A Salisbury Army veteran of 23 years, Noel Howard, who was medically discharged in 2011, has ‘found a new outlook on life’ by playing in the recently promoted Help for Heroes wheelchair rugby team.
Known as ‘Yorkie’ to his friends, because he hails from Halifax, in West Yorkshire, Noel, 54, joined the Army in 1989, and saw tours in the Gulf War, Bosnia, Iraq, and Afghanistan.
He served with the Royal Army Ordnance Corps; 57 Ammunition Troop; 98 PC Sqn RLC (Postal and Courier Armed Forces, in Germany, as SQMS Squadron Quarter Master Sergeant); 3 Commando Royal Marines; 215 Signals; and was loaned to Headquarters Squadron for 4 Logistics Regiment, in Iraq, where he was injured working alongside US troops.
After eight operations on his shoulder and knee, he was medically discharged. He then became a team leader for anti-piracy companies, and now works for a global aerospace and defence company.
He said: “In the Forces, I was always very active. After getting injured I became a shadow of my former self. Sport was a massive part of the Armed Forces, and when I couldn’t take part, I really missed it.
“Since getting back in with Help for Heroes I haven’t looked back. It puts me back in with the ‘green team’, in with the military guys and girls. It gives me a goal and something to look forward to. I just love getting together with the team. My wife has commented on the massive difference she’s seen since I’ve become active again.
“Our coach, ‘Jenks’, pushes us all. We do what he asks of us and then he always says that we can do more. But it’s for a reason. Jenks has shown us what we can still achieve.”
The Charity’s wheelchair rugby team were undefeated in their first season, playing in three tournaments over the summer and were promoted to the Championship.
“Wheelchair rugby gets you back into sport both on a social level, but also in a competitive level,” said Noel. “It’s gives us a chance to push ourselves further than we ever thought we could with whatever injury we have.
“We can play four matches in a day, and, at the end of the day, we’re all exhausted, but I just look over at my teammates and support staff, and I know I’ve done my best.
“Sport is such a powerful aid to recovery, both physically and mentally. I’ve seen guys coming through who have struggled being around other people and this is a great chance for them to get back into organised and safe sports in civvy street. We have a laugh, and we look after each other.
“Help for Heroes has shown me what is still possible. It’s provided a safe environment that encourages people to attend and open up to others. Without that I may have stopped pushing myself. Playing this sport with my new friends has helped with my recovery and mindfulness.”
As part of the wide range of sports Help for Heroes offers veterans and their families, it has recently launched a coaching programme that gives veterans the chance to learn how to support others who want to get back into sport.
Noel added: “I’ve loved getting into the coaching programme. It’s a chance for me to pay it forward.”
Wheelchair rugby has also enabled Noel to experience a new ‘career’ … as a model. He has been involved in the photoshoot for the Charity’s latest collection of rugby shirts, available from the Help for Heroes web store. And he has a message for anyone thinking about supporting Help for Heroes.
“Every time you purchase an item, such as a T-shirt or rugby shirt from Help for Heroes, you’re showing your continued support to all the former and current serving members of the military and their families. The money you’ve spent or donated goes towards helping so many people and allows them to continue the recovery journey, both physically and mentally.”
Help for Heroes champions the Armed Forces community and helps them live well after service. The charity helps them, and their families, to recover and get on with their lives. It has already supported more than 30,000 people and won’t stop until every veteran gets the support they deserve.
The Charity supports veterans, and their families, from any branch of the UK military – regulars or reserves – irrespective of length or place of service, and locally embedded civilians (and their families) who worked alongside our Armed Forces.
To get support, visit helpforheroes.org.uk.