An Iraq war hero who was blinded by a sniper's bullet which shattered his face has told how the simple act of voting in the Soldiering On Awards can help boost the confidence of finalists like him.
Corporal Simon Brown, who was left with life-changing injuries after a bullet from a sniper's AK47 assault rifle entered his skull and tore through his face, told Forces Network that it was a "deeply-moving" honour for award-winners like him to realise that strangers are inspired by the finalists in the Soldiering On Awards.
Simon, who won the 2017 People's Choice Award, said the support shown to him throughout last year's awards event had boosted his confidence and left him humbled that so many people whom he had never met had backed him with their votes.
Voting for the People's Choice, sponsored by Forces Network, in the Soldiering On Awards 2018 has now opened, allowing members of the public to have their say in recognising the achievements of those who have served their country and the diverse people and groups who work together in support of the Armed Forces community.
You have until midnight on March 12 to give a huge boost of morale to people who deserve all the support we can give them in their dedication to the Armed Forces family - through one easy click on a voting website.
Simon spoke to Forces Network ahead of the People's Choice Award 2018 – and he encouraged as many people as possible to get behind this year's award by voting for the finalists, giving them all the support they can get.
Simon, who joined the Army in 1997 and now has about 20% vision in his right eye, said winning last year's award was one of the milestones in his journey to find a new direction in life after the fateful moment in 2006 when he felt what seemed like a "smack on the side of his head" that left him feeling the world that he knew had disappeared around him.
A vehicle mechanic with the Royal Electrical & Mechanical Engineers, Simon had at the time been helping to rescue six comrades in a stranded vehicle while out on patrol during his second tour of Iraq, when a sniper found him in his sights.
A bullet ripped through his face and exited below his right eye. Within 36 hours he was rushed out of Basra and back on a plane to the UK, where he was placed in a medically-induced coma for 17 days.
He told Forces Network: "We were on patrol on our normal duties. We had done the hard bit and we were about to leave, out of the area.
"That's when I got smacked in the side of the face.
"I was lucky it didn't knock me out because what would have killed me would have been if I'd suffocated but I was able to keep my palate up. That gave me a chance."
Simon described the days and months after his time in hospital, in somewhat understated terms given his ordeal, as "pretty tough".
"I was in quite a difficult place because the only thing I could focus on was what I had lost."
"You cling to the hope that the doctors are wrong, that you're going to be the one that defies medical science but then you realise that is not going to happen."
Simon has undergone dozens of operations, with plates now holding his eye socket to his jaw, but with support from organisations such as Help For Heroes and Blind Veterans UK, which helped him adjust to severe sight loss and supported him as he learnt how to live on his own, he has managed over time to rebuild his life.
He said the support he received from the veterans' organisations helped him find a new purpose in life and help him shift his focus away from all that he felt he had lost and instead start thinking about what more he had to offer.
"I found that a lot of the skills I have are transferable and in time I began to realise that I had not lost everything, that there was a future."
Winning the People's Choice Award last year, he said, was overwhelming.
Simon added that the recognition alone gives all those put forward for an award the feeling that they have so much to offer the world and that they are "doing something good" not just for themselves, but for others. He said:
"Just to get shortlisted was pretty cool."
"I've been in the veterans support environment now for 11 years and I've had a chance to meet a lot of people and heard a lot of their stories and what they have been through. So to know you've been recognised and put on a par with those people is pretty humbling.
"I think the attitude for many people in that sort of place is that they are just focused on trying to get better.
"Your goal is just trying to fix yourself and find yourself in a better place, so when you get recognised as an inspiration to others, that you're doing something good, not just for yourself but inspiring others, it's a real honour, especially recognition by your peers.
Speaking of this year's finalists in the Soldiering On Awards, he said: "They are all incredible stories and incredible people.
"I know their stories inspire and even if you don’t end up voting for a winner, the recognition alone matters so much to all those put forward in the Soldiering On Awards.
"I just want to wish all the finalists the very best and hope they have a great night and just enjoy the Awards."