By police officer and former Royal Marines sniper Keith Hughes
I had an amazing career in the Royal Marines. I was a helicopter sniper, I led a team of commandos in Afghanistan and I was involved in anti-piracy operations in Somalia.
There were some incredibly difficult times. My first tour of Afghanistan from 2008 to 2009 was during the heaviest period for casualties. There were IEDs everywhere, injuries were common, and sadly, like everyone else, I lost friends.
Of course this was tough, but there is another side to it. The bonds you get with your comrades in arms is like nothing else. You train together and then you go into battle with a group of lads who are willing to die for each other.
This is the part that is very difficult to explain to outsiders. Everyone who has served overseas has suffered, and we have all seen some pretty bad stuff. But it is also an incredibly intense experience that can make normal life seem quite tame by comparison.
At the end of an operational tour, you go to Cyprus for decompression. You do a few activities, have a load of drinks, and then you are sent home. But nothing can prepare you for leaving the battlefield, and then a week later you’re back home.
After 15 years in the Marines, I made a choice to leave so that I could spend more time with my family. I now work as a police officer in Belfast, which brings its own set of challenges, as you can imagine.
I don’t regret leaving the military, because I didn’t want to spend more time away from my wife and my three growing children. But I definitely miss my time in the Marines, and it has been quite tough adjusting to civilian life.
Pushing myself and staying fit is a hugely important part of keeping my life on track. I have done different martial arts for most of my life, and in the last few years I have got a lot of benefit from Brazilian jiu-jitsu.
I remember going to a lot of boxing clubs and MMA gyms growing up, and they could be pretty unfriendly places. But jiu-jitsu is different. My gym, Forge Grappling, is such a welcoming place, and everyone is really helpful, especially when you are new to the sport.
I said nothing can replace the camaraderie of fighting together on the front line, and this is true. But training in a gym full of like-minded people who all have your back is maybe the next best thing.
It’s not about trying to recreate something from the past. It was an honour to serve with the Royal Marines, and that will always make me proud. But I have seen from my own experience that new challenges are very important to keep you focused.
That is why I’m so supportive of everything that REORG is doing to keep people training. Problems can creep in when you are left alone with your own thoughts for too long, so you need something to take you out of your own head.
It doesn’t really matter what type of training you do. I recently got into open-water swimming, which leaves you feeling brilliant. And jiu-jitsu is great for keeping you strong, and also giving you a total mental reset – when you are training hard you can’t think of anything else, and you always come out feeling better.
I have just turned 40, and I am focused on staying on top of my game at work and at home. I may not be fighting for my country any more, but that doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t stay fighting fit.