An NHS mental health nurse has spoken about how a relationship break-up led to him fulfilling his dream of joining the Army later in life.
The stereotype for infantry soldiers may be of very young men but Corporal Tony Neary, 38, from Scunthorpe, said the reserve battalion he joined counts a range of ages among its ranks.
Cpl Neary was speaking to the Press Association while taking part in the challenging Exercise Askari Storm in Kenya alongside the regular Co Antrim-based Battalion 2 Rifles as they prepare to deploy to Afghanistan next year.
The exercise has included the soldiers sleeping in basic camps as well as in the African bush as they take part in long marches and simulated attacks.
Cpl Neary, who joined 8 Rifles, a reserve battalion of The Rifles, four years ago, said you need to be “on top of your fizz” to cope with the physical demands in the heat, which hits up to 40C.
“I wanted to do this when I was younger but I just got caught up with going back into education, getting into a relationship and that sort of thing,” he said.
“Then I became single again and decided, it is now or never to try out.
“I was too old for the regulars so the next best thing was the reserves. So I went to the internet and punched in what was in my local area and the Rifles stood out to me.
“There is quite a lot of lads my sort of age (in the reserves), but we also get quite a lot of young ones coming in – they want to experience it before they sign up for the regulars.
“Out here, physically you need to be on top of your fizz. I had a bit of an injury so I haven’t been able to do anything for the last six months. I have struggled a little bit out here, mainly to do with the heat, but so far I have kept up.
“However, the older you get the less you bounce.”
Cpl Neary said the other reservists he serves with include men who work in jobs ranging from abattoirs to fast food restaurants, as well as some who currently are not in full-time employment.
“There is also such a wide variety in terms of backgrounds and jobs, what people do in civvy street. We have some people who haven’t got a job now and are doing a lot more time with the reserves to help with a bit of money as well as learning,” he said.
“Out here at the minute (in Kenya), we have got one lad who works at an abattoir, I work as a mental health nurse in the NHS, and there is another lad who works in the fast food industry.
“This is the first time I have ever come out with a regular battalion, and worked with regulars. I was a little nervous at first, I had heard stories in the past about animosity, weekend warriors and that type of thing.
“But I have come out with these lads and literally from the outset they have been helping me, showing me things and making my life easier out here. They are a real spot-on bunch of lads, I’ve made some good mates.”
The Scunthorpe man described the experience of seeing elephants and giraffes in the wild instead of the zoo as amazing.
Later this year, he is set to travel to Slovenia for 8 Rifle’s annual camp.
“I like new experiences, if you don’t push yourself, you never find out,” he added.