'Chinook Crew Chick' named Inspirational Woman in Defence for courage in the face of PTSD

Watch: 'Chinook Crew Chick' speaks about her struggle with PTSD.

A Royal Air Force veteran, known by the nickname 'Chinook Crew Chick', has been crowned the winner of this year's Defence Discount Service Inspirational Woman in Defence Award for her "altruism and dedication to uplifting the lives of others". 

Liz McConaghy, who served for more than 17 years and racked up 3,000 flying hours with the RAF's Chinook fleet, released a book in 2022 detailing her struggles with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after leaving the Armed Forces, saying: "It's given me a huge amount of purpose back in terms of helping other people with their mental health and through trauma, but also a lot of identity back. 

"It's nice to kind of feel like I am someone again and I'm not invisible." 

Designed to celebrate the achievements and dedication of women working in all areas of the Armed Forces, the Women in Defence Awards shine a spotlight on all who have gone above and beyond the call of duty. 

At the age of 21, McConaghy was the youngest aircrew personnel to be deployed to Iraq, as well as the only female crew member on the Chinook for four years. 

Her career saw her amass two deployments to Iraq and 10 to Helmand, Afghanistan, in support of Operation Herrick, which gave her an insightful and very personal perspective on war. 

Liz McConaghy was the only female crew member on the Chinook wing for four years (Picture: Liz McConaghy).

In a conversation with BFBS the Forces Station about her award, Ms McConaghy spoke about her time with the MERT (Medical Emergency Response Team), describing that as "the highlight and the biggest privilege" of her career, saying: "As part of that duty, we were recovering the injured and wounded soldiers off the battlefield and seeing regularly... guys with missing limbs and... guys who paid the ultimate price, sadly". 

"It was a privilege to be part of it, a huge honour really, to be part of any soldier's last journey off the battlefield." 

After being medically discharged from the RAF in 2019, Ms McConaghy felt as though she had lost her identity and purpose in life, saying: "I found as a civilian... nothing would ever compare to the stuff I'd done in Afghanistan, and I very quickly began to unravel." 

After two deployments to Iraq, followed by 10 to Afghanistan, Ms McConaghy's own mental health struggles left her feeling suicidal (Picture: Liz McConaghy).

"I knew I was in a dangerous place when I started to look up a lot of the soldiers that we'd collected off the battlefield, who had paid the ultimate price, which then culminated with me taking a huge overdose in August that year. 

"I came out of hospital after the overdose, thinking that, well, it can't get any worse than this and the only way is up and, actually, I was hugely mistaken and I was about to start the biggest and hardest battle of my entire life, which was putting it back together." 

Ms McConaghy spent the next two years being supported by mental health charities such as Combat Stress and Help for Heroes during which time she started a journal that eventually became her book, Chinook Crew Chick: Highs and Lows of Forces Life from the Longest Serving Female RAF Chinook Force Crewmember. 

In her book, Ms McConaghy reveals the highs and lows she witnessed during war and the heavy cost – both physically and mentally – for those who serve (Picture: Liz McConaghy).

In her book, the veteran-turned-author details her struggles with PTSD and her mental health after leaving the RAF. 

Now working as a motivational speaker, Ms McConaghy speaks candidly about her mental health struggles and shares inspirational stories from her time in the RAF. 

Commenting on this year's Women in Defence awards and Ms McConaghy's win, Alidad Moghaddam, CEO of Defence Discount Service said: "Liz's journey resonated deeply with us at Defence Discount Service. 

"Her courage in the face of PTSD and mental health challenges serves as a powerful testament that others facing similar struggles do not define us, but rather constitute a part of our life from which invaluable lessons can be learned. 

"We're extremely proud to honour Liz as our Inspirational Woman of the Year 2023 and would like to express our deepest gratitude for her altruism and dedication to uplifting the lives of others." 

Of the awards themselves, Tom Dalby, former CEO and co-founder of Defence Discount Service, said: "It's a great way of recognising inspirational women in defence and it's something that we're exceptionally proud to run each year and, actually... we had some incredible stories sent in to us. 

"It's an award where we have an independent panel look through the nominations and you realise the impact that people have and what they do that they call a job." 

Defence Discount Service is the official MOD discount service for the British Armed Forces, veterans and defence community, offering its members access to exclusive discounts for free online through its website. 

A Defence Privilege Card can also be purchased for £4.99 for access to discounts on the high street in stores, restaurants and venues and is valid for five years. 

More information is available from www.defencediscountservice.co.uk.

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