– a resounding success!

As I write this I am physically shattered from yesterday! But the physical pain is a small price to pay in support of what is a worthy cause, and what was a wonderful day. Here’s a quick account of the day.

For me the day started at aroud 5am, Richard was going to pick me up fairly early so we could meet up with Rob, Izzy, Alex and Phil and help set things up at the Airport. After I got showered and dressed, I had to sort out some more formal clothes for the evening, after the walk we were all going to be at the Arden Hotel for an auction to raise more money for the Charity, but I had to take a change of clothes with me since we weren’t going to have time to come home. Got all that sorted and SMS’s Rich asking him if he wanted me to make breakfast and so he popped over and had breakfast with me and we left for the airport just after 7am.

When we reached the old Elmdon Terminal at Birmingham Airport, Alex met us there with a Car parking pass that Rob had arranged for us. We all met up and Rich and I carried the stretchers into the terminal, where members of the armed forces had already begun to congregate. Even though it was fairly early and quite chilly everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves and looking forward to the day.

When we all got into the lounge area we relaxed a little as we waited for everyone else to arrive, this included other members of the armed forces, police, fire service and officials from the airport. When pretty much everyone had arrived the airport staff ran through the process for getting the various “teams” of plane pullers out onto the runway, where flybe had provided a Plane for us to Pull.

Those individuals pulling the plane had to be escorted in small groups, to have their photos taken and special passes made up, and assigned to a member of airport staff who would stay with them whilst they were on the tarmac pulling the plane. Whilst this might sound overly complex, and it was, the various security procedures had to be observed and adhered to, consequently it did take a while before the Plane Pullers were out there. Richard, myself, Alex and Izzy all stayed in the terminal and took photographs from there. We also put on our cool T-shirts for the day which everyone marching ( who was not in uniform ) wore.

Izzy, Richard, me, Alex

The group pulling the plane were comprised of representatives from each of the various divisions of the armed forces as well as the police and fire service.

We watched and cheered on as the guys and girls pulled the plane – it was an impressive sight. After they had successfully pulled the plane, the airport and armed services laid on a special treat, everyone who had been out on the tarmac was escorted over for a tour of a massive Military C-17.

Pulling the plane!

After the tour of the C-17 the walk began, symbolically, as a stretcher bearing a “patient” was carried off the C-17 by members of each of the divisions represented on the day. As the stretcher was carried out of the airport the rest of us joined in the march behind it, and off we went. Me armed with Camera, snapping away at everything!

The “patient”, Private A. Houghton, carried on the stretcher.

At this point its probably important to point out the extent to which we were supported on the day. First and foremost the Airport Police Service, which Rob is an Inspector in and was chiefly responsible for organising the day, ensured that through out the day the marchers had a police escort as well as refreshments during what turned out to be quite a grueling experience for many of us. Along with the Police, West Midlands Travel provided a bus for the day that followed us in case anyone needed a rest or further refreshments, this was a wonderful gesture on their part and was appreciated by all – especially when the electronic sign on the front was changed to say “Pulling Together”, and thats really what the day was about.

Our Police Escort!

The Pulling Together Bus!

The 14 mile walk was an experience I wont forget in a long time. The troops who marched with us were wonderful people, they were animated, funny, but above all inclusive – they made me feel like they really appreciated what we were doing and that they were proud to be marching with us. I had some wonderful conversations with the troops during the March, and we all had a great deal of fun … largely due to the chaos we were causing on the streets of Birmingham.

onwards we march

…its a god job she does’t weigh a lot 😉

The lads from the RAF

In wanting to collect as much money as we could from drivers and pedestrians you’d often see us along with the troops running into the middle of the road stopping traffic and asking for donations, and whist this did cause a few traffic jams everyone out there seemed to be supportive. We collected a huge amount I think, and much of that was down to the infectious enthusiasm of the troops who were with us who not only marched 14 miles but probably ran twice that distance in and out of traffic collecting money from drivers who wanted to contribute. It really was a sight to behold.

The troops collecting money from drivers and passers by.

During the 14 miles we had two breaks the first was Solihull Fire Station and the second was at Billesely File Station. Refreshment were served to everyone on the march by members of the 6th Solihull Scout Group. We also paused for a little while when we reached Touchwood Shopping center in Solihull, a few of us were allowed inside to collect money.

infectious enthusiam!

Every mile along the march we paused so a different “team” got to carry the stretcher, which gave us a short respite. I have to confess that I was a wreck by the time we finished, my feet were blistered badly because the trainers I wore had started to leak in the rain and this caused a lot of pain but I stubbornly refused to stop … was intent on reaching the end … plus I wasn’t about to have Richard making fun of me … lol

Even the girl scouts helped out

We started the walk at roughly 10:15am, and we reached Selly Oak Hospital at roughly 3pm. Where we were met by The Lord Mayor of Birmingham, along with Commander Murphy from the Navy and Captain Gibbs from the Army. It was a wonderful feeling crossing that finish line with the Lord Mayor and others applauding our efforts. We proceeded into the Social club at the Hospital where everyone got drinks and the Lord Mayor, Captain Gibbs and Commander Murphy all gave speeches thanking us for our efforts. It was a great way to end the walk and the comments that these men made were all very touching.

The Lord Mayor of Birmingham talks to us all

Captain Gibbs addresses us all

Commander Murphy addresses us all

Rob also made a speech thanking the troops for their efforts and telling them that people here at home do support them. Which I think was important for them to hear. I’ve already commented on why I supported this event, and Rob touched on a couple of those reasons during his speech. For me Rob was one of the heroes of the day, this event would not have taken place if it had not been for his efforts in organising it. I personally know how stressful it was for him, and how nervous he had been leading up to the event. Yet, he did a wonderful job right to the end. I can’t praise him enough … I know that many others feel the same way.

Rob makes his speech

Inspector Rob Williams, hero of the day.

After the speeches everyone chatted for half an hour before we caught the bus back to the airport. At this point I was struggling to walk, in fact hobbling is too generous a term for the way I was moving – much to everyones amusement! Rob had invited me and Richard out for a meal before we all had to get to the Arden Hotel for the nights Auction and Disco. Richard and I rushed over to his folks place, where we got showered and changed into our slightly more formal outfits for the evening. We then headed over to Rob’s place and we all went for a bite to eat at a very nice restaurant.

After that we paid a quick visit to Rob’s office where we collected all the items for the nights auction and raffle and headed over to the Arden Hotel. The evening went really well, the auction raised more money and everyone had a great time. The live band were entertaining and I think everyone had a lot of fun.

Rob auctioning off Krusty the Clown

Rob and Alex drawing the raffle

The band entertains us all.

All in all it was an extraordinary day and one that I won’t forget in a hurry. I’d like to thank everyone who took part on the day. I want to say how wonderful it was meeting so many of the troops who marched with us, all of whom were a credit to the uniforms they wear … but most of all they were wonderful human beings.

… finally many thanks to you Rob for your efforts, and for making me feel like my contributions were valued, both before the event and after it.

You can view all the pictures from the day on my flickr account here.

First the good news …

Support for the Forces Hospital Charity site I set up and maintain with help from Richard for our friend Inspector Rob Williams is gaining momentum. So far we have raised £8500 which is phenomenal. I’m really looking forward to the Plane Pull and the 14 mile walk on Saturday, I think it’s going to be memorable. Check out the Sponsor and Donor pages to see how many Oranisations have come out to support this cause and to each of them I offer my thanks.

… then the not so good.

Some people have felt the need to question why I, a Muslim, have chosen to support a charity that attempts to aid the very soldiers that are killing our brothers and sisters abroad. Ordinarily I would respond by saying that its a personal choice, and leave it at that (and tell them where to go – diplomacy isn’t always one of my strong points). Yet some of the vitriol that has been leveled at me by people trying to post comments on this blog has led me to think carefully about a slightly more reasoned response. I don’t seek to justify why I live my life the way that I do … but I do want dispel a few myths I think that a few of you are living under.

The charity that I’m supporting is seeking to build a garden, that’s all! A small recreational place to provide an area where families can visit their wounded sons and daughters in relative comfort. This charity isn’t supporting an ideology, or a political stand point or seeking to justify the presence of British troops in any theater of combat anywhere in the world. It’s seeking to provide comfort for a group of men and women who have, regardless of their personal or political views, tried to perform their duty to their country and in doing so have suffered serious injuries.

The members of our armed forces do not have the luxury of choosing where they fight, or against whom. We don’t live in a society where we allow our soldiers to make those decisions, that’s what governments do. That’s partly why we call it democracy. It’s also why it’s important, during elections, for us to consider who it is we are voting for and whether those individuals will honestly represent our views or whether they’ll charge right in simply because an American President insists that they do. I’d be interested to know how many Labour Muslim Members of Parliament actually voted against the government when the issue of whether we should deploy troops in Iraq was first put before the Commons. Perhaps if some of them had taken a stance more in keeping with the views of their constituents rather than voting in a certain way because they were afraid to incur the wrath of the Party Whip and in doing so limit their own political future – well perhaps then more could have been done to sway the government at the time.

It’s also important to remember that the same troops deployed in Iraq today could be deployed elsewhere in the world tomorrow serving a completely different role, like helping to deliver aid to places devastated by natural disasters or in peace keeping roles as part of UN deployments. From working with troops I know that the vast majority are decent men and women trying to do their best, in what are often very stressful and demanding situations … yet it’s easy for us to sit here and forget that they are still just human beings.

I can’t help but believe that in as much as it was our lack of humanity that has gotten us into the mess we are in … it is only our humanity that can hope to rescue us from it.

That’s why I’m supporting my friends on Saturday … for no reason other than that Hope.

I hope you can understand that.

I hope you can respect that.