Territorial Army captain Paul Horwood could soon be fighting on the front line, as he embarks on his first tour of duty in Afghanistan early next year.
“I’m going to Afghanistan to see if I can do the job that I have been training for, for many years,” he says. “I’m nervous and a bit apprehensive; it’s something I have never done before. I don’t think anyone knows how they are going to react until they get there.
“I’m also worried about the people I am going to leave behind – my fiancée, friends and family, my business and my clients.”
The 35-year-old director at Eastpoint Veterinary Service, in Ashford, Kent – part of the Westpoint Group – has also put his wedding on hold until late 2012 as he embarks on what he dubs “the biggest challenge of my life”.
He will undergo five months of punishing training at Aldershot Barracks in Hampshire and will be posted to Afghanistan later this winter.
His main role will be serving as an officer with an infantry regiment alongside other British troops on the front line.
His day-to-day duties will be vastly different from now. In his farm vet role, mornings are usually spent visiting dairy farms, carrying out routine tasks, such as pregnancy testing cows and managing herd health.
In the afternoons, he deals with any problems that have come in during the morning, and catching up on paperwork and reports.
“Our entire focus is on prevention, doing the routine visits and finding the problems before they happen,” Paul says.
“We collect a lot of data and manage decisions based on this, especially infertility, which is analysing where the problem is, where the weaknesses are and where the farmer is losing money. We then come up with protocols or systems to either minimise the loss or maximise the gain by getting the fertility as close to perfection as we can.”
But in Afghanistan, his normal day routine will be providing routine security to a specific area.
“I will be going out and showing a visible presence, patrolling and expanding the bubble of security around our area of responsibility,” he says.
“This will hopefully enable the normal life of the Afghan people and reconstruction work to continue. The ultimate aim is self-rule for the Afghan government.”
Despite the contrasting roles, he says the TA has strengthened aspects of his vet career.
“To be a farm vet and in the army, you have got to be physically robust,” he explains.
“The army gives me confidence to work better with farmers, to get my point of view across in a way that they fully understand, without being shy or resorting to science-speak.
“It also helps when I give presentations at farmer meetings, as you also have to do this in the military.”
He understands that public opinion about the war in Afghanistan is mixed, but is convinced it’s a battle worth fighting for.
“If we do nothing for failed states that are breeding grounds for terrorism, we are just asking for trouble in the future and increasing the possibility of further terrorist outrages such as 7/7 occurring in our country,” he says.
“By being involved in this war and hopefully bringing security in Afghanistan, we are going some way to bringing security in Britain which, in my opinion, is a pretty important job to do.”
While he is away, he says he will most miss his fiancée, friends, family, colleagues and clients. “I’ll also miss going down the local for a beer with my pals,” he adds.
Besides the constant danger and threat to his life in Afghanistan, getting used to the “rigid” command structure of the services will be difficult, he admits.
“As a vet you’re quite an individual, but I will be a part of the British Army,” he says. “It’s a completely different job.”
As a vet he’s “out and about in the British countryside, chatting to farmers and dealing with emergencies and economics” but once in South Asia it will be about “providing security and defeating the enemy”.
However, being in the TA has taught him how to be a better boss.
“Vets are trained as vets. We then expect them to be managers of the business and other vets, support staff, but you don’t get any leadership or managerial training. The army has given me some skills in terms of managing and dealing with people better. There are an awful lot of cross-over skills.”
Paul joined the TA in 2004 after he realised he was missing the military environment and his farm vet career was stable.
He left school aged 18 and spent three years with the Royal Marines, but saw no active service during this time.
Over the past seven years, Paul has worked his way up the ranks to captain in the Honourable Artillery Company – the oldest regiment in the British Army, incorporated by Royal Charter in 1537 by King Henry VIII. “I give a weekend a month and a weeknight a week to them and once a year I go away for two or three weeks in a training camp – that’s the commitment they require,” he says.
For the past six months, he has undertaken a gruelling personal fitness regime to prepare for Afghan.
Every week, he does two 10-mile runs with army gear on, plus a 10-mile jog with weights and two gym workouts.
“I go up on the North Downs, just out of Ashford, around the countryside,” he says.
“As an officer in command, I have to work hard to maintain my fitness. It requires a lot of effort, especially as you get older the fitness doesn’t stay for quite as long.”
Family inspired him to join the army. His father is a retired helicopter air sea rescue pilot in the RAF and his grandfather was a bomber pilot in the Second World War.
“My military thinking was instilled more by osmosis than anything else,” Paul says. “I was always told that if the country needs you to go and serve, then you should.”
However, his love of animals and farm veterinary work was nurtured through childhood visits to his grandparent’s family dairy farm in Cheshire.
His mother and father were not farmers, but his uncle was a vet and Paul realised that becoming a farm vet was a great way of being involved in the agriculture industry – something he’d always wanted to do.
“If the opportunity had arisen to become a farmer, I may well have been. I think a lot of farm animal vets are frustrated farmers – and I would probably class myself as one. But being a farm vet is a great way of being involved in the agricultural industry.”
But he adds: “At no stage was I ever going to be a small animal vet. I wanted to be out in the countryside dealing with clients, rather than indoors with thousands of small animal clients.
“As a farm animal vet, you deal with a small number of clients who you see very regularly and get a real relationship built up with them.”
Westpoint has employed a farm vet and a director to cover his duties while he is away. “I appreciate there are other people staying behind who are changing their lives to enable me to go – it’s not just a personal sacrifice,” he says.
However, he plans to return to his normal routine in a year, stronger for the first-hand experience of war.
“Hopefully, the tour will be a great experience. I plan to come back to Westpoint and continue my day job, having done my bit for the country.”
* Paul Horwood qualified in 2000 from the Royal Veterinary College in London with a Bachelor of Veterinary Medicine degree.
* After graduation, he stayed on at the busy Large Animal teaching practice, first undertaking an internship and then residency in farm animal medicine and surgery.
* After a spell working on very large dairy herds in California, he moved to Wetpoint in 2003.
* In 2004, Paul moved to Kent and started up Eastpoint Veterinary Services, the Kent and East Sussex part of the Westpoint group.
* In 2008, Paul was awarded a diploma in Bovine Reproduction from the University of Liverpool, as part of his work on synchronisation and AI in dairy cattle.