Mark

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Interesting things often come from the simplest of encounters.  Mark needed a social media profile picture, and he needed it quickly.

24 hours later I arrived at Mark's place - all I new was that he had just returned from the Caribbean after 12 years.

My best jobs always start with a coffee and bit of chin-wag and I was keen to know why some one would move back to the rainy north west of England from the glorious tropical sun.  It turns out he contracted something rather nasty, Chikungunya disease, from a mosquito and decided it was time for change.  So here he is, back in the UK and happily looking for life's next challenge.

I suspect his girlfriend, who works as a first mate on large yachts sailing from Tortola in the British Virgin Islands may not be quite so happy with the move: at the moment she's sorting a few things out Canada.  Conversations between married couples are personal affairs, but I can guess what mine would say if I suggested we made such a move.

Standing in his kitchen it was hard to miss the "RM" on his hoodie, and the large brass gun cartridge standing in the corner just added to my curiosity  - "Mark - are you and ex-marine by any chance?"

With this question our worlds collided in the most bizarre way.  I worked for the Ministry of Defence for nearly 23 years during which time I did a PhD on the Falklands War.  Mark is a Falklands War veteran.  I've been to the Falklands five times, Mark has been only once, but, oh boy, his visit was far more impressive than any of mine.

He went there as part of the Royal Marines logistics team and came away with a war pension, I went with journalists and came away with a some rather boring pictures.  He sailed across San Carlos water to Ajax on board RFA Sir Galahad, I touched down on brand new tarmac in the comfort of a passenger jet.

Sir Galahad was later hit by an Argentine bomb, killing 54 men and giving 46 others life changing injuries.  Mark's military record and discharge papers are annotated with the rather chilling note, "Original lost on LSL Sir Galahad, Falkland Islands, June 1982."  Thankfully that's just his documents that were lost and not Mark himself.

Like a lot of ex-service personnel, Mark has a few photographs from the highlights of his service framed and on the wall.  The most telling picture on Mark's wall is picture of him being welcomed home by his young son - an event that came remarkably close to not happening.

A sideshow to this main event is that for all those who think the military are only just moving in to the 20th century, Mark went through a divorce while his son was young and has the rather strange claim to fame of being the first Royal Marine to win custody of his child.  He then successfully combined the demands of military service and the responsibilities single parenting.  A truly remarkable feat in the 1980s.

The young son in the picture went on to follow in his fathers military footsteps, serving in the Submarine Service, and Mark is rightly proud of another picture on his wall.  This show his son parading at the Royal Albert Hall Festival of Remembrance with poppies settling on his headdress.

This was a simply job that again just proves the benefits and pleasures of talking to people.

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