Cast your mind back to Christmas Eve 2016 what were you doing, probably spending time with friends or family or if your like me you were probably doing that last minute dash around the shops to pick up extra presents.
It was while I was walking back to Newcastle train station that I met a homeless veteran sleeping rough on the street's.
I mistakenly thought he was talking to me when he was in fact talking to a guy doing the same as me, searching the queue in Starbucks to see if he had time to get a coffee before the train he needed to catch arrived.
"Excuse me sir do you have any change" he asked.....the other fellas reply cut me to the core even more so when I found out the homeless guy asking though was a veteran.
"Urr yes mate I've got all this but your not getting a penny, why don't you do us all a favor and get a job"
Now I've always had a protective nature and I stepped in to give the guy a piece of my mind but before I could I noticed the homeless guy was wearing a breast full of medals.
Telic, Herrick, Tosca along with the free ones your given like the silver and golden jubilee etc.
I stopped in my tracks and asked the if they belonged to him and could I have a look at them.
The homeless guy obliged with a smile and handed them to me upon which I promptly inspected them, now at this point Mr bags of money the mouth of the North East had stepped in to Starbucks leaving me and the homeless guy outside and after I had satisfied my curiosity by asking him countless questions only a squadie could answer I asked him to join me for a brew ........after I had asked the manager of course.
It turned out he had joined the Army when he was 17 as an Infantry soldier completed numerous tours of both Iraq and Afghanistan risen through the ranks to the rank of Sergeant at which point he thought the grass was greener on the other side so at the 16 year point decided to leave.
It was then that his entire world fell apart, he could not hold down a job on civvy street he started drinking heavily he got in to debt and his marriage hit rocky times and after one drinking binge to many he hit his wife which was something he had never done before and something he regretted deeply.
The next day his wife packed up her things and took herself back to Newcastle from Wiltshire with their two children, a few weeks later once he established where they were the homeless guy made his way there with little less than the clothes on his back and a few bits he could carry in his bergen.
He went on to tell me he now follows his two kids to school everyday, just to make sure they get there safely and then makes his way in to Newcastle to try and find something to eat and a warm drink, he told me that most people were like me and they would hand over what they could spare and that he did OK.
He also told me about the conditions some people lived in and the pressure they were under from drug dealers and ironically the authorities etc etc.
Now at this point me and this guy are sat there talking in our own encrypted batcode (Military radio chatter) when I notice everyone in the shop had stopped talking and were listening in to our conversation
He was getting questioned left right and center by us all and I could see he was getting a little bit embarrassed so i thought it was time to leave but not before I had a whip round for him and collected over £150 in cash and a bag of sandwiches and cakes courtesy of the guys Starbucks.
Now after meeting this guy on Christmas Eve i returned a week later to see how he was getting on but could not find him, in fact after that first meeting I never actually saw him again but he started my head ticking with the idea that has now become the Veteran Group.
It's taken a good two years to get where we are now but now we are here its snowballing and picking up momentum, we have our first event on the 18th June and three North East companies supporting us and a load of projects that are being planned that we will be telling you all about very soon......
I like to think this poor guy somehow got back on his feet and is able to see his kids and maybe even patched things up with his wife but in reality I expect he hasn't.
If I can only help a handful of people then for me its an achievement I know though with the right help and support myself and everyone involved in the Veteran Group will do good things for the Veterans and serving members of the armed forces who need our help here in the North East of England.
Before you continue on and maybe read the next post of have a brew or a wet I want you to know if you need help, know someone who does or just want to show your support or get involved remember our door is always open and there is plenty of brew kit in our kitchen.