DEVASTATED friends and colleagues of war hero Danny Johnston have said his death should be a wake-up call for the nation.
Veterans say Mr Johnston, whose body was found in woodland on Wednesday after a four-day search, had battled with mental health woes in silence and that more should have been done to help him.
Today they’ve issued a plea to Whitehall for a radical new approach to help the scores of troops battling issues like post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a result of their military career.
The appeal comes as the Royal British Legion launches its own campaign to help service personnel find homes before they leave the military – a plea soldiers from the Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment (PWRR) have backed.
Matthew Rugman, 44, of Leigh Park, is the chairman the PWRR Association Southern Branch and served in the same regiment – 2PWRR – as Mr Johnston.
He said Mr Johnston’s death had rocked the area’s military community, with veterans and serving soldiers from Portsmouth to Bognor left devastated.
Speaking to The News, the 44-year-old, of Leigh Park, said there were too many ‘loopholes’ and ‘gaps’ when it came to supporting those with PTSD after they leave the army.
Mr Rugman said: ‘The government and the country as a whole need to wake up to what’s happening.
‘There are guys who are suffering in silence because the systems aren’t in place to help them.
‘This is what frustrates a lot of servicemen because they’re serving a country that is letting them down.’
Retired Colour Sergeant Daz Dugan knew Mr Johnston for 20 years, having trained him as a young soldier in PWRR.
The Iraq veteran – who himself overcame his battle with PTSD – urged the army to create a specialist liaison officer role, who could keep track of troops on a regular basis.
Mr Dugan, of Bognor, said: ‘You’re just a number. When I left the army no-one ever rang me up to check.
‘I had done 25 years but that was it. There should be some after service.’
Paying tribute to his friend, he added: ‘Danny was absolutely top-draw as a soldier. He was a super soldier.
‘He had a smile on his face and was fun to be around. He always boosted the morale of the lads.’
Fareham veteran Simon Poland, 36, served with Mr Johnston in D Company 2PWRR. He said the government needed to ‘wake up’ and help struggling veterans.
‘Too many people are suffering in silence,’ he said. ‘Something needs to be done.’
Speaking of his pal, Mr Poland added: ‘Danny was a leader of men. He was always there for you. He was like a brother. He has left a huge hole in our lives.’
The Royal British Legion’s appeal is urging those leaving the service and veterans to get help earlier – particularly when it comes to securing housing.
It’s hoped early intervention could help stop veterans from sofa surfing or becoming homeless.
RAF veteran Jim France, the legion’s area manager for Dorset and Hampshire, is urging people to get in touch with the charity. He said: ‘Through our experience we know that some service leavers, veterans and their families find housing issues confusing and at times overwhelming.
‘In some extreme situations we have seen individuals who have left it until they are in a desperate state, with no other option but to rough sleep, before they have asked for help.
‘The adjustment to civilian life can be confusing enough for our community, but when you throw other life issues into the mix such as relationship breakdowns or financial problems, it creates quite a lot of challenges for them to face.’
For help call 0808 802 8080.
HERO soldier Danny Johnston had been part of one of Britain’s most elite military units supporting the likes of the SAS in secretive missions across the globe.
Danny first served in the Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment – Hampshire’s local army unit – completing tours in Iraq and Northern Ireland.
But in about 2010 he joined the SAS’s sister unit, the Special Reconnaissance Regiment (SRR), where he stayed for about five years, sources said.
The team, set up little more than a decade ago, is tasked with completing dangerous recce missions before special forces assault squads attack.
Sources close to Danny said he had dodged several ‘close calls’ during missions overseas.
‘He was the first man in, last man out,’ a senior soldier and close friend of Danny told The News. ‘He would recce the ground before SAS hit groups came in, obliterated and evacuated.
‘He could’ve been a tramp on the side of the road. He’d be directing troops in secretly and directing them out.’
Danny, whose family lives in Bognor Regis, was fluent in Arabic, with friends describing him as ‘one of the smartest people they knew’.
Dad-of-one Simon Poland, of Fareham, served with him in 2PWRR and described him as a ‘leader of men’.
Paying tribute, he said: ‘I had known Danny for 16 years.
‘He was just a wonderful guy. He was the life and soul of the party and had a big heart.’
It’s understood Danny retired from SRR about three years ago before working privately overseas.
His death has since sparked an outpouring of love on social media from family, friends and celebrities.
On Twitter, Coronation Street star Antony Cotton said: ‘Gutted for him, his loved ones and his military family. The struggle with mental health is real.
‘So sad that he never got to see the support that was out there for him. Rest easy, soldier.’
Military Cross holder Trevor Coult added: ‘Your efforts were truly inspiring and showed exactly what it is to be part of the regimental family. RIP Danny.’
Danny’s body was found in woodland at Stoughton Down, near Chichester.