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“We thought it was all over”: How a kidnap survivor used his experience to coach a new generation of soldiers

A decorated serviceman who survived a hostage crisis has turned negative to positive in his mission to teach mental resilience to British troops.

Warrant Officer Class Two (WO2) Austin ‘Reggie’ Lindsay MBE, of the Royal Irish Regiment, was one of 11 men captured by heavily-armed rebels while on patrol in Sierra Leone in 2000.

The Northern Irishman used the harrowing experience to drive on in life and is now a mental resilience trainer on the Army’s OPSMART programme, which stands for Optimising Performance through Stress Management and Resilience Training.

He said: “We were told to say our last prayer. We were thinking that we were going to get shot. That was the lowest point. That was the time we thought it was all over.

“We were surrounded by 100 men, women, and children, all armed. There was a lot of fear of the unknown. What was going to happen? What were they going to do to us? Personally, what kept me going was thinking about my family.”

WO2 Lindsay was one of a group of soldiers that was released by the rebels before a major British military operation was launched to secure the remaining men.

It’s actually changed my mindset WO2 Lindsay MBE

Special Forces, aided by a diversionary attack by the Parachute Regiment, managed to rescue the captured troops and over 20 Sierra Leonean civilians who were also held in captivity.

What is most remarkable about the Warrant Officer is the way in which he has turned this negative episode into something positive.

He said: “I don’t think any of us were prepared mentally. But it’s changed my life now, it’s actually changed my mindset which led me into OPSMART.

“It has a number of different products, one of these is mental resilience training (MRT), which is about improving performance. It’s developed to help and maintain a soldier’s mental coping ability.”

MRT is a psychological skills training package that integrates cognitive, behavioural, and mindfulness-based principles and techniques.

Whatever job you have, mental resilience can improve your performance WO2 Lindsay MBE

WO2 Lindsay is keen to expand the programme, which has already seen thousands of troops trained to benefit service mental health.

He said: “It’s absolutely fantastic that we’re now moving in a direction to help and support not only soldiers, but families as well. Whatever job you have, mental resilience can improve your performance.

“These skills do work. I do think that OPSMART will grow, I definitely do. We will continue going out and getting that word out there to reduce that stigma of mental health.”

OPSMART is intended to drive mental fitness and resilience firmly into the organisational culture, from basic training through a soldier’s career to the point of exit from the service.

The British Army takes the mental health of its personnel very seriously and provides a wide range of effective treatments for those who need them. For more information about a variety of military and civilian services that can offer help, visit Ask for Help.