Veteran Ronald “Ronnie” Martin is the epitome of a survivor. He is still here to tell his story despite having been caught up in a helicopter crash and receiving two near-fatal gunshot wounds during his time serving in the Army.
Far from dwelling on these traumatic events, Ronnie defines his service by the brotherhood he felt with fellow soldiers and the sadness of having to leave a career he loved due to injury.
Upon returning to civilian life, Ronnie, 49, from Dunfermline, found backup in the form of Armed Forces charity Poppyscotland, which works all-year-round to provide vital support to veterans, those still serving and their families.
Ronnie knew he wanted to sign up from a young age and did so in 1986, aged just 16, before he’d even sat his exams at school.
After completing his training he served with the Royal Engineers, which was where he first experienced the camaraderie and brotherhood he loved most about military life.
He said: “As a unit [9 Parachute Squadron], we were renowned. We fought hard and we played hard; we were a real band of brothers.”
As a Lance Corporal he served with the Royal Engineers in Cyprus, Canada, the Falklands and Belize. In 1989, while he was serving in the Falklands, Ronnie got caught up in the first of two life-threatening incidents, when the helicopter he was travelling in crashed.
He said: “There were around nine of us in the chopper, and the guy in charge – the load master – suddenly sat down, and when he sits down you know you’re in trouble.
“When you get told to brace and you’re falling 200ft out of the sky, you know it’s serious.”
Miraculously, Ronnie and his fellow soldiers survived the crash, but it was during a tour in Belize, in 1991, that his time in the military was to be cruelly cut short.
Ronnie was mercilessly gunned down by an armed drug dealer who then shot him a second time as he lay defenceless on the ground.
“I was shot in the leg, went down and was then shot in the back. I had a bullet in my heart,” Ronnie recalled.
His parents, who had flown over from Scotland to be by his bedside, were told their son was unlikely to survive – but Ronnie’s fighting spirit won through.
“It took two or three months to stabilise me and a lot of rehab. Then they decided they could operate and got a specialist in from Northern Ireland – but, back then, they didn’t have the technology that they do now.”
After having the bullet removed, Ronnie recovered enough to return to duty as a Training NCO until 1994 when, after seven years of service, he was granted an exemplary discharge due to the toll taken by his injuries.
His sudden return to civilian life was not an easy one – an experience that, according to Poppyscotland, is common to many ex-Servicemen and ex-Servicewomen who may feel reluctant to ask for help.
“It was kind of hard to adjust because I didn’t have what I’d had previously with the brotherhood and the camaraderie that came with it,” said Ronnie.
A year spent travelling in Australia helped him to recover his positive spirit before returning home to Scotland. While getting used to his new daily routine, permanent injuries resulting from his gunshot wounds left Ronnie in need of some practical adjustments to his home.
Initially, and like many other veterans, he was unaware of the support available from Poppyscotland, which offers a wide range of services tailored to meet individual needs.
Father-of-two Ronnie was referred to Poppyscotland, and received funding to help make adaptations to his home, including a wet room that made a world of difference when it came to day-to-day living.
Keen to help spread the word to other veterans and their families, Ronnie started to get involved in public speaking and media outreach work to help build awareness of the charity.
He added: “I was doing a speech in Stirling and there are so many people that don’t know about Poppyscotland, and the help they offer, so, if I can, I’ll help get the word out.
“It’s all about awareness.
“There’s a bit of a blinkered effect. People just pop a couple of pounds in the tin and take a poppy, but they don’t know how far Poppyscotland as a charity reaches out. They work tirelessly.
“I was invited to the factory where poppies are made for the Scottish Poppy Appeal – it’s injured personnel who work there, and the work they’re doing is exceptional.
“I’ve met so many people working with the charity and every single one of them has time for people. It’s a fantastic charity.”
Asking for backup and reaching out for help doesn’t always come easy for ex-military personnel, but it’s something Ronnie and Poppyscotland strongly encourage.
“Don’t be too proud to step forward,” he said.
“Poppyscotland is approachable and good at looking after people.
“Swallow the pride and get in touch. Don’t sit in the dark; they don’t shut the door – they open it for you.”
What Poppyscotland can do for you
Poppyscotland works year-round with members of the Armed Forces community across Scotland to offer tailored support.
Grants can be offered to cover a wide range of situations including home adaptations, household goods, mobility vehicles and more. A team of welfare support officers are also on hand to assess individual needs and to connect veterans and their families with the right solutions – from employment training to mental health support, funding, housing or respite.