During a 12-year RAF career, Andy Jones worked on Tornado engines, joined a helicopter Search and Rescue crew and served alongside ambulance crews as a military co-responder. The father-of-one from Llanharan transferred his engineering skills to the civilian world, until a combination of work and mental health pressures led to burn-out. With support from The Poppy Factory, Andy was able to re-set his work-life balance through a new job at a family-run logistics firm, which he has helped steer through tough times following a promotion to Operations Manager.
Inspired by flight
“I’ve been interested in aviation since I was very small and it still fascinates me. When I left school and went to Barry College to study aircraft engineering, all of my instructors were ex-RAF so it started to seem like an interesting career path. As an 18-year-old, all that was on my mind was training, being able to pull aircraft engines apart and put them back together.
“I served at RAF Cottesmore and Lossiemouth, working on Tornados, then I joined the RAF Search and Rescue Force based in North Devon. I became part of the crew on the Sea King helicopter. Every day could be a live situation, from a Harrier going down in the Bristol Channel to someone on an air bed being blown out to sea, or a climber falling off a mountain.
“During that time I also worked with the West Country Ambulance Service doing shifts as a military co-responder in a rapid response vehicle. It was a good way to keep up our medical training and develop our skills. In both roles we would deal with a lot of tragic situations and traumatic injuries, which often led to sleepless nights. There were a few incidents that stayed with me.
“By 2007 I was feeling a bit burnt out and thinking about what the next steps should be for my wife and I and our two-year-old daughter. I did a number of different jobs and then became an engineer at GE Aviation Wales near Caerphilly.
“I was a senior inspector responsible for the A380 engines. We would take engines apart to look for defects that might ultimately lead to engine failure, so there was a lot of responsibility and it felt like a lot of pressure. At the same time, my past experiences in the RAF started catching up with me, and things started to fall apart.
“I was working very long hours and coming home to my wife and daughter, and flying off the handle at the smallest things. I wasn’t looking after myself or my loved ones as well as they deserved. I was having such bad nightmares that I would stay up all night watching TV, because I didn’t want to go to sleep and dream again.
Asking for help
“In the end my wife dragged me to the GP and I saw a few different doctors, then one of them took the time to sit me down and ask what was really going on. He listened to me and said it sounded like I had post-traumatic stress disorder. I was referred to Veterans NHS Wales and I started to get the help I needed. It’s very much a process, and it was only after I’d been through treatment that I realised the PTSD had been with me for a while.
“I was signed off from work as long-term sick in August 2019, then Covid-19 came along and hit the aviation industry really hard. I was offered voluntary redundancy in June and after talking it through with my wife, decided to accept. That night, I slept properly for the first time in months.
Finding a different direction
“After being referred to The Poppy Factory for employability support I would talk to my adviser, Kirsty, over the phone regularly. Even though we never met in person, she really got to know me and she inspired a lot of confidence. With Kirsty’s support I felt I could deal with anything – to have that during lockdown was phenomenal.
“I was looking for a job that would allow me a bit of a re-set, working three days a week. Kirsty put me in touch with a specialist logistics company based in Newport that was run by a husband and wife team, Peter and Ingrid. I called them and I was open about everything I’d been going through, because I wanted them to understand in case I went through a wobble. They were really supportive and it turned out we had some things in common. When I went for an interview for a driver role, it was such a positive experience and they really took the time to introduce me to their business.
Taking on a leadership role
“When the business was sold and became Severn Logistics, I put myself forward for the role of Operations Manager. Shortly afterwards we sadly lost our Director, Peter, through terminal illness.
“It’s been tough and a very challenging period. Peter set incredibly high standards, and I promised him I would make sure everything continues in the way he would expect. That’s been rewarding on a personal level.
“The team here are fantastic, on the road and in the office. We’ve really pulled together. I look after the drivers and make sure they have as much time on the road as they need, and also enough time off the road between shifts. They help me in return by making my job as easy as possible.”
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