Michael: My name is Michael Coates. I am a former fire fighter but I am also a former soldier. It is the
stories from the individuals within this military community that I am desperate to document. Our next
guest Captain Team GB in the very first Invictus Games. After losing both legs in Afghanistan he was
determined to achieve in life and become more than his injury. He was awarded an MBE, became a
Paralympian at the Rio Games and now is researching for his PhD. Episode 23 Dave Henson, this is
Michael: So you passed out at Sandhurst Dec 2008. You spent 7 months on a troop commanders
course before joining 22 Engineer Regiment. Why did you join up?
Dave: I don’t ever remember ever wanting to do anything else so when I was at school talking about
14- 15, year 10. We had the career fair come round. The army, like they always do, had a good
recruitment team took us off to play laser clay pigeon shooting. The other recruiters only had a piece
of paper and a stand. And I thought that’s it I am joining the Army it’s going to be amazing. I was
setting my sights at that. But equally, I was at the top sets in school and I was reasonably clever at
that kind of stud so I kind of knew I was going to college and I knew I was going to do my A levels and
it felt like the officer route looked the best academically for me. In reality it is a bit of a discussion point
but I went down the officer root and yes it was kind of what I always wanted to do. I always wanted to
join military from the age I could think about a career.
Michael: How did your degree work then?
Dave: It was a bit of a weird way. I did a 4-year mechanical engineering degree at University of
Hertfordshire. Year 3 of that course, is a year in industry. Some of my mates went to work for Rollce
Royce or satellite company or formula one race teams were quite common. But I applied for two
placements. One was to Xerox the photocopying company and the other was to the Army and they
were my 2 choices for my year 3 Engineering degree and thankfully the Army took me in or perhaps life
could have turned out a bit differently or I could have been staking up toner cartridges as we speak
(laughing). So no, I joined the army in year 3 in my degree. I spent a year in army in uniform. Not a
soldier’s bone in my body at that point.
Michael: Did you finish your degree in the army?
Dave: No, so I did that third year. Join the army, leave the army, do a year – leave the army. You can
transfer in the reserves, if you want. I left the army finished my degree in June 2007 and actually went
to work for the Navy as a contractor for 6 months after that on their mine hunting ships before starting
back in Sandhurst in Jan 2008.
Michael: Sandhurst finishing that going to 22 Engineer Regiment down in Tidworth. What was life like
Dave: It was busy. So this was summer 2009 operational routines concerned. Two of our squadrons
in Engineer Regiment were going out to supplement 23 Engineer Regiment for the forthcoming tour the
next year so we knew that 2 squadrons were about to go out to Afghan. So they were getting ready to
go. I think the unit had come back from Iraq maybe late 2007 and early 2008. It was a reasonable
busy time. I arrived in unit about 2 weeks before Summer leave. A 2-week handover/takeover, some
summer leave, another 2 weeks block and then it was straight out to Canada for an armoured exercise
battlegroup baptism by fire – straight out to the Canadian Prairie. I had not a clue what armoured
engineering was. I did not have vehicle command licence and it was really chuck yourself in at the
deep end. So it was busy. I then came back from that and it was straight onto a junior CO Cadre for
support and then back from that straight up to Cumbria, it thinks it was called Operation Giraffe which
was just flood relief operations in Cumbria. We went to build a bridge in the North West of England.
That was it the call for the tour came in really.
Michael: So Herrick came in, you were deployed October 2010. At this point in your experience are
you experienced enough to be taking blokes out?
Dave: God No. No No No. I don’t think you are ever experienced enough as a Lieutenant to take
Episode 23, Dave Henson MBEDeclassified Podcast
blokes out in a completely unsupervised sense of the word. You are definitely learning things still and I
was fortunate enough to have people around to teach me. On paper I had everything on paper to
promote up to captain and because of that a condensed period of activity arriving at 22 in June and
finishing that flood relief operation in December all of those boxes you needed on your OC chart had
been ticked. I technically did not have to do all that regimental duty type stuff in order to meet the
promotion criteria everything had been done. That’s why in Feb 2010 my boss gave us a call we have
this search troop requirement would you like to go off and form a new troop from our regiment to
deploy out as Search in Afghanistan in 7- 8 months’ time at that point.
Michael: What would characteristically be a search troop?
Dave: In our case it would be two search teams. Myself as an Officer and a Staff Sergeant Stu we
were both in charge of each one of the search teams. Then 2 Corporals then 2 Lance Corporals in
each team plus 4 searchers. An officer, COO, lance corporal and 4 search parties.
Michael: What do you have to do to get to that point from the Feb when you said role to the October
when you were actually deployed what is in between that?
Dave: It is pre deployment training you have all of the normal pre deploy training that any unit has to
do. But for us we also had to go off and get qualified in Search. Of me it was a case of doing my
search advisor course. I ended up doing that twice. Mainly because I was crap. As it turned out at
searching. I went on the first course failed it and went back again and passed the second time. Lots
and lots of training to get that point and linking up with our unit as we were detached from to 22
Engineer Regiment and attached to 33 Engineer Regiment for the tour so yes it was linking up with the
regiment we were working with, pushing through all the predeloyment training.
Michael: And that predeloyment training and the specific stuff with the search. Are you getting trained
from the lads just out of Afghanistan?
Michael: You are getting the most up to date training without actually being there?
Dave: Yes, the search advisor course is a bit more generic they are constantly getting updates from
theatre anyway. That is like your predeloyment training from blokes.
Michael: So let’s fly out to Afghan. Did you fly into Bastian?
Dave: We flew into Kandahar and then in a Herc into Bastian.
Michael: What was it like – young troop commander no experience as such in charge of X amount of
blokes. What was it like 2 weeks before on leave milling around in camp getting stuff ready actually
getting out there on the ground what is the feeling like?
Dave: It is a weird one because we had been so busy. So from the February to the second week in
September I think our predeloyment training finished so that is a long period of predeloyment training
so there are other bits in there also. So if you can consider the battlegroup or company … the armed
core signs need to know how to work with search troops as well. Perhaps it was little longer than you
would expect. It was the second week in September when we actually finished that stuff and ticked off
maybe a week leave and then a couple of weeks just doing stuff then getting ready to go. That is when
tempers are starting to fray it was weird as that was the easiest part of our time getting ready to go.
But because everything had been done the guys been. from bombs. I would not say it was hobby
activity it was pretty dangerous. So the lads had got to grips with that and just wanted to get out of the
door. So we were just in the camp in Tidworth play volleyball and people were just snapping and
saying this is absolute bull shit and people were saying why can’t we just go and… this was the easiest
time and just be alright with it and make peace that we have very little to do and get on with it. It was
tough couple of weeks getting ready to go for me personally no clue what to expect when we got out
there. Like the soldier s I was taking out there they had a massive idea of the risk already people from
Episode 23, Dave Henson MBEDeclassified Podcast
my search course the first time had gone out on Herric 12 and been blown up. I knew these guys I
knew the risk so I was pretty concerned with that and maybe distant with my family that kind of stuff.
And then it was out in Afghanistan and suddenly we were there.
Michael: That’s something that happens again and again when you start distancing yourself away
especially when you are going to hostile environments and high pressured environments your kind of
take one side of your brain out and leave it at home and get ready for the next part. So let’s take it
from where you then went. Did you stay in some Bastian?
Dave: That first week sucked. I think most flights get into Bastian in darkness and I am assuming it
was normal anyway. We arrived in darkness and get put in transit accommodation for that first night
and then the next day we sort of got put into our lines. Even though we were out in different FOB and
checkpoints you always have a bed space in Bastian so if you need to come back on a course or leave
you always have a bed space to get back to. We were taken to our lines. And then straight away this
person has been killed. This was a Corporal I had taken over for. I was his search team advisor during
one of these training exercises for an infantry company group I was just talking about so I covered for
another I was on a career course/ didn’t want to do the exercise. So I went and covered for that. So
the first day we arrived in to our lines we found out he had been killed doing exactly the same jobs as
our lads for very good friend actually. And that was our first day in Bastian.
Dave: Yes. IED he stood on it. A rude awakening to that. We are new to role so even though some of
my soldiers had been to Afghanistan or on tours before we were new to this search role and suddenly
the reality of this tour hit us, on day one. We had not even …. that was something to get over. It was
a massive wakeup call as to the genuine reality of the situation. You can read all the statistics you want
in the newspapers but suddenly you are on the ground and that guy you had a brew with on Salsbury
plane is not here anymore. It actually continued that week
Originally, we were assigned to go to one particular area. I can’t remember where it was now and then
we had a search team advisor who had lost his leg and his search team commander had been
temporarily blinded by by the blast. Straight away in the first week we had, one guy single leg missing
and another team commander blinded we ended taking up over from them. Then one of my mates
from Sandhurst, he as there as a search advisor one of his searchers was a double amputee from a
bomb blast as well. All within week one. It was insane. This was before we left Bastian. It was
ridiculous. It was a hard entry into Afghanistan. Like mentally.
Michael: And Scary with it?
Dave: Yes that is the whole point. It is scary. We are then in this situation where me as a
non-experienced lieutenant has to then say let’s go and do this job, and doing this job is a good idea
and the lads are doing everything they possible can to keep their eyes on the ball and do their job and
their leader had just been blown up. That was tough.
Michael: So you finally do your bits and pieces and little bits of training. You get out on the ground.
Was there a handover takeover?
Dave: No! he had been blown up!
Michael: Fucking hell.
Dave: Yes, that was it in-fact our handover takeover took place in Birmingham. (laughing) so he came
to visit me after I had been blown up. This same bloke. (laughing)
Yes, so we did our handover / takeover 4 months down the line. No, that was it. He had been blown
up. We went to this patrol baseline in Nehru Sagra up in the Gereshk valley.
Michael: how did you get there?
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Dave: We did road move. We were assigned to work with the Danish infantry. Armoured infantry which
is awesome a couple of xxx armoured vehicles. Yes we did a road move with the Danes a whole load
of ice container in the dessert through the dessert to ….. 4 or 5 hours you kept stopping all the time.
We had to drive through these minefields which was pretty miserable. We were just in an ice container
that had been fitted with some bar armour and like some rollercoaster seats in the back. That was it.
Shut in an ice container.
Michael: Were you locked in?
Dave: No we were not locked in. That was it. You can’t see anything you can’t see anything the doors
open you are in the middle of the dessert. You get off. Have a piss. Have a smoke and then get back
in and off you go. Where did we turn up FOB Price it is a while ago now my memory fades where the
Danes were based. It was weird there is like a NAFFI there, a coffee shop physiotherapists type Danes
and then back on the bandwagon and back to the patrol baseline.
Michael: What is normal work then? What is day to day like? What are you doing in search?
Dave: So we arrived there at a specific task. So the engineer responsibility in that area was to
continue the building of a highway one which a tarmac to route through to Afghanistan the whole point
to be to improve supply of troops and equipment for locals and for the military through the Helmand
province. So it was the creation of a tarmac road all the way through the Helmand province. Part of it
ame over the canal .. up patrol baseline and it fucked off someplace else but there was an engineering
troop in that area and building a road here to hear … our job was to specifically to search where this
road was going to be for any IED and make it safe so they could do their construction work and any
other tasks that could affect that construction work.
Michael: Is it an efficient way to work if you are clearing an area and it doesn’t take a couple of hours
to lay a road are they coming back in around you? I mean bomb-makers. people that are actually
putting IED into the ground?
Dave: In this case it was fine as the checkpoints were spaced so you could maintain eyes on this
stretch of road at all times and you were literally that you could see the insurgents coming in to stick
IED under the road. It took 3 days before we could chuck some fire down. But you see them, day in
day out. What are these guys doing cos you could just send an armoured wagon up and scare them
off? Normally they would leave their explosives there so you could take them away and get rid of that.
Michael: What happens if you do find something? It sounds obvious but if you come across an IED
what is the standard operating procedure?
Dave: If you can see one and you knew 100% it is an IED you can either exploit it or destroy we as a
search team would not make that decision. Our job was to either find or confirm IED. We would then
call for the explosive ordinance disposal which is like the second part of our team and depending on
which grouping you have attachment you would either blow it up with a robot and exploit it for any
intelligence and other kind of biometric that kind of stuff – blow it up or exploit it. The explosives
themselves are useless you just blow it up.
Michael: secondary devices?
Dave: Overlooking this road there was this big walled compound where the enemy kept shooting our
troops from so we had a secondary task as a search time searching all of this wall area so it could blow
up and take down firing point well away from the construction area and it improves the safety of
engineering troops and over the course of doing this we had a high threat team with us at this stage.
We found a couple of devises some of them was planted visually through a balloon mounted camera …
it was a pressure pad IED lined to a secondary command device which just had like a … the arrow
Episode 23, Dave Henson MBEDeclassified Podcast
slots … I don’t know what they are called but just a tiny little view but mainly targeting this high threat.
Michael: Someone was behind there?
Dave: There would have been but thankfully we had made it safe our TTT (tactical technique?) are
pretty robust to deal with secondary devises as search and pretty good covering those.
Michael: And the threat to you from small arms when you are dealing with this stuff is that high how
does it work?
Dave: It is reasonably high when you are on job you usually have a fixed static or roaming patrol
intimate security while you are doing your job so there was only a couple of times on our tour we got
shot at directly I just knew it was a single shot and it. rather than any sustained contact. We were shot
at day 1 in our first checkpoint, which was a bit of a wakeup call.
Michael: Because you are a specialised team that search you are treated as an asset on the ground.
There is not 500 of you running round Helmand out there it is treated as an asset. So do you get
moved around from place to place? You were with the Danes initially?
Dave: Yes, we did get moved around. Your primary asset is the high threat and they always need a
search team associated with it. A search team will go leave at the same time and their bomb disposal
team will go on leave at same time so you need to maintain a certain high level capability so if the ….
another search team would have to be moved in and that seems to be the cause of the rotation which
is find. we did move around we spent 8 or 9 weeks with the Danes and had a really good track record
in terms of explosion, no injuries, found a whole load of bombs, made a whole load of stuff safe and
the construction went on. Part of our job role is not just to physically go out on the ground and find ID
and steering people away threat identification as well. That was really successful, interesting tour ..
until the very last day until a Danish soldier walked exactly where I told him not to walk and is a very
good friend of mine now. A really weird back story to him a new Yorker past Jewish speaker and no
idea how any of that came about and he is a massive legend and I sort of kept in touch with him
through the Invictus Games. Anyway, that was our tour with them. Went home managed to get on
Christmas leave. We had an early bit of R & R as one of my soldiers had his first child so we were sent
home for Christmas so he could meet his baby. That was awesome. Came back from leave. two and
half week working as the high readiness team from Bastian attached to a US disposal team and our job
was just to bounce wound where ever we were needed so we ended up going to an IED contact for
Household Cavarly, patrol platoon for The Parachute Regiment. We sat around a lot of time in Camp
Bastian too. Fascinating stuff.
Michael: What you said there about the full team going on leave together. Are you bonding as a whole
team a load of sappers and private soldiers and you are an officer are you becoming friends with team?
Dave: Oh yes. Definitely and I know it is frowned up in these leadership rule books and you need to
maintain a distance but I would count it as one of the biggest privileges to be in that position as an
office the highest rank was a corporal so there are 6 junior soldiers and me. You don’t get that as an
officer. I was a Support Commander in 22 regiment had 42/44 soldiers on the book you can’t be close
to everyone you have to maintain that distance. But I got to experience that proper operational
camaraderie brotherhood that you look at a section, as an officer that you are jealous of, you want that
brotherhood and bond. I got to experience it and we were close and I see them now.
Michael: Let’s move then to 13 Feb 2011. You were in Nad-e-Ali South. You are clearing IEDs and
you stand on one. A hidden IED and that is going to change everything. Can you just take us from that
moment? What was that initial?
Dave: That day?
Dave: That day was normal they have a rainy period in Afghanistan it felt like it had been raining.
attached to the royal Irish regiment in the arse end of nowhere it was a Sunday 13th February. It had
Episode 23, Dave Henson MBEDeclassified Podcast
stopped raining clear blue skies. No gunfire. Nothing. The most peaceful day. We had been tasked to
go and clear two compounds with the purpose being that the owners/residents of the compounds
could move back in and start working their land again. So these compounds had been used as firing
points by Afghans, US Marine Core, The Royal Irish all at various points. It would have been a tussle
for some land so chances were it would be littered with IED most firing points are. So we went in as
the high threat team cleared the first compound and no problems, whatsoever. Moved onto the
second compound cleared our way into the building, so we cleared the outer compound first and our
search team moved into the inner compound and accommodation area and started clearing that from
IEDs. Me, as the commander on the ground of that particular unit crossed from one end of the
compound to another to gain eyes on with the infantry that were providing our cordoned security.
Turned round. That was it. I stood on an IED that had been missed. That was it. Blown up into the air.
Landed back down on my head. Sort of sat up, no clue what had happened. At this point looked
down at my legs. They were ripped to shreds, feet still in boots. Boots were intact, but from sort of
top of boot to mid-thigh everything just seemed to be mangled bones poking out and stuff. I was just
screaming. I would love to be able to say I was conscious and calm and cool throughout. I was
definitely conscious but not calm not cull or collected throughout I was trying to push away with my
hands from this sight in front of me. I ended up my back on the wall my team commander came into
my field of view. Not sure what he said it would have been something like. “Are you okay trooper?”
that interaction with me clicked me back into the presence and brought me back to the present and
suddenly my team are all team medic training it was torn helicopter call back to Bastian
Michael: That’s not you making these decisions? Is it?
Dave: I was definitely saying this stuff. I told them they needed to get the camera to take pictures of
the incident. I told them to get the sat phone to phone our ops room. I told them me sat number. I
think the reality of the situation was they would have done it they did not need me to say it I like to
maintain I was aware of what needed to be done I think I was just saying stuff to take my mind of
everything else. That’s not to give me credit my soldiers did everything. So that was it as far as
everything else was concerned they patched me up stopped the bleeding got me ready in absolute
rapid time and then it was a case of drinking water and smoking fags waiting for a chopper so I had my
posh Marlboro light officer packed in my med pack ready to go in an incident like this. They mugged
me off and gave me this local cigarette literally full of shit on the ground it was fucking disgusting
smoking tabs. (laughing)
You see these Apaches coming over the top and the chinooks inbound you hear the double rotators
coming and down it is. The anaesthetist comes off the back of the ramp I am babbling on about how
good my team have done. He’s thinking “Whatever”. And I was jabbed up with anaesthetic and I was
awake in Bastian a few hours later, 20 mins to the chopper and then 37 minutes I was on the operating
Michael: 17 mins after the chopper landed?
Dave: On the operating table I got the photos a couple of weeks ago the first time in 8 years my leg
was in bits so not bad 37 mins flash bang.
Michael: When you were still on the ground because you have had morphine and that what is your
pain at the moment?
Dave: It’s weird you don’t really feel the pain in the start because you have this massive adrenalin
overdose and then you are morphine and before the adrenalin died it let like someone had parked a car
on my legs and they were just being crushed like they had never been crushed before I don’t know why
it felt like that pretty substantial levels of pain but thankfully at no point I was not exposed without
some kind of drug and pain relief.
Michael: When you woke up in Bastian what were you greeted with?
Dave: I don’t know why I wasn’t put into a coma. Quite often they put you in a medical induced coma.
Sunday night I was awake in Bastian so it is then seeing friends. Like a hospital in the UK seeing
Episode 23, Dave Henson MBEDeclassified Podcast
people from my units mates from Sandhurst at the time, one of my soldiers who happened to be back
in Bastian and yes speaking to the flight crews speaking to the paramedics on the chinook. Weird.
Michael: Were your feet still on?
Dave: No, they were in a burns pit.
Michael: Is that what happens?
Dave: Yes, they are in an incinerator.
Michael: Your mates are around you. Sorry, I am stuttering. I think I have just thought of something.
Let’s relate this to you. Above the knee? Is one through the knee. Was that the only operation you had
in Bastian. Major operation?
Michael: That’s uncommon?
Dave: I don’t know my injury was straight forward. Legs off.
Dave: Took a smashing, yes.
Michael: What was it like then waking up with no legs? or half a leg?
Dave: It is a weird one. As a soldier in that situation you are feeling fucking grateful to be honest fully
aware of the risks in Afghanistan and I thought there was a fair chance and one in six statistically
coming home injured or in a body bag and the fact I was coming home and I was not in a body bag it
was an absolute in I knew I was alright, my pelvis was fine, my knacks had taken a hit my legs had
taken a hit but everything else was fine and at least I was going home six weeks early. I had this huge
feeling of guilt I was leaving my team there. But from an individual level I was going home and I was
Michael: What about the lads? You said you were still in communication with the guys. What was the
impact of the team when you were casevac out?
Dave: I was in Bastian 36 hours so I actually flew back on Valentine’s Day. Late on in Valentine’s Day
because from my operation with The Parachute Regiment they had taken casualties so they delayed
the medi flight back but I was fine I was not in a life threatening situation but It did mean by the time I
had my soldiers off the ground which is standard and then go through that … to get ready to deploy
back on the ground reception staging because you are a team you have to train and get signed off as
a team to further deploy onto the next soldier so they would have had their replacement search adviser
assigned to the team so they got back into Bastian and they literally got to the hospital as I was
loaded into the ambulance so I got to see them very briefly checked they were alright told them I was
alright. I was fucked off back to the UK. They had to carry on. I never think they get enough credit for
this. They had to watch no matter how crap I was being irrelevant they had to watch their friend their
search adviser their troop adviser who had just been blown up in front of them and they were expected
to carry on as normal on the ground with someone they had never met before to an area they had
never been to before and carry on as if everything was fine which they did. They had an extremely
punchy back end of the tour. It was punchy there was more deaths thankfully not within our teams but
within the units and they dealt with and all credit to them because they just nailed it. It was quite funny
whether it was true or and whether they were just blowing smoke up my arse. When we did our medal
parade after they all got back they said they got their new boss in and basically just ignore every he
told they to do and just did everything the way we done it. Whether it was good or not know idea as it
clearly did not work for me (laughing) it was a nice touch. It did make me feel awesome, whether it was
true of not, it did have the intended effect.
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Michael: Well I think people are stubborn as well and there is that trust between people that is hard to
break and its almost you were still there looking after them doing the stuff you had been doing
previously. You are now in Birmingham and going through a period of time in Birmingham. How was it
structured in Birmingham are you with civi’s? with military guys? on your own room shared room?
what is the protocol with that?
Dave: Birmingham is a bit of a mish mash of all of those. Ward 4/12 in The Queen Elizabeth Hospital
in Birmingham is the military ward staffed almost entirely by military personnel but it’s weird you can
have civi in there if there is bed space like any other hospital if there is bed space so it gets used. You
have single man room and 4-man room depending on infection risk. If you are an individual who has
open wounds you tend to be in an individual room. If you are a high risk of infection or a high risk of
infecting others just for hygiene reasons. Post intensive care, I spent a week in the intensive care ward
when I first came back to the UK, and then I was then in a 4-man ward with private soldiers from The
Parachute Regiment and it was fucking brilliant. It was amazing. They sort of took me from this nice
polite gentile officer and turned me into an absolute scrot and I think they took great pride in doing it
do. One of my mates said they used to see me, this officer, in the corner reading these broadsheet
papers. In this fucking hospital ward reading the Telegraph. I have never read a broadsheet newspaper
in my life. They said I was in corner reading these broadsheets not speaking to anyone then one day
something flicked and fucked the paper off (laughing) and I was just in the corner naked having a
banter with those lads. They were absolute brilliant considering how shit the situation was. In that
room there was me, a mate of mine who had lost both his legs, another mate across the way who lost
one of his legs and another lad in the corner who was the reason why we waited for 36 hours to come
back from Bastian, he had died 3 times. He was our little tea bitch because he had his legs. He was
the one who had to go out and get everyone’s brews despite the fact he had his hand stitched into his
stomach. (laughing) He was a “Hey buck she, go and get the brews“ (laughing) and that’s what he had
Michael: Was it key to that time of short term recovery that it almost the mental health side because
mental health people think poor mental health but on day to day we can have poor mental. I don’t
know mate actually but in this situation your spirits still need to be keep high and maintained. Is having
that shared room key.
Dave: It’s exactly that. It’s about having the shared experience. We all had a shocker. We were all in a
shit state. Not knowing what the future was. But the easy thing is that squaddies are good at. You
are in it together. So if your mate is in the shit you tend to jump in the shit together. You would not just
leave them in the shit and say I’m fine up here you would jump in and get them out of the shit so that
was sort of exemplified in this hospital ward. There were 4 of us in the shit and we were all in it
together we did the best to get through it. The situation was fucking miserable the injuries were horrific
in that ward. But we got through it. There was a key moment in there but you don’t really think about it
but in hospital you see it on the news and if you look through the casualty figures for Afghanistan. You
will see that some died in Afghanistan or some that died of wounds in the UK. We were in that same
hospital where those people were brought back to having limbs amputated similar conditions to us,
brought back from Afghanistan brought into intensive vary some go up to the hospital ward and some
go down to the morgue. When your unit is deployed and you have come back early you are in hospital
in this hospital situation your mates are going to be coming into that intensive care situation and for me
one of the most horrific points of the whole tour was having someone, one of the mates of the lads in
the room had to get taken downstairs rather than come up to the ward and to deal with that
situation…. And then for a nurse you have never met before and just to come in and say he had died.
“What the fuck” How is it fair that we have come up from that ward we have come from intensive care?
It was difficult. We kicked the nurse out and locked the door and we just had a moment in the ward
where we collectively understood it was shit and there was very little to say and pushed on I guess. So
you get those real highs in hospital and those real lows all balanced out to an even state by the people
around you and that’s the story of recovery all the way through.
Michael: Let’s talk a bit more on recovery. So you went through Headly Court and their recovery
program. Part of your recovery was to run so you recovered enough to get your prostetics on, blades
after that and you started running. What was one of your short term goals with regards to running?
Episode 23, Dave Henson MBEDeclassified Podcast
Dave: For me running was the escape as an officer in the regiment it was amazing to be able to run on
Salsbury plain it was where I did my thinking, I got my free space. Running on prostetics is difficult it is
really difficult. My first run was 7 meters progressing to 10 meters and then to 50 meters running. It
was painful it was hard work but I sort of set myself this goal before I got med discharge because I
knew it was coming I would be fit enough to pass the running component of the BFPA or the PFA the
mile and a half run which has requirement of 10.5 mins before I discharged I could pass that test and
then technically, I could say I was as fit when I left, as when I joined. So that was the aim and it took
ages to get there. It really did. It certainly felt like ages. I got my running blades ten months to the day
after I got blown up and it was not until Feb 2014 that I finally ran sub 10:30 for that mile and half.
There is a pretty straight forward mile and half route round Battersea park 10:45 finally to 10:28 3
weeks before life. Fuck I am so bored running this mile and half. Maybe 4 and 5 weeks before my
discharge I finally got that sub 10:30 pass.
Michael: Again and again in recovery people are looking at short term goals Simon talked about it in his
podcast the small things just getting down the stairs you can go outside and it escalates from there.
Why it sounds obvious. Why did you have to leave?
Dave: It might sound obvious but it is not that obvious if you consider an officer career route it tends to
be desk based anyway I could have stayed in and I could have flown a desk easily strategy, plans
policy all of the real fun stuff that you join the military for! but I don’t think I could have coped sending
people out of the door all time. I could not have coped with the military shit stuff. You join the military
to go on military tours as far as I am concerned. I joined to go away I did not want to be tied to a desk
I didn’t want to be stuck in UK doing all this kind of stuff. Even though I was not forced out it was the
best thing for me.
Michael: There was some compensation as well so there is the compensation scheme and I think it is
relevant that we talk about as it is one less thing to worry about in that respect it was enough to say
your mortgage is paid off and allow you to do, month to month, to do what you want to do from here
on in. You captained the first Invictus Games Team GB why was that so important?
Dave: So about the time I was passing that mile and half march 6th we did the public launch of the very
first Invictus games and we did that 2 pronged attack at the Olympic park and at St James Palace.
Now I had been involved not in the organisation not in the delivery not in the generation of sponsorship
I had been involved as someone who could speak about the benefit of sport in recovery. I was brought
into speak with prince harry and other members of the organisation team to talk about what a
competition could look like. I was brought in to speak to various afferent people. I was brought in to
speak to the media and public … why sport is important. And I think basically I could talk about the
value of sport beyond the competitiveness and physical fitness side I could sort of delve into the
understanding on why it is important they decided to put me as the overall team captain I was by the
means the best spokesman and …. I could talk reasonably coherently about it and my face is mega, so
they stuck me on the front cover.
Michael: You were a good looking chap
Dave: it is a curse (laughing)
We went through Invictus and it was a huge success I have never as a kid we look at the Olympics
come paraolympics would start on Channel 4 and I probably should not watch it. Invictus was the first
time I thought it is not about the James Cracknell rowing as fast as he could its deeper than that it’s not
about the thing the winning the medal it is about that recovery for those that partook and for those who
were at the games driving it and competing at the lowered levels. Not everyone gets to go to Invictus
not everyone competes but there is a lot of people around it reaching recovery.
Dave: there is always loads of people in the background like any competition there is a pyramid effect
where there is someone underneath pushing someone to get to the top of pyramid … pushes that
person across. Certainly for me Paralympic sports is so different to Olympic sport and I imagine the
mind-set is probably different if you have come from being born with a disability or having an acquired
disability going into sport certainly for us military Paralympians we have come from a situation we did
Episode 23, Dave Henson MBEDeclassified Podcast
not want to be in professional sport we wanted to join the military. That was our career growth. Some
people want to go off and be accountants, teachers, Olympians. For us we want to be soldiers, sailors,
marines or whatever. This was what we wanted to do. That was our choice. And then that primary
focus and that gets stripped away for whatever reason for us it happens to be combat injury you are
then faced with this challenge what the fuck are you going to do with your life what the fuck are you
gang to do …. The first person you ask … what do you do? I am an ex-soldier. So for us it was all
about aiming towards something that would pick us back up and put us in a better place it is exactly
what … it took me from being someone who was referred to as Dave Henson a former Army Captain
who was injured in Afghanistan and then blah blah blah. Whatever it might be has done his master’s
degree has got married. I was defined and the process of going through sport turned out to be this
process of redefinition so by the time we had got through Invictus Games and got good at sport and
got in GB side and aiming for Paralympic. I went to the second Invictus Games when it came to the
European championship and …. came home with a bronze medal from Rio back in 2016 and that was
all good and enough of an accolade but the real win there was by the time I came back the fact that I
was wounded in Afghanistan and way down the pecking order it was Dave Henson medal winner
Paralympian was suddenly present with a future to it and that was a real key moment in terms of that
redefinition and suddenly I had a future which allowed me to identify and understand that the future
Michael: You have taken it one step further and now researching your PhD in biomechanics. Why did
you choose that? What is the reason?
Dave: My academic journey has been going on the whole way from point of injury really I guess before
I went to Afghanistan I was naïve to prostetics we had been taking a lot of casualty at this point I had
seen footage I had friends coming back and put on these …. Navy I thought I through it was a bolt on
replacement for a leg you had just lot. Terminator had been out for decades. We have blue tooth, AI I
just assumed that the prostatic you put on would be robot legs and be everything you needed them to
be and more so when I first started wearing prostetics in Headly Court and you realise just how
deficient they are compared to prostetics legs just not acceptable for me so coming into that viewpoint
as a mechanical engineer you always know if you want something done you have to do it yourself you
might have to steer people but if you really want a problem solved …. I think I can apply my unique set
of experiences come from the military the project management and planning stuff that that entails my
background in … and see if we can’t makes these legs a little bit better there is this underlying feeling
as well as far as the government concerned they do not have a good track record of looking after
troops in the long term we are currently well looked after provision for the best available prostetics is
that budget always going to be there or are they going to turn around and say no budget left to provide
those prostetics and you are just going to have to go on a peg leg I just can’t shake that feeling that we
are going to get screwed over and not be provided for. So if at least I can make top grade prostetics I
will know that me and my mates are squared away in the long term. But these things are not great. Not
as something that is just treated with prostetics optimisation of surgery, rehab of the clinical side and of
the technical equipment that goes on the outside we genuinely can have made a huge functional
different to our amputee population. That is how my PhD is about to change things and carry my
daughters down a set of steps and carry my shopping out of thane car because my wife is pregnant
that the important things in life that I can’t do its about getting a real life functional change not jumping
over buildings that would be stupid. Iron man would be awesome but there’s a basic step to go
Michael: Are you actually creating prototypes now or is it all just theoretical?
Dave: Both, I create theoretical stuff for my PhD I will create prop types for my PhD but I also create
prototypes as part of my hobby (laughing). I have 3 prototype runes at home that me and my brother
knock up we are looking to really improve how amputees run and I know I have banged on about I
know it’s just not about training faster. it’s a project which me and my brother are working on can I
actually design a prostetics? Yes, I can so now be making a descent one. I do the theoretical stuff
which revolves around the surgical environment at the minute the implants and that kind of stuff and
the stuff I do at home is improving the physical components and prostetics themselves.
Michael: So we have lads that are trialling this stuff and I think that military cohort is key the casevac
Episode 23, Dave Henson MBEDeclassified Podcast
club that you guys are really involved with and almost testing on yourself to make things better for
everyone else. We talk about growth and post traumatic growth and you are an amazing example of
how you can grow and become better because of the trauma you have gone through.
The future, firstly with regards to you and then prostetics. We just overviewed it then but what
realistically with regard to yourself. What does the future hold for you? and then with your work?
Dave: I think, will take it down to 2 sort of parts to that answer. The medical situation for people that
have received any kind of resuscitation, the future is difficult. If you look at the cohort of wounded
pretty much all veterans now from Iraq and Afghanistan they would have had to receive some form of
resuscitation on the battle field whether that was a blood transfusion car holes in thru throat. It
changes your body at a cellular level the most basic building blocks all the way up these are changes
as a result of these battlefield wounds. we do not have a clue what these cellular changes later on will
be in an increased risk of brain disease and any other diseases as a result of these cellular changes.
You look at the amputee population particularly if we carry on functioning the way we are. most of us
will need a hip replacement above the … opposite knee needs replaces afterwards. Your spine is
going to need to be used and you are going to have shoulder problems later on and these are not just
guess the timeline but might be a bit of a stab in the dark but this is going to happen. Unless you
happen to have exceptional cartridge that regenerates itself these things are going to happen so you
might consider the amputee coming back from Afghanistan you go through Hedley Court but the actual
situation they are not fixed. There is a long term consequence to those kind of injures what we are
faced with now there is a number of infidels a statistically significant number of individuals carrying
these kind of wounds by offering ourselves up to medical research, to medical science we can identify
these kind of arthritic issues earlier, identify these issues relating to heart disease earlier, identified
these issues relating to brain disease earlier such that together we can actually collectively look after
the rest of us better, we can spot those statistical signs. So if one person is presenting signs of heart
disease not have so many men dying of a heart attack. Actually, you can run that test across the whole
remainder of the cohort and pick out those at risk of heart disease because of this combat exposure.
So that’s where the medical cost, the long term medical cost of coming out of Afghanistan and Iraq, we
have got these conditions, we need to stick together and identify the long term risks so we can live a
little bit longer. That’s nice.
In terms of the prostetics stuff, the future for that again is interesting. Developments world-wide are
staggering. Unsurprisingly relate to AI. Unsurprisingly relate to putting power into theses prostetics so
you can walk up the stairs walk around a little bit easier, but also for me the most exciting bit for me is
in limb regeneration. It might sound like it is straight out of science fiction but for me limb regeneration
is something that is a distinct possibility you can regrow muscles you can print organs in a lab you can
do all of this stuff. It’s about putting all this technology together, stick it onto a leg, stick it onto a bloke.
What if we could contribute to the fact that in 25 years’ time you can just print a new leg in a lab and
put it on in surgery and actually amputation, as a condition, is a kind of minor. It is like a minor
inconvenience you have lost your leg and then you stick a new one on and away you go and this is the
kind of stuff that the Imperial College in particular in this country are looking to work on in the future so
what about joint implants. So for me, I have got a thru knee amputation which means all muscles of
my thigh, my quad muscle, my knee caps are still in place I even have some calf muscle but I have no
calf bone. So what if I stuck an implant in there. That one knee joint would allow me ride a bike and go
up the stairs that’s a huge functional difference. I would be able to function better in real life. It’s not
really much of a leap to go from a knee implant to recreating a whole leg and then re-growing a whole
leg but your kind of need status to push it forward into the future really
Michael: Dave, mate thanks so much for this conversation and we will leave it there.