Keith Reeve

“I rejected my military past because of everything that happened, but now with thanks to SSAFA I embrace my story, and give back to others.”

Keith Reeve

“I rejected my military past because of everything that happened, but now with thanks to SSAFA I embrace my story, and give back to others.”

Keith Reeve was supported by SSAFA during the toughest moments of his life. Scarred by the horrors he saw on active service and the breakdown of his marriage he turned to the charity to help him.

Now Keith is planning on becoming a SSAFA caseworker, so others suffering can access the support they need.  

Keith joined the Royal Marines in 1997 at 17-years-old. He always knew that was his path, as generations of men in his family had been in the military before him, tracing back to the Indian Wars. However, a severe leg break during training meant he never got his green beret. He was discharged as unfit for Commando training and so he later joined the Territorial Army, Royal Anglians. After the Twin Towers attacks on September 11th, 2001, Keith made the decision to join up full time and entered the RAF Regiment.  

During Keith’s 6 years in the RAF, he did three tours of Iraq and one of Afghanistan, leaving his wife and young child behind. His experiences and the guilt led to him being diagnosed with PTSD in 2016. 

Within 24 hours of him dying, I was sleeping in his bed.

“At the time you don't really have a chance to think about it”
Keith said. “You normalise things and push them to the back of your mind. Experts say it can take 10-15 years for the trauma to rise to the surface.

“Even today there are some things I won't talk about.

“I lost quite a lot of colleagues, I think I lost nine in a year. Just before going to Iraq there was a rocket attack and we lost four guys in one day.

"The day I flew to Afghan we lost one of our men as well as an interpreter. Within 24 hours of him dying I was sleeping in his bed. There was no time for transition, we had to find the culprits and get on with our job.

"I've seen a man burnt alive in an upturned vehicle. I had a crowbar and a fire extinguisher, but I couldn't get close enough to him because the heat was so intense, I just couldn't get close and he was screaming. He was trapped inside the vehicle and died.

“I was also a principal medic in Afghan. I had to deal with children and when I became a father my perspective completely changed and that had a huge impact on me, more than anything else.

“There's different types of cry: if a child is tired or they want attention. But if they’re in excruciating pain there is a different cry. That haunts me. I have nightmares and night sweats and if I hear certain noises or experience certain smells it sets me off. I can deal with it better now.

"There were a couple of other incidents. We did what's called a test-roll. That is where an aircraft would come in and we had to dominate the ground. One of the guys fell into a ditch and got completely drenched. The temperature in winter really dropped, to the point where you would wake up in your vehicle and there would be frost all over you, so we had to get him back to get him changed. But there was a threat of suicide bombers and we noticed a vehicle approaching. We warned them off with flares, fired into the engine block… we tried everything, but they kept coming. Eventually we fired at the driver. I was the principle medic, so I had my hand in his chest trying to save his life, as we drove back to the Afghan Airfield. He didn’t make it. That day was my daughter’s birthday. Every year as we celebrate, I remember that man, his family and all the loss. It’s been huge.”

Our families suffered too.

While Keith was away bravely carrying out his duty, back home his world was beginning to implode too. The strain of war was irreversibly damaging his marriage.

What I didn't understand at the time, is how my wife felt back home. Just before I was posted to Iraq, we found out she was pregnant with our first child. I missed most of the pregnancy and the guilt I felt was unbearable.

“But the struggle was worse than I thought for her. When I was away, I was just doing my job. But for her it was relentless incidents on 24-hour news channels. Every time there was an incident, there was a media blackout back home, so that families were told before the names were broadcast. But that meant every time ‘a British service person’ was killed, she was holding her breath wondering if that was me. If our child would be left without a father. If she would become a widow."

Keith left the military in 2008. Although he still loved the job, he said he felt he had to leave for his family unit. He found a new career as a tree surgeon and he and his wife were soon expecting their second child. It’s then that his struggles began to spiral, and he turned to SSAFA. 

“We had just moved to a new house and welcomed our son Charlie, life was going well. But unfortunately, Charlie was born with lots of health issues, I was taking a lot of time off work to take him to hospital and as parents we were mentally and physically exhausted. That, along with the strain from my time in service, put huge pressure on our relationship. Eventually we broke up.

“We went through a tough divorce. I was paying legal fees and trying to pay the mortgage and bills on my own, which I couldn’t afford. In my head, I thought if I could keep the family home together then maybe I could keep the marriage together – but it didn’t work.

“Eventually I sold the house and spent every penny I had on solicitors and barristers. I had an accident, which meant I couldn’t work as a tree surgeon anymore. I lost my business; I got into debt and couldn’t even afford to eat. That’s when I had a breakdown.

“I turned to SSAFA who helped me with food vouchers, rent and heating. They coordinated help from others, who also helped me retrain and get support with my mental health.”

Now I am helping others.

“I was diagnosed with PTSD in 2016 and I visibly shake when triggers take me back to the things I saw in combat. But slowly I've rebuilt my life, improved my mental health and SSAFA has always been there. 

“They've always sent a caseworker to see me and most recently they’ve paid for me to retrain to be a forest schoolteacher to help children from disadvantaged backgrounds boost their confidence, develop skills and have experiences they wouldn’t otherwise have.

“I’m training up a therapy puppy called Penny, to help children and families that have been through traumatic experiences and enable them to talk and connect and process their terrible circumstances. I have also now fully embraced my military past and volunteer at the RAF Regiment Heritage Centre in Suffolk, where I can teach others about the history of the regiment. I’m now proud to show my kids the legacy of what I was part of in Afghanistan and Iraq, building schools and hospitals and supporting locals.

“Now I am in a good place and want to use my experience and military background to become a SSAFA caseworker. I’m starting the process soon. I want to share my story, so others know how important the role is, and encourage them to join up too.”

Thanks to SSAFA I have now truly discovered who I want to be.

SSAFA has provided Keith with thousands of pounds worth of support over the years.

“I've had help getting a council house, I had no oven or washing machine and I went through SSAFA and they got me all the white goods I needed. 

“I didn’t know what to do with my life, especially as my service had been cut short. But thanks to SSAFA I have now truly discovered who I want to be.”

Keith is now also a SSAFA fundraiser.

“Part of this is me saying thank you.

“I genuinely don't think I'd be able to cope or still be here without the help of SSAFA and their volunteers and everything they've done for me.

“There are people whose lives are falling apart, and it costs money to get them on courses or to get them the mental health training that they need. When they're down, living on the streets, they are often too proud to ask for help. All they need is a small help forward and they can get their lives back on track. I want to help with that.”