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On the 10th anniversary of the end of Operation Telic - the UK's military operation in Iraq - a veteran has spoken about his experiences in the Middle East, the moment he thought he might die as his helicopter's missile warning system went off, and how the Royal British Legion helped him after his career.
Mike Kiff had already travelled to the Balkans before heading to Iraq as a private in 2005.
He told LADbible: "When I got out there, we were still in soft-skinned vehicles, so you didn't realise that the threat was as high as it maybe was.
"As we were out there it was the build up to the first Iraqi elections, so it started progressively getting a little bit more active with the incoming rocket fire and IEDs [improvised explosive devices] going off around the cities."
Stationed in Baghdad initially, Mike served in the Army Signal Corps and found himself out and about a lot performing jobs on the ground.
Eventually, a rocket strike during a phone call with his sister rammed home the immediate danger.
He explained: "I was on the phone to my sister one evening and we had incoming rocket fire. My sister heard the rocket hit and I had to hang up the phone and get into cover, and it put the fear into my family.
"There wasn't a lot on the news about Iraq at the time, so I took the decision from that point on to cut myself off from my family whilst I was away, and said 'if you hear anything, you'll hear something - if you don't it's good news'."
One incident that stands out in his mind particularly is the time a helicopter he was in was forced to take evasive action after the on-board missile warning system went off, alerting everyone on board to the fact they could be seconds from a rocket strike.
Mike said: "You felt [genuine fear] whenever you went out of the gate, and you know the threat is always there.
"On one of my last flights in the country, something locked onto the helicopter that we were in and the pilot started taking evasive action and I'd never experienced it yet.
"The chaff was going off [missile countermeasure] and I'd never experienced that before. You're in a helicopter which was nice and smooth and then all of a sudden you're seeing sky, then ground, then sky.
"That was probably for me the most real moment that I was in a warzone."
Mike added: "I knew I didn't have long left out there and I was like 'oh God, not now.'
"It's tough. For me, I just remember the adrenaline, I physically felt my heartbeat speed up. I could feel my heartbeat through my body armour, but you're just in a reactive mode.
"Everything you train for is telling you that you act in a certain way. An incident happens and you react professionally, you are brave, you are strong.
"If I'd been in a vehicle and there'd been an incident, we'd covered quite a lot of the reaction and what we're going to do, whereas in my mind I knew that in a helicopter, this is completely out of my control.
"If something hits this, we're going down, and at that point you think 'this could be it'.
"Thankfully it wasn't."
Mercifully, the missile - if there ever was one that could have viably struck them - didn't find its target.
Mike managed to get out of Iraq, but was forced to take a medical discharge in 2016 due to a long-standing injury.
That led him to another battle faced by many who leave the armed forces: a struggle with mental health problems, as well as the shock of re-adjustment to life as a civilian.
At this point, he credits the Royal British Legion with turning his life around.
He explained: "Because I loved the army and I didn't want to leave, I fell into quite a deep depression, [I was] suicidal, all the stuff that we never used to talk about.
"The Legion stepped in and sent me to a recovery centre, where I received counselling and advice on how to return to Civvy Street, and it basically changed my life really.
"They helped me sort out my finances, my pension, and changed my life, because I was on the brink of taking my own life.
"My marriage was in a terrible place because I wasn't speaking to my wife, I wasn't engaging with my children, and the Legion stepped in and gave me that support it gave me a new lease of life and made me realise that actually, I would be OK outside the military."
Featured Image Credit: Royal British Legion/PA/Mike Kiff
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