UK Armed Forces North

Ben Parkinson
Ben joined the army at 16, going to Harrogate Foundation College and then into 7 Para at 17. He was known as The Big Unit at 6’5” tall and did the para selection course a record seven times. Despite numerous injuries, Ben never gave up.

Ben went to Iraq in 2003 for the start of the second gulf war and was in the first allied vehicle over the border. He helped support the Americans fighting towards Baghdad and celebrated his 19th birthday there. He got his wings and then covered the fireman’s strike in a Green Goddess fire engine. Ben also did a seven-month winter tour of Kosovo in 2004-05 looking for war criminals and alongside his love of sailing, was the regimental heavyweight boxer.

Ben was deployed to Afghanistan in 2006 and was 10 days from the end of a seven-month tour when he was injured. His WIMIK went over a 30-year-old Russian anti-tank mine. His two mates in the vehicle walked away, thankfully, but Ben suffered 37 separate injuries, including the loss of his legs and spleen, both lungs collapsed, he broke his spine in several places, broke all of his ribs, and his left arm was hanging off at the elbow. His fingers were broken, he had four fractures of his jaw, four of his cheekbones and four of his skull. Ben had both subdural and extradural haematomas and lost both his speech and memory.

Ben's family were told he was being brought home to die and he was in a coma for six months. No-one would give Ben a chance until he met the Pilgrim Bandits, but now he has been all over the world with the charity.

 Mark Allen
Mark first got involved with the Pilgrim Bandits in 2017 when he applied for a place on the South Africa trip. He wanted to take part in the canoeing trip as it was a new challenge and since being injured he has always looked for ways to challenge himself.

Mark was a valued soldier in the 1st Battalion Royal Anglian Regiment until 2014. Since being injured in Afghanistan in 2010, he has embraced every opportunity that has come his way and currently holds two Guinness World Record titles.

His injuries were loss of limbs, as well as digits and scarring/shrapnel wounds. Because of this, he has taken part in numerous fundraising events such as kart racing and cycling. Along with this, he is a committed patron of the military charity ‘Back on Track’.

Because he does not work, Mark likes to fill his time with things that involve working as a team and Operation RIDE offers a way to interact with other people. He is looking forward to teaming up with like-minded people in similar situations to mine. It would also enable me to meet people from all walks of life from all over the world.

Craig Howorth
Craig became an amputee in 2006 when he was motorcycling off road on a dirt bike when a jump he was doing went wrong and he ended up in intensive care with injuries including broken tibia, fibula, femur, shoulder, three vertebrae and a collapsed lung.

He initially got involved with the Pilgrim Bandits some three years ago now when they put out Kayak qualification courses available in Devon. After applying to go on the course and being accepted, Craig was forced to cancel after dislocating his shoulder from a bicycle accident. Roll on 18 months and the course became available again and Craig and his work colleague, Richard Wilkinson, another member of the UK Armed Forces North team, were both successful in gaining the tuition.

From there, Craig has been involved with the Pilgrim Bandits and has been fortunate enough to benefit from some of the trips organised. On the back of a recent trip, Craig decided to raise some money for Pilgrim Bandits and swim lake Coniston without a wetsuit to make it a little tougher and successfully completed the challenge.

He has also been part of a team of amputees to swim the English Channel and set a world record as the first team of amputees to do this swimming with the channel swimming assoc rules and from this swim, they won the Soldiering on awards.

Craig served in the Sumbmarine service in the Royal Navy from 1988. 

Richard Wilkinson
Richard served 18 years with The Kings Royal Hussars before being medically discharged in 2014 after receiving a GSW to his lower right leg, leaving him with no control or muscle movement of his right foot. He is currently going through the process of having a below the knee amputation.

Richard has done tours of Bosnia, Ireland and Afghanistan, and left the army ranked Sgt. He now works in childcare, looking after young offenders and trying to teach them right from wrong.

With the Pilgrim Bandits, Richard has enjoyed the most amazing experiences and says that he couldn't have wished for a better bunch of men to experience these with. The Pilgrim Bandits have taken him to places where he could have only dreamed about, including the Arctic and South Africa.

Richard is looking forward to Operation RIDE and is hoping to raise money for the Pilgrim Bandits along this journey to help give back a little for what they have done for him in the 

Mark Brown
Mark enlisted into the Army in December 1978. He joined as a Junior Soldier where he began his trainign at Strensall York. His recruitment training lasted 12 months and after passing he remained there where he was part of the Demo section until he was able to join his reigment 1st Battalion The Queens Lancashire Regiment in Cyprus in March 1980.

In May of that year, the regiment returned to the UK and were posted to Clive Barracks, Ternhill, Shropshire. During his posting, the regiment was deployed to Northern Ireland South Armargh from October 1980 until March 1981.

Mark was involved in an RTA in June 1981 and after being treated at various infirmaries and military hospitals, he was discharged on medical grounds in 1982. 

Mark was part of a 10-man team that cycled the Coast2Coast where each participant was encouraged to raise a thousand pounds. His other experiences of fundraising have included being a member of his local athletics club that raised £30,000 over a one-year period prior to going to Nepal to compete in the Everest Marathon in 2005.

He has always been active and after losing his left arm, Mark took up endurance running. He joined a local running club and continued to run and race for over 20 years until an injury stopped him from continuing. In 2001 and 2002 he took part in the Western Isle challenge where a team of five people relay their way from the Southern tip of the isles to the Northern tip by running, swimming, kayaking and cycling. The enjoyment and achievement of the challenge remains with Mark to this day and he is hoping to get the same sense of achievement from Operation RIDE.

Caria Ammerlaan
Caria met Roberta, Ben and the Pilgrim Bandits family at the 2016 Remembrance Rumble boxing event. Unlike the majority of participants, Caria does not have a military background, although some of her relatives do.

In 2015, she set herself the challenge of completing the Special Forces Experience Loadstone Series to help raise money for Talking2Minds PTSTD charity. At the time she was going through a difficult time having lost her job, and training for the event helped her to learn new skills and gave her a goal to focus on. She successfully finished the series as the first ever female, and the first to be awarded a tier medal the following year finishing third overall.

In 2017, Caria was part of a four person team completing the first ever 100 Peaks Challenge, cycling and tabbing 100 peaks above 3000 ft. in 25 days from Inverness, Scotland to Pen Y Fan, Wales, in memory of her teammate's brother.

In her younger years, Caria cycled competitively on the road and was selected in the women's national cycling team for the European Road Cycling Championships. Over the past few years, she has completed several personal training courses and summer mountain leader training at Glenmore Lodge, Aviemore.

Caria has decided to take part in Operation RIDE to help people achieve their dreams, learn from them, and to help raise awareness and money for the Pilgrim Bandits.

Sally Orange

Sally has always had a drive to push herself to the extreme to get the most out of herself.  She deployed to Afghanistan in 2011 as Officer in Command of the Defence Medical Rehabilitation Team based in the hospital in Camp Bastion, as well as providing peripatetic clinics to injured troops on the group.  She has therefore played a significant role in the recovery and ongoing rehabilitation of countless severely traumatically injured personnel, over her 20 year career as a physiotherapist in the Army Reserves.  She has also worked as a civilian physiotherapist in the NHS and at numerous military regional rehabilitation units and primary care rehabilitation facilities.

When diagnosed with her own illness, Sally drew inspiration from those she had treated and made the decision not to let this define her.  She believes that sport and physical activities not only develops an individual, but it helps them heal both physical and invisible wounds.  She has gone on to raise several thousands of pounds for various military charities by completing 5 full Ironman triathlons, cycling from Land’s End to John O’Groats (twice), being a member of the first all-female team to complete the Arch to Arc triathlon, which involved running 87 miles from Marble Arch to Dover, swimming the English Channel and then cycling from Calais to the Arc de Triomphe. She has also completed the gruelling Marathon des Sables in the Sahara desert and has the Guinness World Record for the fastest marathon dressed as a piece of fruit.  

Sally has completed 35 marathons and recently become the first person in the world to run 7 marathons on 7 continents dressed as 7 different pieces of fruit.  She has since gone on to complete a 100mile run across a frozen lake in Mongolia in temperatures as low as -50, dressed as a chilli pepper!

She believes that taking part in Operation RIDE will highlight to others that nothing should hold them back from trying new things or pushing themselves. She thinks that a team such as this will not just benefit herself and the team members but also a much wider community. Taking part in the challenge itself it a hugely positive example but also the diversity of challenges already overcome within the team can reach out too many.

UK Armed Forces Midlands

Tyler Christopher
Tyler joined the military in December 2000 and started training in Harrogate’s Army Foundation College. He then joined his chosen regiment The Royal Green Jackets in Warminster as an armoured infantry battalion.

In 2006, the regiment changed names and amalgamated to become The Rifles. During his time in the regiment, he served in Northern Ireland, Iraq and Afghanistan. It was during the tour in Afghanistan, that Tyler stood on an I.E.D and lost both legs above the knee.

Tyler got involved with the charity after he'd seen a few friends doing the Cockleshell Hero’s kayaking trip. One of them put Tyler in contact with the charity for another trip to travel down The Yukon River. Since then, he has travelled to Greenland, France and South Africa.

Other than the kayaking which the charity really got him interested, Tyler plays Para Ice Hockey for Cardiff and Great Britain and won a bronze medal in the World Championships in Japan. 

Tyler is taking part in Operation RIDE for the challenge and to push his body to the extreme, as well as seeing the vast New Zealand countryside and some of the birds.

Martyn Compton
Martyn joined the Army at 16 straight from school and went into the Household Cavalry Regiment. In 2006, he went on a six-month tour to Afghanistan and six weeks in their troop of small tanks was ambushed. Martyn's tank was the middle one through the village and on extracting the vehicle was an IED blowing the tank in half, y killing the three guys inside with him. The tank was then shot again with rocket propelled bombs which engulfed him in flames. As Martyn got out of the tank, he was also shot twice in his right femur.
The rest of Martyn's troop managed to find him and get him into the chinook that was waiting. He officially stopped breathing three times on his way back to the UK. Four months later, Martyn woke from a coma and having undergone numerous amount of surgery, was able to start his recovery. He was in hospital for a year before then going onto Headley Court, the Army rehabilitation unit. 

Martyn got involved with the Pilgrim Bandits while going through his recovery. He was missing that bit of him that loves to push himself and this is exactly what the charity offers. 

He is taking part in Operation RIDE to push himself and be part of a team again, something he misses having now left the Army.

Vince Manley
Vince is formerly of the Royal Marines and has raised funds for the Pilgrim Bandits in the past, including the Yukon River trip in 2015.

He is taking part in Operation RIDE to push himself and extend his boundaries as an amputee.

Jonathan Le Galloudec
Jonathan first heard about the Pilgrim Bandits through close friend and fellow UK Armed Forces Midlands teammate, Tyler Christopher, who had been telling him for years to get involved with the charity.

Jonathan climbed Mount Kilimanjaro and Everest Base Camp with H4H which are some of his most proud moments along with representing his country in the Para Ice Hockey World Championships in Japan and Sweden.

He was a part of the inaugural Invictus Games where he won two bronze medals for swimming and has also cycled at the Warrior Games.

Jonathan had 13 great years in the Army and his only wish is that he could have finished his full 22 years. He served all over the world in places like Germany, Bosnia, Poland, Northern Ireland and the last being Iraq where he was injured in 2007. 

Jonathan has decided to take part in Operation RIDE as he hasn't been part of a challenge like this in five years and he is battling back from a secondary injury playing elite sports whilst in Japan. He now wants to better himself and get back into the brotherhood of friends. 

Hugo Mellor
Hugo will be doing half of the Operation RIDE expedition, sharing team leader duties with Geraint Hampton.

Hugo's close friend and UK Armed Forces Midlands teammate, Tyler Christopher lost his legs whilst on Tour in Afghan which came as a massive shock to Hugo. In 2016, the Pilgrim Bandits allowed him to accompany Tyler for special events over Remembrance weekend. 

Hugo's grandfather & brother were both Brigadiers in the Royal Green Jackets, formally 95th & 60th respectively, and he had wanted to join the Army for as long as he could remember. He always wanted to go to Sandhurst but after struggling in school with severe dyslexia, he didn’t get the grades required, so instead joined the family regiment as an RFN in 2005.

He passed training and went to the 2nd Battalion Royal Green Jackets, which is where he met Tyler & Ricky Fergusson. During his time in this battalion, Hugo went to Belize, NCO Cadre, Canada and did the Telic 10 tour where we handed over Basra Palace (April 2007 – December 2008). 

After tours in Belize, Afghanistan, Brunei and Kenya, Hugo left the Army in January 2014 as a Corporal. After the Army he went straight into a Job as an Assistant Project Manager for Babcock International Defence Systems Technology. He helped move Babcock's offices in Rosyth down to Bristol for equipment management and was promoted in May 2015 to Project Manager. He then moved to the Dreadnought Project as PMO Manager in June 2017, where he currently runs the project management office with his team.

Geraint Hampton
Geraint will be doing half of the Operation RIDE expedition, sharing team leader duties with Hugo Mellor.

Following eight years service with the Royal Engineers, Geraint was put in touch with the Pilgrim Bandits as they prepared for their first major expedition. The Operation took place in Norway and retraced the famous WWII Operation.

Following the success of this, Geraint remained closely involved with the charity on further expeditions. In 2015, he completed Ironman Wales, in turn raising £2000 for MIND (charity) with the help of friends and family and put on numerous local events to raise money.

He is looking forward to being a part of Operation RIDE and the unique challenge that it possesses for all participants.

 Canadian Armed Forces 

David Stanford
David joined the Army at 16 and served with the British Army for approximately 19 years, including regular and reserve service. Upon leaving the forces, he was a police officer and then immigrated to Canada, where he now lives with his wife and two sons, Connor and Ryder. After a brief stint as a BC Conservation Officer, David moved into Emergency Management where he now works as a Provincial Emergency Manager for the BC government.

He first became involved with the Pilgrim Bandits when he was invited to France for an expedition recreating Operation Frankton. Following the successful completion of the trip, he was asked to head up a chapter of the organisation in Canada, and since then he has participated in expeditions that have included kayaking the Yukon River and cycling the Rocky Mountains. 

Pilgrim Bandits Canada is a growing organisation and has participants from various backgrounds from all over Canada, which includes police officers, firefighters, paramedics, Conservation Officers and the military services.

David is also a qualified Wilderness and Industrial Rescue Technician with specialist training in confined space and swiftwater rescue. He also has two Masters degrees, and once completed 2000 push-ups in 54 minutes…a long time ago.

David is heading up the Canadian team for Operation RIDE. Many of the team suffer mental as well as physical scars of service life and he believes that the challenging environments and shared experiences created by these expeditions will help to empower as well as improve the lives of veterans. 

Kate Heath
Kate served over eight years within the Canadian Armed Forces as a Water Fuel and Environment Technician. She first heard of the Pilgrim Bandits from two mutual connections on Facebook who approached her after seeing her work with a similar foundation called Wounded Warriors Canada.

As far as her fundraising experience goes, Kate has always been involved with fundraisers. She does a lot of volunteering such as parents committee, who usually raise over $10,000 during the school year and she has been fundraising for Wounded Warriors.

Kate started cycling last year after being selected to participate as an athlete for the Invictus Games. She had no experience prior to the games but managed to do very well. She has participated in multiple events such as grandfondo, HWY of hero bike ride.

In April, she is going to ride for Face of America Bike Ride from Washington D.C to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. In June, she is heading for the Battlefield Bike Ride with Wounded Warriors Canada in Bosnia and will cycle back all the way to Croatia.

Christine Gauthier
Christine served for 10 years in the Canadian Artillery from 1988 to 1998. She did one tour in Israel during the Gulf War and a tour in Cyprus. She sustained her initial injuries while training in Canada, but the unresolved and untreated injuries turned into a deteriorating permanent disability with damage to her knees, hips, spine, neck and some psychological issues.

Because her disability is constantly deteriorating, she unfortunately had a hard time adjusting to the situation that is always getting worse. Christine has been trying out many other sports, the woman’s sledge hockey team, para nordic cross country team, and is involved with the Un Nato Veterans.

Christine was approached by the Pilgrim Bandits and the Operation RIDE project offers her the perfect opportunity to get her life back on track. After making so many efforts and sacrifices and making it to the 2016 Paralympic Games in kayaking, as well as participating in the 2016 Invictus Games, Christine was hit by a car while on her hand bike and the shoulder injury that resulted from the accident set her back greatly as she was forced to compeltely rest.

She is looking forward to using Operation RIDE to help her get back on track again and once again show that she can defy the odds.

Mike Seinen
Mike joined the Canadian Forces in October 2009 as a Marine Engineering Mechanic. He completed Basic Training in February 2010 and was posted to CFB Esquimalt. In June 2010, while commuting via bicycle to the Navy base where he was attending the Canadian Forces Fleet School, Mike had a bike accident which left him paralysed from the waist down. 

Within a few days after having surgery to stabilise his spine, the paralysis ascended up to chest level and he was diagnosed as a C-8 para with an T-11 burst fracture. Mike still had use of his upper body so could still be independent in daily activities and get involved in wheelchair sports like wheelchair rugby, basketball, handcycling, and a little sitskiing.

In November 2013, Mike was medically released from the military. He had the opportunity to compete in the Invictus Games 2016 in Orlando for Team Canada in handcycling and indoor rowing. This led to him participating in his first expedition with Pilgrim Bandits Canada in July 2016 cycling from Lake Louise to Jasper along the Icefields Parkway. As outstanding as the experience of riding a handcycle through the Canadian Rocky Mountains was, Mike feels that it will pale in comparison to Operation RIDE in New Zealand.

Team leader David Stanford told Mike about Operation RIDE and along with another Invictus Games teammate, they were able to get in touch with some previous Canadian athletes from Invictus Games who were more than happy for the opportunity to raise awareness for veterans. It isn’t everyday a paraplegic would get an opportunity to ride a tandem bike, let alone riding from one end of New Zealand to the other, and Mike is more than happy to continue building on his previous experiences in order to raise awareness for ill and injured veterans in another competitive environment.

Michael Fuentespina
Chief Warrant Office (CWO) Michael Fuentespina was born in Makati. He joined the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) in 1991 as a medic. in 1999, CWO Fuentespina deployed to Bosniawhere he was first diagnosed with hearing loss. He specialises in Aeromedical Evacuation and was employed as the CAF Aeromedical Evacuation Coordinator at Aerospace Health Service Squadron where he was responsible for the logistical and clinical coordination of all the international and domestic missions. CWO Fuentespina served in Afghanistan in 2009. He worked as an operator/analyst for Counter-improvised Device (C-IED) and at the end of his tour moved to Aeromedical Evacuation with combined Joint Medical. In 2012, CWO Fuentespina worked as Regional Sergeant Major for Joint Personnel Support Unit (JPSU) Prairie Region. He spent the next 4years supporting and advocating on behalf of the military's most severely injured soldiers with physical and mental health issues. CWO Fuentespina is still serving and is currently working as Health Services Reserve (CWO)

 New Zealand Armed Forces

Amy Baynes
Joined the royal New Zealand Navy in 1999 as a medic.. spent the last 18 years practising as a medic and deploying to numerous overseas places in this role and varying capacities. 
Deployment history: 2001 - Bougainville as a medic, driver, radio operator.
                                   2002-2003 HMNZS Te Mana - operation ariki (Arabian gulf)
                                   2004 Afghanistan - Patrol Medic
                                   2004-2005 humanitarian relief - bandi Aceh as a medic 
After Afghanistan I was downgraded due to hip and back injury (From operation deployment to Afghanistan.  Moved to South Island and became an instructor at the military medical school .. progressed through the roles from instructing, to managing to senior team leader and mentor of medics in teaching and operational role of medicine before looking for a change in 2017.  In this time my injury resulted in two operations on the hip joint with the second resulting in a total hip joint replacement, and lower back issues that at times swell the discs and compress the spinal cord.  This settles over time but reoccurs often.  Made a goal to become upgraded medically within 6 months of hip replacement and to also attain promotion ... managed to succeed in both of these goals at 4 month mark.  Invictus game oppertunity presented itself in 2014 (less than one year post replacement) and I competed there in road cycling, archery, rowing, powerlifting and wheel chair rugby.. medalled in powerlifting, cycling and a third in rowing, top five team archery.  2016 invictus games was similar but new sport added to the others was shotput. Medalled twice in this games also.. and wanted to push my body even further now....
Joined military police unit in 2017 after discharging from NZ defence force as a senior chief petty officer and now work in a rehabilitation, managing role at military service correctional establishment in chch (once again in the Navy uniform as a petty Officer).. have become an advocate for rehabilitation of injured service personal through sport and extreme activities and want to lead this for our New Zealand defence injured pers...op ride has been a wonderful oppertunity to highlight the need for events like this in New Zealand for our wounded, injured, ill - beyond invictus games.
Married to ross with two children, sam and Emma. 

Dave Benfell
Coming from a long line of soldiers at age 17 1/2 I joined the NZ Army and spent 5 years in 1 RNZIR and was deployed to East Timor twice. Needing a new adventure i left the NZ Army in 2001 and  set my sights on the British Army. In 2002 successully passed selection for the British Parachute Regiment where i was immediately deployed to Iraq. During a 9 year career I was also deployed to Northern Ireland and twice to Southern Afghanistan. In 2011 i finished my career with the Regiment and was medically discharged after breaking my back sky diving whilst serving with the Red Devils Freefall team. Today I am editor for Rod & Rifle magazine which is a perfect fit with my favourite pastimes of Hunting and fishing . I live in Tauranga, NZ with my partner Candice and 1 year old Bowy.

Bill Blaikie
I am married to a loving and understanding wife and have 2 wonderful sons  a beautiful teenage daughter (my princess). I have held numerous Intelligence and Security positions in both the Australian and New Zealand Defence Forces over the last 25 years including: various intelligence and operational roles culminating as the Deputy Director Intelligence, Combined Forces Command – Afghanistan.“I am committed to helping others and passing on my experiences and sharing my inspirational stories that have enabled me to move along the journey to wellness. This ride has truly been a rollercoaster from my years of thinking I had this under control to the complete meltdown and then through the recovery.

Life has offered me many great opportunities and challenges but none that could have prepared me for what I was  to go through. This journey through PTSD has been one of enlightenment and challenges on a daily basis, but none that I couldn’t overcome. Some take longer than others, however, each challenge has an outcome, and it’s just a matter of finding your way through it.

I believe that sharing my story and experiences will also enable and inspire others to overcome their challenges, whether it be struggling through this illness or just trying to realise their full potential.