Student's gap year in the army

TEENAGERS go to plenty of unusual places in their gap years. But courageous Carl O'Byrne, 19, went to war.

Pte O'Byrne, a former pupil of Heckmondwike Grammar School, enlisted with the Territorial Army at the age of 17, hoping it would help him to decide if a career in the Army was for him. He was sent to Afghanistan soon after he finished his A-levels.

There, he was based at Camp Bastion with 1st Battalion The Royal Welsh, taking part in aviation assaults.

He returned from Afghanistan in May and has now been presented with a medal to mark his tour of duty at a ceremony at York Race Course.

Pte O'Byrne, who was born in Dewsbury but now lives in Birstall, said his parents were proud of his achievement.

He said: "When I was 17 I went to an interview. I wanted to go as an officer straight into the Army, but the guy suggested I go into the TA.

"My parents are proud but they didn't want me to go.

"They expected me to go to university like everyone else my age."

He is now going through the clearing process to find a place at university to study accountancy, as he could not apply while serving in Afghanistan.

He said his Army experience did not always play in his favour when going for university interviews.

"It's a strange thing when I'm applying for university. Everyone has their own opinion on the war," he said,

He has his sights set on a career in business as he believes the Army would involve too much time away from home.

But he won't be giving up the TA just yet as he would like to go on another tour of duty.

"I'm going to continue at least until I go to university," he said.

"It's a good thing to put on your CV."

Pte O'Byrne was among 34 soldiers return from operations in Afghanistan to be honoured at the ceremony.

While in Afghanistan they operated with a number of different units undertaking a variety of roles.

Among their tasks was mentoring the Afghan National Army and Police.

They trained their non-commissioned officers and went on operations.

After the presentation the families and their soldiers enjoyed a day at the races where horses and their jockeys were battling for the 51st John Smith's Cup.

The John Smith's Cup meeting was marked by a series of activities including a fly-past from RAF Linton-on–Ouse.