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A MARINE wounded in Afghanistan has become the first to qualify with a charity which is re-training injured ex-servicemen and women as helicopter pilots.

Matthew Bryant survived a life-changing injury whilst serving as a Royal Marine in Afghanistan in 2008 but has become a fully-qualified commercial helicopter pilot with Wings for Warriors (WFW), based in Goodwood, West Sussex.

The 24-year-old was injured in a gun battle in Sangin, Helmand Province, after a small party sent to rescue his wounded section commander became surrounded.

He was evacuated by helicopter and woke up in hospital a week later. A bullet wound in his right arm had severed an artery and three main nerves, leaving him “significantly immobilised”. Following a series of operations he was medically discharged.

He said: “I felt like a fisherman stuck in the desert, miles from the ocean.

“This left me depressed, frustrated and lacking purpose. I have few civilian qualifications and have never wanted to do anything other than be a frontline soldier.”

All this changed when he attended a trial flight for WFW and passed a pilot’s medical exam.

Mr Bryant said: “After the longest time feeling bleak and depressed I actually felt some hope.”

His training was partly funded by charity The Poppy Factory and began in January 2012.

As well practical instruction he spent between four and six hours a day studying subjects such as air law, navigation and flight planning.

In April he completed his training which involved 21 theory exams, four major flight tests and underwater escape training. He has since secured a job with a safari company in Zambia, Africa, flying aerial tours of Victoria Falls. The role will also include medical evacuations and VIP transfers.

He said: “To now be a fully-qualified commercial helicopter pilot is amazing and humbling.”

Mark Radcliffe, founder of WFW, said: “I fundamentally believe that when a young man or woman lays it all on the line to go into a theatre of war for their country then we are morally obliged to return the favour.”

For more information visit wings4warriors.org.uk