Six British military personnel have been selected to trek 400 kilometres across the Omani desert to mark the 10th anniversary of the Walking with the Wounded charity, which raises money for sick and injured veterans.
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Oman’s ambassador to London, Abdulaziz Abdullah Al Hinai, has praised the selection of Oman for the next expedition.
“The partnership of the Sultanate of Oman with Walking with the Wounded is a manifestation of the deeply rooted relationship that the Sultanate enjoys with the United Kingdom at various spheres and outstandingly between the Armed Forces of the two countries,” he said.
“Empowerment is a key element during challenging times and will therefore be successfully established through collaborative partnerships such as this one. The welcoming of [Prince Harry] lending his patronage to this important initiative was received with great respect and appreciation and reflects the close relations between the two nations. We wish this collaboration and collective endeavour success.”
Starting on November 20 and ending on December 11, the team will take on the epic trek, which was inspired by Sir Wilfred Thesiger. Thesiger, a British military officer and explorer, travelled across the same route in the 1940s.
The expedition will see the men pull a custom-built cart weighing more than 300kg – about three times their own body weight – 400km across the Omani desert in temperatures up to 35C.
One of the team, former soldier Brian O’Neill, told The National his time serving in Afghanistan and Iraq would hopefully help prepare him.
“I think the heat is going to present a big challenge,” the 48-year-old said.
“I think water discipline is going to be the key, ensuring we have six to eight litres per person per day, early morning starts before sunrise and just sheer gut and determination.
“From a personal point of view I applied because it is the opportunity of a lifetime to be able to trek in the lovely country of Oman and reconnect with fellow veterans.”
Mr O’Neill, who is from Scotland, served in the British Army for 26 years before he left three years ago.
He said finding the transition from military to civilian life has been difficult and is looking forward to “giving something back” to the forces charity that helps fellow veterans.
The team is comprised of five former military personnel and one serving soldier.
It includes David Adams, who served for 13 years as an aircraft technician on tours to Afghanistan and Oman. He was discharged with post-traumatic stress syndrome while serving in Afghanistan.
Former soldier Sean Gane will also be part of the team; he left the army after being medically discharged in 2014 after suffering hearing and nerve damage.
They will be joined by Ben McComb, who left the army after developing neural impingement and nerve damage in his lower limbs, which is incurable, Andrew Phillips, who had served in the Royal Air Force until he suffered a spinal injury, and tank crewman Ashley Winter, who has been diagnosed with Keratoconus.
The final team of six was chosen following a five-day selection process in which candidates hiked across different peaks in the UK’s Lake District.
“The team face an immense challenge ahead of them and each will be tested mentally and physically, the chief executive of the charity, Ed Parker, said.
“Throughout the selection week process, each candidate embraced the task ahead and cemented the bond formed between them that will put them in good stead for the Omani desert. The desert and intense heat of the Middle East is one environment we have not yet faced.”
Previously the charity has tackled the North and South Poles, walked the length of Britain and crossed the United States.
Prince Harry has previously joined them but it is not known if he will this time.
“It would be great if the Duke of Sussex, as the charity’s patron, joined us as well,” Mr O’Neill added.
Mr Parker said Oman was chosen for its close ties with the UK.
“The UK supported His Majesty Sultan Qaboos during the Dhofar Conflict in 1972 and the UK and Omani military continue to train closely with one another today,” he said.
“Our aims, as before, are to raise and maintain awareness of the challenges many face in the wider military community. The funds raised will support [the charity’s] existing programmes – supporting those ex-servicemen and women who have struggled since they left the Armed Forces.”
The group will be followed by a support team in case of emergencies during the course of the expedition.
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