Soldiering On

Royal Marine Who Suffered 'Grief' After Leaving Forces Urges Public To Back People's Choice Soldiering On Awards

Royal Marine Dan Fielding is one of the finalists in the People's Choice Award and this is his story through dark times...


A Royal Marine who struggled through dark moments in his life after injury forced him to leave the Corps has said that voting in the Soldiering On Awards gives a huge 'glow' to all the finalists.

He's one of six people or organisations nominated for the People's Choice Award, all of whom have inspirational and emotional stories of serving their country and the Armed Forces community.

Dan Fielding has told how he reached the depths of despair after he was medically discharged with a spinal injury from the Royal Marines in 2008, following 11 years' service with 42 Commando.

He then struggled to cope with depressive moments that made him become "someone I wasn't" and 'not the best dad in the world'.

He managed to turn his life around following an introduction to Cornish sailing charity Turn to Starboard in 2015, however.

Turn To Starboard

The organisation helps veterans who are facing personal challenges of mental health or injury by teaching them to sail and help start new careers in the marine industry.

He is now urging as many people as possible to vote for the People's Choice finalists as he says he sees a 'glow' inside from those the charity helps and says voting in the Soldiering On Awards gives every one of the finalists a little of that glow too, giving them a "pat on the back" for all their deserved efforts in supporting the Armed Forces community.

He told Forces Network of his journey through the darkest times, suffering a kind of grief after leaving the Royal Marines, before turning his life around with the help of Turn To Starboard and going on to pass the ultimate sailing exam - Yachtmaster Instructor.

Forces Network went to meet Dan and fellow Soldiering On Awards finalist Shaun Pascoe: Pictures: Harry Eyles

He said: "I went a little bit downhill after leaving, struggled a lot with mental health and ended up in a few dark places, which wasn't the best time in my life.

"About two-and-a-half years ago I got involved with Turn To Starboard, which is a sailing charity for veterans – the wounded, injured and sick.

"What we do is take them out and give them something to look forward to, and along the way we can get them involved, get them qualified throughout the year with the RYA qualifications.

"Myself, I went through the programme and I'm now a Yachtmaster Instructor.

"Now I have a full-time job with them, so I went from one end of the spectrum, locking myself away, not being very engaging, to now being around and helping other people move forward."

"There is a light at the end of the tunnel."

Dan had carried out tours in Sierra Leone, Northern Ireland, and Iraq, but he was injured during his time in Iraq in 2003, suffering a spinal and hip injury, and could no longer perform his role in the Marines.

Leaving the Royal Marines left him struggling with depressive mental health issues and he was initially given support by the veterans' mental health charity Combat Stress.

"Some of those dark days, the big dark dog comes and you just want to pull the duvet over your head, and that for me became more and more, where I just isolated and isolated and I started becoming the person I never was," he said.

"I went into treatment with Combat Stress and their intensive course, with heavy medication.

"I wasn't really interacting with my family, the kids, and I really became someone I wasn't, and that made a massive impact on that life, separated, divorced, not being the best dad in the world, or the most engaging.

"It was a pretty bad time. It's awful to revisit sometimes, and I still struggle with a few things, like we do, even the remnants of stuff, the behaviour that happens when you are ill, because you would never do that knowingly. Unfortunately, things happen like that.

"But on the brighter side, there is light at the end of the tunnel, even though you can't see it when you are in it because it's temporarily switched off until further notice, but there is a light and that's what we try to tell the guys and girls who come down here.

"We don't do any of the counselling or anything like that – the boat does that itself – but there's always the opportunity to get things out, and it does show that there is a light and something to work towards."

Dan Fielding is now a Yachtmaster Instructor with Turn To Starboard

Dan told how teaming up with Turn To Starboard has given him a sense of belonging and purpose that he began to miss after leaving the supportive brotherhood of the Royal Marines.

"Turn To Starboard means the world to me. It is a family, from the minute you walk in.

"I did, I straight away felt a part of it, and that was in its early stages. Now we're growing, we're massive and we're a bigger family.

"The hardest thing is to walk through the door but now my hardest job is getting people off the boat on a Friday because they at first find it difficult to get on and then once they are on, they don't want to get off and it spirals out of control in the best way possible.

"It means so much as you are part of something again, you're part of a team, you're useful, you build up your self-esteem again.

"It's OK to fail things, it's OK to not do as well as what you thought you were going to do, and then develop on that."

"You just feel worthless ... but you can develop."

"A lot of us, but I'm speaking for myself, you just feel worthless, and that you 'can't do' and things like that, or 'what if I fail', but you know that that's all OK because we just develop.

"And this is about just developing on through and moving forwards and that's the big thing – move forwards. The past is the past."

Dan said the biggest feeling he had once leaving the Corps was 'grief' but said Turn To Starboard was in some ways helping to replace that sense of belonging.

He said: "I didn't know I was grieving and I think that's how a lot of ex-servicemen and women feel.

"When you do leave that family, where once you've got that notional sense of parents that you never see but are there above you, and you’ve got your brothers and sisters around you, and they're the ones you turn to, when you haven't got that any more, that’s very difficult.

"It definitely is a grieving process. I didn't know what I was going through, and I was still dealing with the other things on top.

"It was actually Turn To Starboard that helped me grieve properly because even though it had been about seven years before I got down here, I don't think I'd ever gone through that process properly.

"Having the support, and we still all support each other, if there's any times that you need each other, everyone is there.

"That helped through that grieving process, and that re-education back into my own life, and life in general.

"So it's a pretty special place. I'll sing its praises all day long. If someone doesn't believe us, come down and have a look."

Dan Fielding is now a Yachtmaster Instructor with Turn To Starboard

He said it was an "absolute honour" to be named as a finalist in the People’s Choice Soldiering On Awards.

He said: "It's really nice to see guys and girls come down and start to make those changes.

"I genuinely feel at the same time that you see those little light bulb moments and that nervousness, that scaredness, about just getting on the boat, or just getting through the door, all of a sudden goes and they start getting comfy.

"Like when they are doing something right and there’s a smile on their face – I remember that inner glow, like a little Ready Brek glow inside you and I get to share that now as well, so it's really nice that I'm a teacher and a mentor and I've found exactly where I am and where I want to be for a long, long time."

Soldiering On Awards 2018

He said to be put forward for the Soldiering On Awards gives all the finalists a little more impetus to carry on, like a "validation" of all their hard work and effort, adding: "It's nice to be nominated, it really is".

He said just a simple vote for someone also gives them that 'glow' and helps boost their confidence.

"It's the taking part not the winning, and to be nominated is a big pat on the back, so get behind the Soldiering On Awards because the Soldiering On Awards do so much and they really support those who are supporting others who in turn go out to support others again.

"It's a massive community, so win, lose or draw – just get behind it and vote."

With thanks to BBC SPOTLIGHT for video footage.