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Telford Falklands veteran crosses largest sand desert in the world

By Lisa O'Brien | Telford | News | Published:

A Falklands veteran from Telford has become one of few people to ever cross the largest sand desert in the world.

Dave Robb

Dave Robb was part of a 17-man expeditionary team, comprised of British military veterans with disabilities or suffering from PTSD, who set out to cross the Empty Quarter desert in Oman.

The group travelled hundreds of miles over massive sand dunes, some up to 400 feet high, in off-road vehicles.

Mr Robb and his companions were following in the tracks of famous British explorer Wilfred Thesiger, who succeeded in making the journey on camels, with a 50-strong support team of desert tribesmen, after the Second World War.

He took two months.

The former servicemen made it in less than a week.

The expeditionary team

The expedition was arranged by VetRun180, which is run by two former Royal Marines, who take veterans struggling with physical or psychological injuries on 4X4 adventures worldwide, completely free of charge.

The Dubai-based company, SKA International Group, which is owned by a former Para, and is a leader in fuel, aviation and logistics in conflict zones in the Middle East, sponsored the Empty Quarter expedition for the veterans.

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It was not the first momentous trip for Mr Robb, who was one of the youngest soldiers to fight in the Falklands.

He was just 17 when he was sent to war as a Royal Marines Commando.

He yomped all the way from Port St Carlos to Port Stanley after the Atlantic Conveyor aircraft carrier was sunk, with the loss of all but one helicopters.

“That expedition was harder than this one,” Mr Robb said.

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The journey over the Empty Quarter desert in Oman

“Then, I carried a 106lb Bergen pack on my back, 25lb webbing belt, 26lb machine gun and 2,000 rounds, grenades and anti-tank weapons, and one handle of a sustained fire kit which was essentially a huge tripod for the machine gun, for 76 miles.

"Getting over all those sand dunes was easy compared to that. But it was a fantastic achievement to cover a desert the size of France, Belgium and Holland put together, in the most spectacular scenery I have ever encountered.”

Mr Robb said he had problems with anger following combat, and 26 years in the fire service, but he was also a professional boxer and he took out his aggression in a controlled way in the boxing ring.

“I could go off like a bottle of pop, but boxing was a great defuser,” said Mr Robb.

Matt Abbott, VetRun180 co-founder, said Wilfred Thesiger was an ex-Army officer so it was fitting that the team of military veterans attempted such an epic journey.

He said: "We covered 700 miles of desert faster than we expected. These were some of the biggest dunes in the world and it is a testament to the resourcefulness of the veterans that we made it.

"We were frequently stuck and there was only us to get ourselves out.

"We were in the middle of the desert all alone.”

Mr Abbott had to overcome his own injuries to make the journey.

The off-road vehicles that were used

He lost part of his thigh and calf in Afghanistan when he was hit by a rocket, and has undergone 10 years of operations, the last one just a couple of months before the trip.

He said: “We organise expeditions like these to show other veterans, who are struggling with combat-related injuries, what they are capable of."

Mr Robb campaigns tirelessly to help former servicemen all around the country and is a supporter of Veterans United Against Suicide (VUAS) which is working to compile trusted statistics on the number of former military personnel taking their own lives.

He said: "The government has no idea of the scale of the PTSD problem.

“It is our job to make them see it.”

VetRun180 is keen to hear from any military veterans, suffering from disabilities or PTSD symptoms, who might like to join one of their expeditions.

For further details visit vetrun180.org

Lisa O'Brien

By Lisa O'Brien
Senior Reporter - @lisaobrien_Star

Senior reporter based at Shropshire Star's head office in Ketley. Covering the Telford area.

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