Op RE:ACT: Serving others, no matter what

After completing a task supporting the homeless community in St Helens, veteran Michelle Partington opens up about a rewarding experience during a personally challenging time.

I find myself back at home now after volunteering with Team Rubicon UK to support the homeless community of St Helens during this unprecedented time.

I came across Team Rubicon UK when they put a call out for veterans to step forward to volunteer for Op RE:ACT to help fight COVID-19.

I’d served in the RAF for over 20 years, first joining the ranks and working my way up to Sergeant before commissioning as a Medical Support Officer. I was the first female RAF paramedic on the front line in Afghanistan, completing three tours.

In 2014, I was medically discharged with PTSD. It took me a long time to get the help I needed but for a few years now I’ve been writing a blog about my experiences which I’m looking to turn into a book and I also speak publicly at events. I do it because I know it’s important for others to hear my story. I know it can help.

My life has turned around again. I had a difficult upbringing and I joined the RAF at 19 and I achieved so much. These past few years have seen me on a different journey. I competed at the Invictus Games in Toronto in 2017 and I set up a mental health charity.

During COVID-19, with people isolating, stuck inside, it’s really put people’s mental health into focus. There’s a lot of suffering that goes unnoticed. I just want to help.

When the call went out for volunteers I was delighted to sign up. It’s an honour to be part of the fantastic work veterans are doing around the UK right now. We still always serve, no matter what.

I was asked to be the team leader to support The Salvation Army and YMCA homeless hostels, giving backup support to the housing office.

I turned up on the day at the first venue, a 40-minute drive from home. I didn’t have any accommodation arranged but I believed I would find some. At home I have a very poorly niece who is still going through chemo treatment so I couldn’t risk bringing back any infection.

I found accommodation at The Eccleston Arms. Walking in it looked like a makeshift shop. They had set up an emergency supply of essentials, some donated and the rest purchased by the owner. These were being made available to purchase by key workers and the vulnerable, as well as being donated to food banks, which was brilliant. Any profits would go to the Steve Prescott Foundation.

It was humbling to see what they’re doing for their community. People just want to help. My room was amazing too and they were so welcoming and accommodating.

The team I led gelled really quickly – no surprise amongst veterans. Camaraderie is such a big thing in the military and veteran community and it never leaves you. Both the YMCA and Salvation Army expressed how pleased they were to have us around.

We wore PPE (some of which generously supplied by The Eccleston Arms) which made it difficult to talk to the residents because it was a barrier to communication but it was necessary and being there was what was most important.

We had some quiet downtime so I asked if our team could support the volunteers at The Eccleston Arms with food deliveries and gathering orders. Johnny Vegas and former Rugby League player Paul Sculthorpe also supported by delivering vital PPE and food to people isolating.

It was a massive team effort and I was proud to put Team Rubicon UK’s name to it. I look forward to joining the ranks of Greyshirts and volunteering again.

Now I’m back at home with my niece as she recommences chemo and been admitted to hospital on several occasions with neutropenic sepsis. I would love to support TRUK on Op RE:ACT again with anything I can do from home because I cannot risk brining anything back here.

There are always challenges but it’s so important to remain positive. I’m using my time wisely, finishing assignments, delivering training virtually – and hopefully finishing my book!

Keep up the good work everyone doing fantastic things to support the NHS or their community in any way. To the NHS and all key workers I would like to say thank you for keeping us all safe.

If you’re a veteran and want to volunteer JOIN OP RE:ACT now.

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