Brave RAF gunner Craig fights back

If there ever was a Rock Ape, Craig Richardson, is one.

If there ever was a Rock Ape, Craig Richardson, is one.

The term is the nickname for RAF Regiment servicemen - and true to the moniker and the regiment's motto (per ardua, or through adversity) he is, incredibly, back on two feet just three months after being blown up and losing his lower right leg just outside Kandahar.

It was his second tour as an airman with RAF Honington's 1 Squadron, part of the RAF Regiment, the ground fighting force of the RAF.

The first tour was as part of operation Telic in Iraq in 2007. Their camp was hit by more than 700 rockets and 1 Squadron lost three airmen, including leading aircrafts-man Martin Beard, who Craig new well.

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So when the squadron was posted to Afghanistan in August last year, fewer than 12 months after returning from Iraq, the Tottenham Hotspur fan from Dereham hoped it would be a little calmer.

Craig's unit had the task of patrolling around the base for anything between a few hours to three to four days.

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On the night he was blown up, in late October last year, he was on a quick-reaction-force posting, on call for anyone outside the base who needed help.

“We were just sitting around waiting for the call,” he said.

When the call came, late at night, they went out, carried out their duty and were heading back to camp.

Craig was standing at the front of their military WMIK Land Rover and the next thing he knew he was on the ground and in severe pain.

An IED - improvised explosive device - had blown him away from the vehicle, his leg was badly broken, blood was coming from his head and he was alone.

“I don't remember a noise, flash or anything,” he said. “I remember waking up and I had severe pains in my right leg and back.

“In a matter of seconds the battlefield medics came over to give first aid.”

He wasn't allowed morphine because he had a head injury and he had to wait until another airman was released from a vehicle to be taken to the base hospital by Black Hawk helicopter.

Back at base his injuries were assessed, he was given morphine and from there it got hazy.

His injuries were extensive - he had a severe break of his leg, broke ligaments in his left knee, got shrapnel in his inside thigh, broke his arm, needed skin grafts on one arm, had a perforated ear drum and cuts to his ear and head.

His broken leg was operated on and he was told there was a possibility he might lose it.

He was flown to Selly Oak hospital in Birmingham where the RAF had made sure his parents were waiting for him.

Among the operations he under-went was one to take an artery from his arm in an attempt to keep blood flowing to his broken leg.

“They told me in Afghanistan there was a possibility I could lose it so it wasn't as much as a shock,” he said.

“And there would have been more complications if they had tried to keep it.”

When the news came it would have to be amputated he updated his Facebook profile to “getting legless tonight”.

For rehabilitation - and fitting a prosthetic leg - he was transferred to Headley Court in Surrey, a specialist MoD unit for amputees.

“The set-up at Headley is brilliant,” he said. “You get one-on-one attention and they give you specific exercises.”

The remarkable work there has made his fast recovery possible, although there is still much work to be done.

Having lost his leg in November, he is already up and about on his artifical leg.

And he is even thinking about having a go at competing in the Paralympics.

He has no regrets. “I knew the risks; there is no point feeling sorry for yourself,” he said.

“There is a para, Tom, who has lost three limbs and you look at him and think 'he's carrying on as normal'. It could have been a lot worse.”

And it is a far more interesting than the roof truss factory he worked in after first leaving school.

He is currently enjoying time with his family on a break from Headley Court.

His father, fireman Mark Richardson, his girlfriend, Danni Farthing, and brothers and sisters, all live in Dereham.

But he is also looking forward to getting back to work.

“I want to stay in the job and see where it goes,” he said. “There's no reason I can't do everything as before.

“I just want to get on with it.”

� The rest of 1 Squadron is due back in early March.

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