The Army sorted me out, gave me a lifeline
In 2006 Fusilier Andy Barlow lost his leg while on operations in Afghanistan, in a series of events so sensational in 2014 it was made into a movie, “Kajaki”. Just two years later Andy started skiing, and in 2014 took part in the Sochi Winter Olympics. In 2009 Andy started sailing with the Army and now teaches able-bodied soldiers and their families. Andy finally retired from the Army in 2014 to pursue his skiing and sailing careers. Today he works for Blesma, covering social isolation and assisting support officers.
19 yr-old Fusilier Andrew Barlow was attached to the 3rd Battalion Parachute Regiment in Afghanistan when on 6 Sep 2006, along with his 12-strong unit, he was operating in 50°C in the Kajaki Dam area of Helmand and they became trapped in what is believed to have been an old Soviet minefield from the 1980s.
Their leader, Corporal Mark Wright, 27, had already been severely wounded by one of the mines, as had another soldier. Andy was on his own trying to look after these two men and has since said “I flapped at first, and then the training kicked in.” he called for water for his injured colleagues, catching one bottle and then asking for another. The second fell to the ground, and as he stood to reach for it… bang…his foot was blown off.
He tourniqued his leg and lay for two hours in the dust with his wounded colleagues, all relying on black humour to stay alive. A British Chinook arrived to rescue them but triggered another mine, badly injuring a fourth soldier; so, it left. Finally, an American Black Hawk evacuated them back to Bastion. During the flight Cpl Wright passed away.
Fus Barlow’s heroism earned him the George Cross – awarded to serving soldiers for acts of bravery not in the presence of the enemy. Corporal Mark Wright also received the medal for the way in which he led his team. He got his posthumously.
Back at Bastion his left leg was amputated above the knee. He was then flown to Selly Oak for more operations before being transferred to Headley Court to have a prosthetic leg fitted and to learn to walk again.
By December 2006 he was back at work in Cyprus in December, “I was in hospital for just 12 days. Then into rehab and I was up and walking in a month to six weeks. Not long ago a soldier with injuries like mine would have been medically discharged. Not anymore. If you want to stay in, you can.’
The Kajaki landmine trap was the first of three major incidents on that day; Lt Col Stuart Tootal, Commander of the 3rd Battalion, Parachute Regiment, lost three men, 18 were injured and three lost limbs. Tootal personally zipped up and carried the body bag containing Cpl Wright from the Black Hawk as it landed in Camp Bastion. It came to be known as ‘the day of days’.
Barlow grew up in Bolton, and at 16 joined the Army, and went to the Junior Leaders College in Harrogate "I wasn’t the best teenager. I was involved with gangs, but the Army sorted me out, gave me a lifeline…I got all the qualifications I’d failed at school and I was earning £1,000 a month. To a 16-year-old it was a fortune."
"After all I’ve gone through, I would never stop my children joining any of the services. It gives you an appreciation of life and what’s out there."