From Paratrooper to Automotive Safety Expert

by Lee Kennedy

August 13, 2017

Automotive Safety Expert

I was looking through some old photographs of when I was in the Army, it was the beginning of my working life in many ways. If I'm honest, I think I only did it because my friends told me I wouldn't last 5 minutes!

Training was hard and at times I wasn't sure if I'd make it, I did, I passed out and went to the 2nd Battalion the Parachute Regiment and after a bumpy start that saw me doing a week in the 2 Para jail in Aldershot for going AWOL, I knuckled down and started making the most of serving in what, in my humble opinion, was the best regiment in the best Army in the world.

I was promoted quickly, after a 6 month tour of Northern Ireland and an overseas exercise in Canada I was selected, with some of my best friends, to attend Drill and Duties, a junior non commissioned officers course at HDPRCC (Household Division Parachute Regiment Combined Courses) in Pirbright. I passed and picked up my first stripe on the next promotions board, I was told to put the stripe on with Velcro (it's the easiest rank to lose and this was a standard joke!). I kept the stripe and commanded men in my platoon, the Assault Engineers (or Plumbers as we were affectionately known within the ranks of 2 Para). We all served over the next few years in Northern Ireland again, Macedonia and Afghanistan.

It was while on a tour in Kabul, Afghanistan, I was told I would be returning to the UK earlier than the rest of my platoon to go to Junior Brecon, this was officially called Section Commanders Battle Course or SCBC. I approached this with mixed emotions, I felt I was letting down the blokes in my section, we had worked and lived together in a bombed out school building in Kabul, with no electricity and living in the most basic way, I had really enjoyed this tour, it was what I had joined up for but I didn't want to halt my career so I went on the course.

This was the beginning of the end for my love of the Army, I realised later that Afghanistan had been the high point and although I really loved the lifestyle, the camaraderie and the experience of being a soldier, it wasn't my lifelong career. I decided in 2003, just as we deployed to Iraq, having missed the war fighting operation, that this chapter in my life was coming to an end.

I left the Army in November 2004 and met my beautiful wife, Katherine almost immediately, we fell in love and she helped me enormously with some serious issues I was not really dealing with, I think I always had very real anger issues and this very nearly destroyed everything good I had achieved, it was like a self destruct button. Katherine also helped me to get out of debt, when I was in the Army, like many others, I used to binge drink on leave and got used to the large sums of money accumulated whilst on operational deployments, when I returned home, I literally lived 'like a rock star' and never wanted it to end.

With my resettlement, I did a close protection course with Phoenix in Hereford, I hadn't even got home when I received a phone call from an instructor on the course, I thought he was going to tell me there had been a mistake and I had failed! He didn't, he gave me my first job, just like that, I was a self employed civilian.

One job led to another, I worked with a team protecting an HMRC Customs Officer in Kandahar, Afghanistan for a time and while on that job, I received 2 phone calls in a matter of days; one from an ex 2 Para friend who told me he had been shot and lost his entire team in Baghdad and a few days later, from a contact I had made who was a team leader for a celebrity family near where I lived, asking if I would still be interested in working in the UK. I took the job. A matter of weeks after returning to the UK and getting the job I heard that the Toyota Land Cruiser we used in Kandahar got hit by an IED (Improvised Explosive Device), fortunately, nobody was killed but there were serious injuries.

About 6 months into the job in the UK, I was called into the office by the Estate Manager, I was a little nervous, it was an established security team and I was the junior guy, I prepared myself for the worst possible news, my face didn't fit and I was going to be asked to leave, I was surprised and relieved to learn that I was to be asked to become the new team leader! The relief was quickly replaced with concern when I realised that other team members may not take the news very well, I asked the Manager if we, as a team could get a pay rise, the offer was accepted and this placated the team somewhat.

I formed a security company around my work with the high net worth family, I have to admit, it was a steep learning curve and I was literally learning every step of the way. It grew quite well; taking on residential security tasks, static security at commercial businesses and hospitals, door supervisor work at bars and night clubs but I wasn't happy, it was long hours, stressful and apart from the money, not very rewarding.

In 2009, the family I was working with decided to move almost fully to the States, this meant we were being let go, I won't mention names but the family we worked for were incredible and I am still in touch with them now, they were very caring employers and extremely kind. The passion for the business started to fade and I used some of my extended learning credits to qualify as a health and safety advisor. A good friend, Carl Davis, very kindly, allowed me to gain experience with him. I enjoyed the work and should have stayed at it but many of my ex Army friends were earning good money overseas and I wanted a part of it.

July 2010 and I was in southern Iraq again, working as a team leader for commercial clients for a Private Security Contractor. It was good being with the guys from 2 Para and other units from around the world, 2 lads from my home town who were in 1 Para and 3 Para were on the same camp and it was like being in the Army, with less bullshit and more money!

I did miss my family, stupidly I thought the best thing I could do for my family was earn as much money as possible, get out of debt, pay off the mortgage and live happily ever after. Things were good for a while, when I came back it was like a holiday every time but going back over was so difficult. My eldest son Vincent was born disabled and needed a lot of hospital care and appointments and I had 2 year old Francis who I hardly knew every time I came back.

I did well at the job though and eventually was asked to become assistant training manager for Iraq, I would train local nationals to become security team drivers and team members. It was the same money but a safer job, or so I thought? In April 2012 I went to the firing ranges at Shaiba logistics base to go through live firing with the Iraqi trainees, this was the final part of their training.

One of the trainees was not hitting the target at all, I test fired the weapon, one of guys next to me had a stoppage and was struggling to eject a case I had stopped firing and turned to look at the man next to me and as I leaned towards him, the empty case extracted with force and went under my glasses and hit me on the corner of my eye. I laughed at first, the round felt very hot and hit with some force and wedged itself between the glasses and stayed in contact with my eye for what seemed like ages!

We went back to camp and for the next 2 days my eye felt like there was grit in it, I got some eye wash and by the third night, it felt like a red hot poker was being seared into the back of my eye, I have never felt pain like it! I asked to see a doctor and was taken to the Airport to Tracer Medical, the Iraqi doctor looked at the back of my eye and said I had conjunctivitis, by now my vision was very blurred and my left eye was red raw. I took some eye drops and was told to take them 3 times per day.

3 weeks later and my eye was no better, I was scared, in a foreign country and was worried I would go completely blind and never see my wife's beautiful face or my boys ever again. I had to get home to get a diagnosis, at this time, I was called into the office and told I was being made redundant. I was not worried about my job now, I just wanted to go home.

When I got home my wife took me straight to the hospital, I thought I would get my eye sorted out, get back out to work and keep going, like we had been doing for the last 2 years. The news I received at the hospital changed my life forever. Because of the amount of inflammation on the back of the eye, I had to take steroid eye drops every 2 hours for 2 days, this meant no sleep, I went back to the eye clinic and they still couldn't see the back of the eye.

Eventually, I had to have an ultrasound that confirmed I had a retinal detachment. I knew now that my career in security was over, this was to be the least of my worries, no job, no income and no idea what to do next? The next 12 months were probably the hardest we had as a family; my eldest son Vincent had a seizure and had to be induced into a coma with suspected meningitis, my wife, probably due to the stress, had ulcerative colitis and I felt like a failure, not being able to provide for my family.

Vinny spent 4 weeks in hospital and was released with no further problems, my friend Carl Davis offered me a job working with him in his family business and the company in Iraq I had worked for had started to pay me insurance money while a loss adjuster looked into my case. During the time Vinny was in hospital, Katherine stayed with him and I worked with Carl and took Frankie, my youngest son, to nursery and kept him in routine, this was all a blessing, Frankie and I began to bond, when Vinny came home it was like everything was better than before.

I took the last parts of my extended learning credits from the Army and enrolled on a one day per week NEBOSH Dilpoma Course at Lackham College, I used to get the bus to save money and went every Wednesday for over a year. I also got a training qualification, I enjoyed training and was good at it, I trained our customers how to become fire marshals and took manual handling courses too.

I began getting some of my own customers, Carl, had been great offering me a role in his business and I will always be truly grateful to him. I was never an employee though, I set up a limited company and this gave me freedom, I soon began getting more customers than I had the time to deal with and told Carl and his brother Mark that I would have to leave them and only carry out training on their behalf.

Fast forward to now and I have a business that turns over hundreds of thousands of pounds, I am debt free, mortgage free and see my family every day, I have a great network of friends and customers in the motor trade and a team of 8 who help me to deliver a great service to my customers, I own 3 companies and we are now able to offer first aid training, we are about to launch an online safety training platform which will save my customers time and offer more protection from prosecution and potential claims and we have Canopy Safety, an online management platform that is bespoke to the automotive industry which will be launching later this year.

My greatest success comes from a workplace accident that could have ruined my life, it changed it, without a doubt, I am grateful for the way things have turned out. When I worked in security there was very little reward in the task, if you did your job properly, nothing should happen, you should avoid risks and this was rarely appreciated by our clients. Now, I go into a business and the customer can see the positive results immediately, that is so rewarding and if I can avoid anyone having to change their life, like I had to, stop another person becoming injured at work and get everyone home safely while we provide peace of mind, well, that excites me every day.

If you had told me 20 years ago, as a young paratrooper that I'd be this excited about health and safety, I would have thought you were crazy.

But now you know WH3

Thank you so much if you have read this to the end.