Why 2009 Poppies Are Needed to Support New Generation of Soldiers; Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans Reveal True Horrors of Today's War

Article excerpt

Byline: Lisa Jones

EACH night as he closed his eyes, young soldier Mike Hughes would relive his own personal fight against the Taliban.

Yesterday, to mark the launch of the 2009 Poppy Appeal, the 25-year-old revealed how he could not sleep as his tortured mind went over the horrors he witnessed in Afghanistan.

Like an increasing number of soldiers dealing with the demands of warfare, Mike, from Carno, Powys, was suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, haunted by images which dramatically affected his ability to function day to day.

Mike, who served as a gunner in 19 Regiment Royal Artillery, left the Army in 2008 after five years' service, with tours in Iraq in 2005 and Afghanistan in 2007, where he provided fire support in Helmand Province.

Over a six-month tour of duty in Afghanistan, the battle group Mike was part of was involved in a firestorm against Al Qaeda and Taliban fighters at unprecedented levels of ferocity and intensity.

Tracing a finger over a scar across his right cheek, Mike, whose best friend was blown up on his 21st birthday while in Iraq, said: "A bullet scrammed my face early on in the tour. I couldn't sleep after that. They knew there was something wrong with me."

He is one of many young men and women who are the focus of help for this year's Royal British Legion Poppy Appeal, which was launched in Wales at the National Assembly in Cardiff Bay, under the motto, For Their Sake Wear a Poppy.

Presiding Officer Dafydd Elis Thomas, who hosted the event, with senior armed forces officers and politicians present, said: "It's as important now as it ever was to remember what our armed services have done and are still doing for this country."

The UK campaign was launched at the same time by forces sweetheart Dame Vera Lynn, who joined soprano singer Hayley Westenra at London's Horse Guards Parade for a rendition of the classic wartime song We'll Meet Again.

This year's appeal, which aims to raise pounds 31m, urges people to support troops wounded in Afghanistan and the families of those killed in the conflict by wearing a poppy. It focuses on the need to help the current generation of servicemen and women who have fought in the war-torn country.

After his return from Afghanistan, Mike began to regularly get drunk to drown out the vivid flashbacks he suffered.

Unable to help him, his mother Ruth contacted the Royal British Legion, who last year provided financial help to 10,000 service personnel, recent veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan and their families. …