre, Nottingham, preparing to join the 1st Battalion, The Princess of Wales Royal Regiment, one of my parent units; me being from the Tiger's Reserve Battalion.
I demobbed from Chilwell in the May/June of 2009, and there wasn't any work.
I tried for FTRS and to join the Regulars but a combination of factors, not least my failing mental health, put paid to that.
It took six months of unemployment before I got a part time job, from 20:00 to 12:00, stacking the shelves of the B&Q in Newport.
I didn't know what else to do at the time, and my undiagnosed mental conditions didn't help with the decision making process.
After another 6 months, I got a full-time job in an industrial laundry and my now pregnant wife joined me, working on the machines until she was seven months pregnant, and then had to cope while I secured a good (I thought) job with an Aerospace company in Farnborough.
That's a different story, but it involves me working away and at least 5 hours away from her at night due to ferry times, when she started bleeding one early dark 'o' clock.
I'm a hundred miles away and my "about to pop" wife is ringing me at 01:00 and telling me she's bleeding.
I told her to hang up and dial for an ambulance immediately while I rang Nick.
My friend, his then girlfriend and another mutual mate, tore out of the house and raced to Trace and while Nick rode in the ambulance, Emma and Fluff broke all the speed limits to race after it.
They got pulled by a copper, who understood the situation and blue lit their car all the way to Newport St Mary's Hospital.
Thankfully it was a false alarm and Finn Patrick was born later that week, and I finally managed to reach the Isle of Wight and my new family.