A former professional footballer turned Army officer escaped injury when his Mastiff armoured vehicle saved him and his soldiers from a roadside bomb attack.
Lieutenant Stephen Healey, who played professional football for Swansea City for several years before injury cut his career short, was commanding a convoy from the turret of the lead vehicle in Helmand, Afghanistan when it hit an IED.
The 27 year old from Cardiff said: “We were driving along and then suddenly I felt a massive explosion and got thrown up into the air by the blast. I fell back into the turret and then all the debris and dirt from the explosion rained down on my head. My first thought was for the blokes in the vehicle and I felt sick thinking what I would find below me. There were 8 of my soldiers and an interpreter down there.”
But Stephen was relieved and delighted to discovered that not one person had been injured in the blast.
“I dropped down into the cab and amazingly everyone was okay. Obviously they were all shaken and shocked but no-one was actually injured. The force of the blast was incredible. The pressure wave actually snapped a couple of the machine guns in half. We had taken a direct hit under the belly of the Mastiff. The wagon was completely un-driveable but it had done its job and saved us – it was damaged but we weren’t.”
A spokesman for Swansea City FC said: “It is great to hear that Stephen has made his mark in the Army and forged a new career for himself. We were all really relieved to hear that he was OK after the explosion and wish him all the best for the rest of his tour.”
After the blast Stephen’s team went through their drills to protect each other from any secondary attack and so that they could get the damaged vehicle back out to safety.
“I know it is a cliché and everyone says it, but in situations like this you really feel the training kick in. The soldiers’ reaction and courage does allow you to step back and make the right decisions and everyone slots in and does their job naturally.”
After they had secured the situation the usual Army banter started. “The device was completely hidden, but once we realised we were all okay the lads started giving me grief for not spotting anything. It is all part of Army humour and the way people deal with things like this.”
Stephen joined the Army in 2007 having already had a career as a professional footballer. He served a two year apprenticeship with Swansea playing centre back and then signed a two year contract. Unfortunately his promising career was cut short with a succession of injuries and he decided to call it a day and go to University.
“I was absolutely gutted at the time as all I had ever done was play football but I just had to pick myself up and look forward. I didn’t have any A-Levels but applied to do a degree based on my experience. Luckily Swansea University accepted me to do a sports science degree. I really enjoyed my degree and being a bit older did help. After that I chose the Army for the challenge really. I wanted to be in the infantry and being from Wales the Royal Welsh was the obvious choice for me.”
Stephen’s football injuries have recovered and he still plays football, even turning out for the full Army side occasionally. However his main focus is his commitment to looking after his platoon in the Army and went out to Afghanistan in the middle of December as part of the extra surge of 500 British troops.
As a platoon commander Stephen has the responsibility of leading 30 men. Although his platoon sergeant is a huge help, especially with the administration side, when things go wrong responsibility rests with Stephen and they all look to him for leadership. “The responsibility is huge but it is also very satisfying and I am proud of them doing what they do out here.”
Despite being Welsh Stephen was always obsessed by football. “The lads do tease me for not playing a proper game like rugby, but as I played at professional level I can easily give them as good as I get.”
“Being a professional footballer wasn’t all glamour although it did have its moments and there were some great parties. I do miss it occasionally and the hours were a lot shorter. Obviously working really long hours and living in harsh conditions out here is a very different life, but I really do love the Army life. Being a platoon commander operating on the front line is the best job.”
The Mastiff fleet entered service in December 2006 and are provided by Force Protection Industries, USA and converted by NP Aerospace, UK. They have a top speed of 55mph and are armed with either a heavy machine gun or a grenade machine gun.
Notes to editors
· An image of Lieutenant Healey is available on the Defence News Imagery website: https://www.defencenewsimagery.mod.uk/fotoweb/Login.fwx
· The soldier cited may be available for live or pre-recorded interviews; requests should be made to the address below.
· The soldier is from The 1st Battalion, The Royal Welsh (The Royal Welch Fusiliers) [note this is correct spelling] operating on the front line in Nadi-Ali area of Helmand Province, Afghanistan.
· UK Forces are deployed to Afghanistan in support of the UN authorised, NATO led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) mission and as part of the US-led Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF). UK operations in Afghanistan are being conducted under the name Operation HERRICK.
· Task Force Helmand is the name given to UK-led forces in Helmand Province, southern Afghanistan.
· For more information, contact the Task Force Helmand Media Operations staff on: firstname.lastname@example.org
Phone: For enquiries please contact the above department